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Places of Rest: Modernism and Environmental Recovery


Places of Rest outlines a modernist aesthetic of slowness, immediacy and introspection in relation to a cultural history of nature protection in the United Kingdom. It draws on the archives of the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves, founded in 1912, which invoked a threatening rhetoric of Nature’s total exhaustion under the march of modern development. Literary modernism’s presentation of human fragility amidst exhausted environments challenged problematic industrial and imperial narratives of unlimited progress and generated new modes of ecological awareness in the 20th century. Faced with the restless and inescapable forces of modernization, modernist writers shifted away from the withdrawn, “restful contemplation” of the Romantics and moved towards an increasingly materialist attention to the world as an immersive stream of human and nonhuman connections that are interdependent and hierarchical in problematic ways. The Anglophone novel, as it develops through D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Djuna Barnes, Jean Rhys and Chinua Achebe, becomes increasingly attuned to constructions of personal, social and planetary identity in relation to environmental exploitation. Highlighting the physical limitations that deny autonomy to human life, these writers communicate the unsustainability of relentless modernization and foreground the importance of recovery for communal wellbeing.

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