Romanticism has long had complex relationships with both the imagination and the environmental—"nature" and the "natural," "wilderness" and the "wild," the "one life" and "the economy of nature"—and so it is unsurprising that critical interest in the connections between literature and the environment has focused on this literary movement. In both Britain and America, Romanticism has historically been seen as valuing the non-human world, whether to celebrate "nature" as beneficial and necessary antidote to the world of getting and spending, to lament its loss to the human-built environments of modern capitalist industrialism, or to locate in the natural world evidence of what Coleridge called the "one life," his spiritual-philosophical ideal that seems to anticipate our modern ideas of the "ecological."
Or is our "feeling for nature" simply sentimentalism, as Schiller characterizes it, "like the feeling of an invalid for health"? Do the Romantic responses to modern industrial capitalism go beyond nostalgia, primitivism, and anthropocentrism to suggest what Lawrence Buell calls "alternative futures"? In this course, we will consider how literature both reflects and helps to shape human responses to the natural environment, looking especially at the representation of the physical world and ways of conceptualizing and representing the non-human world and our relationship to it.