One of my biggest concern during these days at home without having the possibility of going out for a walk is missing the trees, the flowers, the birds singing, and missing the seasons and how they change. I need nature in my life to work properly. I understand that we cannot go out for a walk… In my case, not since March because of COVID protocols. But… I have found another way to enjoy nature from home which is reading some of these books I am sharing with you. If you have any other books recommendation regarding nature, please share it here or on Instagram. Let’s start our walk out there among the trees…
* Note: Stay safe, stay home and save lives*
Yes, you read correctly, I am saying that Frankenstein written by Mary Shelley is one of the best novels to enjoy nature. About her creational process, she wrote:
“It was beneath the trees of the grounds belonging to our house, or on the bleak sides of woodless mountains near, that my true compositions, the airy flights of my imagination, were born and forested”.
– Mary Shelley. Preface to Edition of October 1831. Frankenstein.
This is one of the reasons I believe reading Frankenstein to experience nature is the perfect option, its author wrote it by getting inspiration from nature: from forests and mountains.
Additionally, despite Frankenstein is well-known for being a gothic novel with a character that has been popularly named Frankenstein (which is erroneous for that is the surname of Victor the creator of the monster) one of the main topics of the novel is nature. The sublimity of nature is often present in the book and the characters constantly remind us of the dangers of not being aware or notice the landscapes that surround us:
“My spirits were elevated by the enchanting appearance of nature, the past was blotted from my memory, the present was tranquil, and the future gilded by bright rays of hope and anticipations of joy”.
– Mary Shelley. Chapter 12. Frankenstein.
I am not going to give you further details, I leave the words written by Mary Shelley to enlight your experience.
II. Alice In Wonderland
Did you expect this book in the selection? We are all mad here… Lewis Carroll‘s classic explores madness, imagination, dreams and logic. But despite being a Victorian era book considered to be children literature, it can be read from an ecological perspective too!
In Wonderland, Alice goes to the Queen of the Hearts’ croquet ground. There she finds some anthropomorphic playing cards that can move, talk and see. Cards Five; Seven and Two are painting some white roses which according to them they must be read:
“A large rose tree stood near the entrance ot the garden: the roses growing on it were white, but there were three gardeners at it, busily painting them red….”
– Lewis Carroll. Alice In Wonderland.
By wanting to transform the white roses into red roses, it seems to me that Carroll is telling his readers that human being do not see beauty in nature because they want to change it to please themselves. But beauty in nature can be found in its own wildness.
In the second part of Alice in Wonderland, that is to say, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass, Carroll does not only gives a voice to animals but also flowers. They are alive! And what do they say?
III. Mansfield Park
Manfield Park is often seen as one of the most complex novels written by Jane Austen because it treats topics such as slavery, religion, morality and even sexuality. What called my attention when I read it for the first time was the role nature has in the narrative. Despite it is a Jane Austen novel with no explicit sexual references, there are some implicit implications that characters are attracted to each other. But does nature in its wild state allows the character to express their wild emotions? Or does nature allows them to order their emotions?
This is one of my favourite quotation from Mansfield Park:
“When I look on such a night as this, I feel as if there could be neither wickedness no sorrow in the world; and there certainly would be less of both if the sublimity of nature were more attended to, and people were carried more out of themselves by contemplating such a scene”.
– Jane Austen. Mansfield Park.
I will leave the quotation and the questions open for discussion.
IV. The Lord of the Rings
Contrary to the popular beliefs, The Lord of the Rings is one book and not three books, it was published in three parts: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and The Return of the King.
Despite J.R. R. Tolkien‘s novel is more well-known for his complex legendarium, this is a book where he puts in evidence his ecological concerns. Professor Tolkien himself loved nature with his soul, it is said that when he was a child:
“he would love to be with trees. He would climb them lean against them, even talk to them. It saddened him to discover that not everyone shared his feelings towards them”.
– Humphrey Carpenter. J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography
In The Lord of the Rings, professor Tolkien did not only give a voice to the trees but also feelings and the opportunity to take action in a world whose habitat was being destroyed. Think about the Ents, they take revenge against Saruman for destroying their home, Fangorn Forest.
The trees, the flowers, the mountains are not merely described to give setting to the story, they are relevant in the narrative. If you read this book, notice how unique is the nature in every place where the hobbits travel. Each place has a natural specie whose conservancy is vital in the story. Gondor would not be Gondor without the White Tree. Lothlórien would not exist without the mallorn trees. In Rohan, there would be no remembrance without the simbelmynë. Even Mordor has some vegetation… I am not going to spoil your adventure!
V. The Secret Garden
This might sound like the most obvious option, right? Frances Hodgson Burnett‘s book is a must-read classic that should appear in any reading challenge regarding gardens and nature. Neverthless, the allusion of the garden does not only has an aesthetical purpose.
Most analyses tend to focus on the locked garden and the effect its restoration has in the protagonist, Mary and in her cousin Colin. As the plants and the flowers grow and bloom, those two characters become a better person.
But, I think that the Moor cannot be forgotten. The moor is very interesting, as opposite to the garden it represents wildness. When Mary sees it for the first time she hates it, opposite to Martha who loves it. The author seems to tell be telling us, readers, that nature should be appreciated in all forms, not only in neat and organized gardens but also in its wilderness form.
VI. The Mysteries of Udolpho
I cannot leave out one of the most amazing books that talks about sublimity in nature. Written by Ann Radcliffe, “Mother Radcliffe” as poet John Keats used to refer to her, The Mysteries of Udolpho is not only a must-read gothic novel but also fundamental for ecological studies in literature.
The novel does not only narrates a gothic story but Radcliffe delights us by describing landscapes and nature. Her description and treatment of nature clearly reflect her ideas on the sublime that were expressed in her famous essay “On the Supernatural in Poetry”. When contemplating nature, the characters from the novel seem to elevate their souls by appreciating their beautiful forms.
The protagonist of the novel, Emily St Aubert writes poetry (The Mysteries of Udolpho was the first book to combine prose and verse), and most of her poems are inspired by the interaction she has with nature. I will leave you one of my favourite poems from the novel:
Ann Radcliffe seems to tell us that nature is not only beautiful, its contemplation leads us to get the inspiration to produce art, literature, music and to understand the world. She includes animals which are often depicted as evil as the bats. In her novel, nature is not evil but rather sublime. It is us, human beings, who are responsible for portraying nature in the wrong way and misunderstanding it. Storms are not evil but rather sublime. She foresaw the current idea that it is fundamental to portray nature in an accuarate form for producing a better world.
VII. Fairy Oak
Do you enjoy reading books in another language? You can find this book by Elisabethe Gnone in Italian and Spanish. I know there is an English edition, a little bit hard to find but maybe it is available on Amazon.
Fairy Oak is suggested from up to ten years old readers. Before I knew Tolkien at the age of twelve, I grew up with this saga, and I read it again in quarantine and to my happiness, the landscapes, the touch of nature, the smell was as vivid as I could remember from my childhood memories. The narrative, not being so descriptive or complex, transported me perfectly to the woods, the beach, the fields as if I were physically standing there.
I originally posted this in Instagram on October 2019. It was a challenge called 7 Books in 7 Days. Amazing Generally Gothic had tagged me. Follow her posts on Instagram and website, you will not regret it!
On my discussion regarding The Secret Garden on Instagram, Keri Wilt, whose great-great-grandmother was Frances Hodgson Burnett answered:
Do you have any recommendation regarding literature and nature?