Bronteana: Bronte Studies Blog Archives

January 8, 2006

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Filed under: Uncategorized — by bronteana @ 5:01 pm

Book Review: Literature and the Crime Against Nature

This article, Man and His Kind, from Saturday’s edition of The Guardian Limited reviews Literature and the Crime Against Nature by Keith Sagar. His arguement sounds very interesting:

Keith Sagar offers “holisitic” readings of the canon in his thought-provoking survey, Literature and the Crime Against Nature.

[…]

According to the philosopher David Abram, the negative consequence of the invention of writing was a severance of humankind from its immediate environment, a loss of embeddedness in the earth: “Only as the written text began to speak would the voices of the forest and of the river begin to fade. And only then would language loosen its ancient associations with the invisible breath, the spirit sever itself from the wind, the psyche dissociate itself from the environing air.” By this account, writing was the original crime against nature.

One would think that the Brontes would come to mind as major players in such a study, but unfortunately the author appears to have missed out on taking them seriously into consideration. The author does discuss Emily’s work but, according to the reviewer, it is more about Heathcliff. This is discussed after the reviwer notes another woman author brought in for criticism- and rebuke- Jane Austen:

The most successful chapter is a reading of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness entitled “The Case of the Missing Elephants”, which proceeds from the simple but powerful intuition that the story is focused on the ivory trade yet oddly silent about where ivory comes from. A larger argument about the intersection of ecological and postcolonial criticism could have been developed here, but Sagar shies away from it. Instead he offers a tart rebuke of Jane Austen for defining her art as a “little bit (two inches wide) of Ivory on which I work with so fine a brush” – the metaphor here is “a dead image, completely cut off from any awareness of what ivory is, where it comes from, and what must be paid for even two inches of it in terms of suffering and death”.

Sagar’s distaste for Austen is of a piece with the “Iron John” tone of the book. Its notion of a return to nature seems to involve striding down the open road in the company of Whitman’s barbaric yawp, catching a large pike with Hughes and then joining Lawrence in a celebration of the phallus as “fertility symbol”. The only woman who gets a look-in is Emily Brontë, and she is but a cipher for that other “natural man”, Heathcliff.

I should like to hear what the Brontës would have said to the claim that writing is a crime against nature!

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