ASLE-UKI Postgraduate Conference A Change of (S)cene: Reviewing Our Place in a New Geological Epoch location:University of Lincoln date:31 August - 2 September 2016
Though the social and the cultural are traditionally perceived as the main ingredients of the Bildungsroman, this paper proposes to read the genre with regard to an ecocritical understanding of nature, in order to demonstrate that Bildungshelden are to a large extent influenced by the ecosystem they inhabit. The majority of studies on the Bildungsroman revolve around cultural and socio-political factors, yet an ecocritical reading of the Bildungsroman, both in social-historical and formal-aesthetic terms, can attest to the complex ecological intertwining of culture and nature. Such an approach is especially productive when applied to Victorian novels, which are commonly read as scripts of industrial capitalism and bourgeois culture, thereby emphasising mankind’s agency as a major geological and ecological force in the Anthropocene age. Helena Feder, the only critic who has hitherto studied the Bildungsroman from an ecocritical point of view, reads the genre as “culture’s own origin story, the humanist myth of its separation from and opposition to nature” (18). However, I would like to argue that the Bildungsroman can equally be read as nature’s own origin story, or ‘natural history’: the genre formulates its own version of human history as well as of nature’s history, which is shaped into the anthropocentric cultural construction that is “nature”. A close and contextual reading of The Mill on the Floss (1860) and The Woodlanders (1887) can function as a springboard for this research hypothesis, since both novels offer a historical evaluation of humanity’s relation to nature, and demonstrate how the Bildungshelden are rooted in or alienated from their natural environment.