Dramas of Solitude

Narratives of Retreat in American Nature Writing

By Randall Roorda

Subjects: Education
Series: SUNY series, Literacy, Culture, and Learning: Theory and Practice
Paperback : 9780791436783, 283 pages, February 1998
Hardcover : 9780791436776, 283 pages, February 1998

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Table of contents



1 Genre and Narrative in Nature Writing


A House with Two Doors
Fixing the Genre
Solitude as Story


2 Going Out, Going In: Narrative Logic in Thoreau's "Ktaadn"


First There Was No StoryExemplar and Paradigm
What "Ktaadn" Is About
Three Ways of Reading
Self Writing and Self Written
Losing the Human
Before the Beginning
The Cutting-Room Floor
"Where Away Does the Summit Bear?"


3 The Subject of The Desert


Negotiating "The Approach"
Cactus as Cross
Versions of Van Dyke
A Story of Reading


4 Familiar Mysteries: The Exemplary Wendell Berry


Day One: Pace, Presence, and Melancholy
Day Two: Afoot in the Woods
A Language of Meaning and Value
Berry's Exemplary Character: Some Social Uses of Solitude


5 Sites and Senses of Writing in Nature


The Scene of the Solitary Writer
The Nature Writer's Estate: "Writing" and "Living"
Beyond Doors: Writing on Site
Transcription and Entrenchment
The Cabin as the Windowed Site of Writing
Looking Up


6 Writer or Rhapsode? Iconic Metaphors for Literate Identity


John Muir: Nature Writing's “Natural"
The Mission to Entice
The Bread Problem
The Instruments of Literacy and "Indigen Wisdom"
Nature Savant and Literate Indigen


7 Keeping It Simple: Reinvention and Recovery of Nature in General Education


Retreat Scenarios in Student Writing
Cyborgs and Solos



Works Cited


Brings the insights of narrative theory to bear upon the genre of nature writing, to explore the social or ethical purposes of solitude in stories of retreat in nature.


What do stories of nature tell us about the social or ethical purposes of solitude? And what do stories of solitude reveal of the "character" of nonhuman nature? Dramas of Solitude brings the insights of narrative theory to bear upon the genre of nature writing, to explore the social or ethical purposes of solitude in stories of retreat in nature.

Through discussions of texts by Henry D. Thoreau, John C. Van Dyke, Wendell Berry, and student writers, among others, this book complicates social views of literacy with depictions of a solitude held in dynamic relation to a not-only-human community. It will inform the efforts of literary critics and writing teachers alike who hope to reintegrate English studies upon ecological terms.

Randall Roorda is Assistant Professor of English and Director of Composition at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.


"…this study opens up lines of inquiry that promise fruitful future scholarship and is, in itself, an enormous contribution to contemporary ecocriticism and the future of nature writing in general education." — Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment

"Roorda's extended discussion of key nature writings provides a fresh interpretive perspective that illuminates these writers' visions in exciting and intellectually engaging ways. Roorda's careful, close readings and intellectual engagement prompt readers to revisit these texts from new and significant critical angles. The author's insightful discussions of the ethical dimensions of nature writing is fascinating." — John S. Lofty, author of Time to Write: The Influence of Time and Culture on Learning to Write

"Besides the exquisite writing, it is quite interesting to see a piece that prompts a creative discourse about the way we have displaced nature to the periphery of culture through our inability to think of nature as the 'place' wherein culture resides." — Mary Abascal-Hildebrand, University of San Francisco