Reconciling Nature

Literary Representations of the Natural, 1876-1945

By Robert M. Myers

Subjects: Literary Criticism, American Literature, Environmental Studies, American Culture, American History
Hardcover : 9781438476797, 234 pages, November 2019
Paperback : 9781438476780, 234 pages, July 2020

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Table of contents

List of Illustrations

Introduction: Resisting the Resistance Narrative

1. Civilizing Nature in Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

2. The Ecological City in Crane’s Maggie

3. Therapeutic Nature in Chopin’s The Awakening

4. Disciplining Nature in Sinclair’s The Jungle

5. Progressive Conservation in Austin’s The Ford

6. Surveilling Wilderness in Dreiser’s An American Tragedy

7. Assimilative Nature in Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God

8. Environmental Stewardship in Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses

Works Cited

Reveals how classic American novels embodied the tensions embedded in American views of the natural world from the Centennial until the end of the Second World War.


Reconciling Nature maps the complex views of the environment that are evident in celebrated American novels written between the Centennial Celebration of 1876 and the end of the Second World War. During this period, which includes the Progressive era and the New Deal, Americans held three contradictory views of the natural world: a recognition of nature's vulnerability to the changes brought by industrialism; a fear of the power of nature to destroy human civilization; and a desire to make nature useful. Robert M. Myers argues they reconciled these conflicting views through nature nostalgia, policing of wilderness areas, and through strategies of control borrowed from the social sciences. Myers combines environmental history with original readings of eight novels, producing fresh perspectives on Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Stephen Crane's Maggie, Kate Chopin's The Awakening, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, Mary Austin's The Ford, Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy, Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, and William Faulkner's Go Down, Moses. While previous ecocritical works have focused on proto-environmentalism in classic works of literature, Reconciling Nature explores the ambivalence within these texts, demonstrating how they reproduce views of nature as threatened, threatening, and useful. The epilogue examines the environmental ideologies associated with the development and deployment of the first atomic bomb.

Robert M. Myers is Professor of English and Director of the Environmental Studies program at Lock Haven University. He is the author of Reluctant Expatriate: The Life of Harold Frederic.


"One of the main strengths of this book is its solid grounding in environmental history. The book's extensive and well-researched contextualization situates these novels thoroughly in the political and cultural milieu of their times. " — American Literary Realism

"Blending literary criticism and environmental history, Myers expands the boundaries of ecocriticism. " — CHOICE

"Reconciling Nature is an important contribution to ecocriticism, American literary studies, American studies, and environmental history. The book has incredible breadth and scope. In each chapter, Myers incorporates an impressive amount of historical context that always breathes new life into texts that have been discussed at length by other scholars. " — Lloyd Willis, author of Environmental Evasion: The Literary, Critical, and Cultural Politics of "Nature's Nation"