“[F]earful Hard Work”: The Possibilities and Pitfalls of a Victorian Eco-Georgic

Authors

  • Adrian Tait Independent scholar

Keywords:

Hardy, Jefferies, Crackanthorpe, high farming, sustainable

Abstract

As a form of literature that engages with the lived realities of farming life, the Georgic offers an insight into the kind of close working relationship that is possible between humans and nature, a relationship that may in turn be described as ecological in its concern with adaptation and sustainability. This essay focuses on three examples of Georgic literature that highlight both the possibilities and pitfalls of making this association: Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), Richard Jefferies’s Amaryllis at the Fair (1887), and Hubert Crackanthorpe’s short story, “Anthony Garstin’s Courtship” (1896). All three were written during the Victorian period, when innovations in “high farming” had made it possible to increase yields without overly exploiting the land. As these narratives illustrate, this form of farming nevertheless involved back-breaking, exploitative and often poorly paid work. Moreover, farmers were already under pressure to mechanize their processes where possible, maximising yield regardless of long-term consequences. Small farms were themselves are threat, because less economically viable. Whatever ecological balance high farming embodied, it could not long survive these wider socio-economic pressures. In their concern with these particularities, these narratives nevertheless offer an insight into what an eco-Georgic might mean, as a form of writing properly attentive to the challenges of reconciling human and nonhuman needs, and accommodating both within a global, capitalist framework. These works are, furthermore, alert to the difficulty of how best to (re)present those challenges; each shifts away from conventional realism and towards new literary modes better able to confront the idealising, pastoral expectations of an urban readership. As such, these works emerge as prototypical forms of a modern, self-reflexive form of (eco-)Georgic mindful of the practical difficulties of sustainable living, and flexible enough to find innovative ways of representing them.

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Author Biography

Adrian Tait, Independent scholar

Adrian Tait, Ph.D., is an independent scholar and ecocritic with a particular interest in the Victorian literary response to the environmental crisis. He has published related papers in a number of scholarly journals, including Green Letters: Studies in Ecocriticism, the European Journal of English Studies, and Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens, and contributed to essay collections such as Nineteenth-Century Transatlantic Literary Ecologies (2017), Victorian Ecocriticism: The Politics of Place and Early Environmental Justice (2017), and Gendered Ecologies: New Materialist Interpretations of Women Writers in the Long Nineteenth Century (2020).

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Published

2021-10-28

Issue

Section

Articles: Eco-Georgic: From Antiquity to the Anthropocene