Electronic Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award

2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D. in English

Department

English

First Advisor

Karen Raber

Second Advisor

Theresa Levitt

Third Advisor

Erin Drew

Abstract

Exotic flora in the long eighteenth century (1666-1800) embodied a point of contact between the natural and imaginary worlds, bearing witness to the ways that ideology relocates living things according to human desire. Most accounts view these exotics through the lens of ecological imperialism and “invasive” species. Both of these terms are twenty-first century metaphors that materialize the role of imperialism in circulating exotics, applying the narrative of invading British empire to the behavior of foreign plants. However, such accounts do not fully acknowledge the cultural work that images of foreign plants do. I opt instead for an ecocritical reappraisal of the idea of “invasive species,” one that acknowledges imperialism while accounting for the ways in which these flora act as more fluid and adaptable symbols that can endorse conflicting ideologies as the era progresses. Chapter 1 uncovers this cultural work in the Restoration using the writings of Abraham Cowley and John Evelyn, arguing that these writers celebrate the return of Charles II through the Royalist oak and the tropical orange, employing both trees as symbols of a British landscape that praises the monarch by welcoming exotic flora from across the globe. Chapter 2 tracks the ways in which exotic flora represent the masculine aesthetic of the “genius of the place,” formulated by Alexander Pope and the Royal Society botanist Richard Bradley. As exotic flora take root in a new market of gardening women in the midcentury, male writers, as Chapter 3 observes, use the rhetoric of the virtuoso to cast aspersions on women who garden as a way to announce their literacy, as exemplified in the writings of Eliza Haywood. Chapter 4 extends these trends into the picturesque and botanical cults of the late eighteenth century to trace the emergence of the greenhouse not only to display tropical rarities, but also to stage anxieties about the economy that circulated these living commodities, charting this anxiety through James Thomson's portrayal of the tropic zone in The Seasons, and in William Cowper's greenhouse in The Task.

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