Presentation on Nature's Representation as a Woman

Presentation on Nature's Representation as a Woman

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Nature being represented as woman

“Nature is like a woman who enjoys disguising herself, and whose different disguises, revealing now one part of her ad now another, permit those who study her and assiduously to hope that one day they may know the whole of her person” (Diderot)

Why this is an interesting topic?

Often saw references of nature with N and sounded like a proper name sometimes.

The connections between nature and the female form.

Connect the romantic period with the start of feminism and the new strategies and approaches theorists and philosophers and writers are taking now.

4 Possible Theories for connecting women with nature

1) Descending from precursory languages such as Anglo-Saxon (Old English), Italian, Spanish, Latin, Greek and French.

2) Based on the qualities generally associated with women and differences between gender roles

3) Connection between Woman and Nature and the life cycle

4) Biblical references

1) Languages with gendered nouns

Old English: gecynd

Latin: la natura

Italian: la natura

French: la nature

Spanish: la naturaleza

Greek: ÆÍ÷

All are gendered as female. Could be initial cause for why we tend to consider nature as female.

2) Gender Role of Woman

- Nature is feminized because it is seen as possessing the same qualities as women at the time when most of the romantic writing was produced

- Women were seen as being domestic, pious, moral, pure, gentle, kind, graceful, simple and beautiful; this was according to the nature of separate spheres: men and women were fundamentally different in terms of their characteristics as men were seen as hard-working, industrial, rational, assertive, independent and proud; none of which is easily connected with nature

- Therefore nature was seen as the embodiment of all the characteristics that women possess and there are frequent references to this in literature, especially poetry

eg. “Constant rotation of th’unwearied wheel

That nature rides upon maintains her health,

Her beauty, her fertility”

(Cowper, The Task, Book 1: The Sofa, 359-61

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“But doubly pitying Nature loves to show’r

Soft on his wounded heart her healing power

Who plods o’er hills and vales on his road forlorn”

(Wordsworth, Descriptive Sketches, 13-15

“Here nature sees her fairest forms more fair;

Owns them as hers, yet owns herself excelled

By what herself produced”

(Gilpin, "On Picturesque Beauty" 1794)

“Nature is always great in design. She is an admirable colorist also,

and harmonizes tints with infinite variety and beauty.”

(Gilpin, Observations on the River Wye 1789)

- Nature is also feminized due to the patriarchal nature of society; many romantic travel writers were men, therefore travel writing was quite gender specific and the men were quite likely to bestow feminine qualities upon nature

eg. “The picturesque retained the assumptions of gender given to it by its

founders, who imagined a male art of seeing that could correct and complete

what a feminized landscape held forth.”

(James Buzard: The Beaten Track: European Tourism, Literature and Ways

to Culture, 1800-1918, 1993, p.16)

-Women as inspiration for men: “Women have a far more difficult time claiming Romantic inspiration because, according to literary tradition, inspiration comes from the female muse to the male poet” (Fay 11).

-Sublimity is associated with qualities of males, but “was still mostly associated with the presence of Nature, conceived as feminine and maternal, beneficent as well as destructive” (Fay 13). “The High Romantics…use[d] Nature as an access to the masculine sublime” (13).

-“[T]he sublime is specifically a male achievement gained through women as female objects or through female Nature, and so is closed off to women writers” (14).

-This leads to Mulvey’s essay about men as the beholder and women as the subject.

“Woman then stands in patriarchal culture as signifier for the male other, bound by a symbolic order in which man can live out his phantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning.” (586)

“In a world ordered by sexual imbalance, pleasure in looking has been split between active/male and passive/female.” (589)

-As men traveled, they were separated from women and used their form in poetry to create a closeness with the female form.

- For the masculine ego, women and nature became instruments for self-definition and the feminization of nature suggests the romance of travel and perception

“[P]erception is characterized by the wandering of the eye, and the search for something new and of interest, which piques rather than satisfies desire.” (176)

“The feminizing of the object suggests the romance of perception, and perhaps of travel in general—the objects that come to attention, which are singled out, or seem singular of their own account, appear destined in hindsight to have brought something of personal significance.” (176)

- Due to the fact that male travelers didn’t encounter many females during their travels, the feminization of nature could also indicate the sexual desire of the male traveler

- Therefore the process of viewing nature is parallel with the process of viewing women and selecting a possible mate; this is apparent in both travel texts and poetry

3) Connection between women and nature: Life cycle

-When nature is discussed in poetry there are usually feminine references issues of the life cycle such as fertility, bounty and reproduction

eg. “ So on her fares, and to the border comes

Of Eden, where delicious Paradise,

Now nearer, crowns with her enclosure green”

“Of goodliest trees loaden with fairest fruit,

Blossoms and fruits at once of golden hue”

(Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 4, lines 131-3, 147-8)

- The references to reproduction and fertility may symbolize the continuity of nature; the continuity and change of seasons indicate that the earth continues in a balanced cycle, similar to the life cycle of humans

- Because women are responsible for the continuity of the life cycle, they are often associated with seasons, for example the ‘rebirth of the land’ in the springtime

- The concept of connecting women with nature dates back to the times of ancient classical mythology, with several goddesses being strongly connected to the earth, eg. Persephone and mother Demeter

Early classical mythological connections between goddesses and nature

- Association with mother earth: because so many aspects of nature are ‘born’ from the earth, this can be likened to the opening of the womb to produce life; there are several literary references to reproductive terms such as womb and bosom, eg. “Paradise Lost”

eg. “Dear nature is the kindest mother still

Though always changing, in her aspect mild

From her bare bosom let me take my fill

Her never-weaned, though not her favorite child

Oh! She is the fairest in her features wild

Where nothing polished dares pollute her path”

(Byron, Childe Harold, Canto 2- 1812, 325-30)

“Joy ran, as blood within a living frame,

When though didst from her bosom, like a cloud

Of glory, arise…a spirit of keen joy”

(Percy Bysshe Shelley, Promethius Unbound 1818, 156-8)

Examples: “Nature has provided for all her children” (Goethe 173)

A valley being “destined by Nature to universal fertility” (278)

4) Biblical Eve

Although not much literature on it, I think one can make a case for woman as nature in light of disasters such as earthquakes (the Earth opening up) and tsunamis.

-disasters often blamed on Mother Nature; hurricanes named after women

-of course Eve is the cause for sin.

-Maybe stretching; but woman as nature, tree as nature, apple on tree, Eve ate the apple created by woman.

Example: “After all, what had we seen but the hopeless struggle of men with the violence of Nature…” (Goethe 302).

Subject to follow up on:

- The viewpoint of women as representations of nature is so connected that when we see nature, we are automatically supposed to associate them with nature and vice versa


New approaches, feminism and how women tried to get away from the notion that nature can be looked upon only with female connotations.

Inquire: Dorothy Wordsworth (William’s sister)

Snyder writes concerning Dorothy’s beliefs on nature: “Nature is more visual experience than anything else; she constantly attends to lighting and texture and, deliberately, [he] thinks, overlooks possibilities for maternal symbolism or personification, usually referring to Nature with the impersonal pronoun ‘it,’ and not with ‘she’ or ‘her,’ as did her brother” (Snyder 147).

- Will we ever escape the gendering of nature, such a long carried out tradition in literature and culture, and will there ever be gender neutrality?

- Also, as society changes and the roles of men and women become less rigid and defined, will this affect the perception of nature as strictly and solely feminine?

Works Cited

Botticelli. Primavera. From website by A. M. Gunn. Gendering Nature in Language And Art: Exploring The Woman= Nature Equation. (8 February 2005).

Buzard, James. The Beaten Track: European Tourism, Literature and Ways to Culture, 1800-1918. From website by Miall, David. Romantic Travels. Course Home Page. January 2005-May 2005. Dept. of English, University of Alberta. 9 February 2005.

Byron, Lord. Childe Harold. From website by Miall, David. Romantic Travels. Course Home Page. January 2005-May 2005. Dept. of English, University of Alberta. 9 February 2005.

Cowper. The Task, Book 1: The Sofa. From website by Miall, David. Romantic Travels. Course Home Page. January 2005-May 2005. Dept. of English, University of Alberta. 9 February 2005.

Cranston, Maurice. The Romantic Movement. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1994.

Fay, Elizabeth A. A Feminist Introduction to Romanticism. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell, 1998.

Gilpin, William. Observation on the River Wye. From website by Miall, David. Romantic Travels. Course Home Page. January 2005-May 2005. Dept. of English, University of Alberta. 9 February 2005.


Gilpin, Willaim. “On Picturesque Beauty”. From website by Miall, David. Romantic Travels. Course Home Page. January 2005-May 2005. Dept. of English, University of Alberta. 9 February 2005.


Goethe, Joann Wolfgang. Italian Journey. Trans. W. H. Auden and Elizabeth Mayer. Toronto, Ontario: Penguin Books, 1970.

Hogue, Alexander. Mother Earth Laid Bare. 1938. . From website by A. M. Gunn. Gendering Nature in Language And Art: Exploring The Woman= Nature Equation. <> (8 February 2005).

Jember, Gregory K. “gecynd.” English-Old English, Old English-English dictionary. Eds. Gregory K. Jember and John C. Carrell et al. Boulder, Colo., Westview Press, 1975.

Levine, Edwin B. “nautra”. Follet world wide Latin dictionary; Latin-English, English- Latin. Chicago: Follet, 1967.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost. The Major Work. Eds. Stephan Orgel and Johnathon Goldberg. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2003.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”. Literary Theory: An Anthology. Eds. Rivkin, Julie and Michael Ryan. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing, 1998. 585-595.

“natura.” Cassell’s Italian dictionary: Italian-English, English-Italian. 2002.

“naturaleza.” The American heritage Larousse Spanish dictionary: Spanish/English, English/Spanish. 1986.

Oerlemans, Onno. Romanticism and the Materiality of Nature. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press, 2002.

Shelley, Percy Bysshe. Promethius Unbound. From website by Miall, David. Romantic Travels. Course Home Page. January 2005-May 2005. Dept. of English, University of Alberta. 9 February 2005.

Snyder, William C. “Mother Nature’s Other Natures: Landscape in Women’s Writing, 1770-1830.” Women’s Studies. May, 1992. Volume 21, issue 2, 143-62. University of Alberta. Edmonton, Alberta. February 1, 2005.

Talbot, Julian. “ÆÍ÷.” The Pocket Oxford Greek dictionary: Greek-English, English-Greek. 2nd Ed. 2000.

Wordsworth, William. Descriptive Sketches. From Website website by Miall, David. Romantic Travels. Course Home Page. January 2005-May 2005. Dept. of English, University of Alberta. 9 February 2005.
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