In "Good Observers of Nature" Tina Gianquitto
examines nineteenth-century American women's intellectual and
aesthetic experiences of nature and investigates the linguistic,
perceptual, and scientific systems that were available to women to
describe those experiences.
Many women writers of this period used the natural world as a
platform for discussing issues of domesticity, education, and the
nation. To what extent, asks Gianquitto, did these writers
challenge the prevalent sentimental narrative modes (like those
used in the popular flower language books) and use scientific
terminology to describe the world around them? The book maps the
intersections of the main historical and narrative trajectories
that inform the answer to this question: the changing literary
representations of the natural world in texts produced by women
from the 1820s to the 1880s and the developments in science from
the Enlightenment to the advent of evolutionary biology. Though
Gianquitto considers a range of women's nature writing (botanical
manuals, plant catalogs, travel narratives, seasonal journals,
scientific essays), she focuses on four writers and their most
influential works: Almira Phelps (Familiar Lectures on
Botany, 1829), Margaret Fuller (Summer on the Lakes,
in 1843), Susan Fenimore Cooper (Rural Hours, 1850), and
Mary Treat (Home Studies in Nature, 1885).
From these writings emerges a set of common concerns about the
interaction of reason and emotion in the study of nature, the best
vocabularies for representing objects in nature (local, scientific,
or moral), and the competing systems for ordering the natural world
(theological, taxonomic, or aesthetic). This is an illuminating
study about the culturally assumed relationship between women,
morality, and science.
Subjects: Language & Literature
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