Contemporary British Georgic Writing

Authors

  • Terry Gifford Bath Spa University

Keywords:

Virgil, eco-georgic, instructional georgic, personal memoir, future-oriented georgic

Abstract

Do we need the modish term “eco-georgics” to help us discover the unsentimental, holistic, healing qualities in the best georgic writing of the Anthropocene? When were georgics not “eco”? Is there a “post-georgic” in some forms of contemporary literature that seem to reject husbandry altogether, such as rewilding texts? Do such categories serve any purpose to readers and critics in the Anthropocene? This essay argues that such careful distinctions do, indeed, matter more than ever now as we reconsider our sustainable options in husbandry, land-management and what sustainability might look like, as it is represented and explored in our poetry, fiction and non-fiction georgic literature in Britain at the present. One might expect contemporary georgic writing to exemplify the environmental engagement implied in the term “eco-georgic”. In fact, contemporary georgic can be environmentally radical or apparently indirect in its implications for sustainability. It remains as diverse, hybrid and composted in the past as Virgil’s original text. This essay begins by considering definitions, with reference to Virgil’s founding Latin text, begun in the third decade BCE, the Georgics. It recognises Laura Sayre’s complaint that ecocriticism has neglected georgic writing, and argues that this is certainly true for contemporary British georgic texts. Briefly, attention is drawn to five volumes of georgic poetry before the essay focuses on contemporary georgic fiction and non-fiction. The novels of Cynan Jones, Tom Bullough, Marie-Elsa Bragg and Tim Pears are discussed and contrasted with one by Melissa Harrison that might mistakenly be thought of as georgic. Three categories of non-fiction are identified and discussed with examples: instructional georgic, personal memoir and future-oriented georgic. Consideration of the latter leads to conclusions about their inevitable overlaps and a final call for a radical twenty-first century animism to embed enchantment into contemporary georgic writing

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Author Biography

Terry Gifford, Bath Spa University

Terry Gifford is the author of Ted Hughes (Routledge 2009), Reconnecting With John Muir: Essays in Post-Pastoral Practice (University of Georgia Press, 2006), Pastoral (Routledge, 1999) and Green Voices: Understanding Contemporary Nature Poetry (Manchester University Press, 1995; CCC Press, second edition 2011), together with six chapters in books on Ted Hughes. His seventh collection of poems is (with Christopher North) Al Otro Lado del Aguilar (Oversteps Books, 2011). Chair of the UK’s Mountain Heritage Trust, Terry Gifford is Visiting Professor at Bath Spa University's Centre for Writing and Environment, UK, and Senior Research Fellow and Profesor Honorario at the University of Alicante, Spain.

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Published

2021-10-28

Issue

Section

Articles: Eco-Georgic: From Antiquity to the Anthropocene