BAVS CFP: Gothic gardens and the ecocritical uncanny, 1850-1920.

Gardens and their contexts were continually reassessed throughout the nineteenth century in form, content and significance as ownership, technologies and affective aesthetics shifted throughout the period. If, as Heather Sullivan posits, ‘place’ should be considered in the light of ‘material processes … continually occurring all around, through, and in us,’ the garden-place is a concentrated site of material processes, of patterns, of bodily interactions and of sensory perception. Gardens occupy spaces where neither industry nor absence are fully realised, and the construction of a garden requires human and non-human negotiation; they are ‘porous’, to quote Catherine Alexander on the permanently transitory nature of gardens. However, the intimacy provided by controlling the space ‘also works as an unsettling reminder of human entanglement with other bodies: plants, animals, microorganisms’, as Niamh Downing reminds us. Favourite spots for hauntings, gardens are already haunted by aspects of what they were, their revelations and their persistence in spite of humankind. Victorian gardens, in the UK and in countries where English-style gardening was popular generate a particularly resonant interaction between matter and the immaterial, between stringent control and its opposite; disintegration, and even violence. Victorian ‘sensation’ fiction provides unnerving images of what might be underground, feeding Sergeant Cuff’s roses, for example, in The Moonstone, or concealing Lady Audley’s secret. Gardens can be cages, mazes of bewilderment, full of shades where sunlight never penetrates. Toru Dutt, away from her beloved Calcutta childhood garden, sees her favourite ‘casuarina tree’ appear like a wished-for ghost, hears it mourn her absence ‘in eerie speech.’ In particular, Victorian literature and art focuses on the relationship between exterior and interior, in bodily materiality, whether real or imagined, in sentient or non-sentient beings. Stacy Alaimo’s concept of ‘trans-corporeality’ has the potential for literal flourishing in gardens. Downing adds that ‘nature’ ‘is always and already uncanny, strange and excessive, especially when we get up close and intimate’. Perhaps there is nothing more intimate, more controlled, than the apparently safe order of flower beds and greenhouses. John Ruskin’s appreciation of Gothic disorder in architecture praised ‘the glory and the ruin of nature’, rather than the ‘inhuman completeness of mastery’; disorder, though, is a creeping thing as well as a glorious expression of freedom.

The essay collection will be published by Manchester University Press, as part of the International Gothic Series.

Papers are invited (6000-8000 words max.) on possible topics with an emphasis in material ecocriticism and ecogothic, which may include but are not limited to:

· Animal presences in gardens, dead or alive, pets, undomesticated creatures, insects and others; birds, as messengers or harbingers.
· Children in gardens, or their absence.
· Trees, their spiritual significance, use as menacing presences, representations of order in otherwise disordered landscapes, their destruction and their potential to destroy or to influence events.
· Types of plants in Gothic settings; ivy, evergreens, absence or presence of colour, plants that don’t thrive in particular places, significant flowers (e.g. roses, lilies).
· Water in gardens; wells, ponds, fountains, streams; as uncanny presence, as disposal sites, as lures for the unwary.
· The material presence of light and dark, sound and silence.
· Garden buildings, sheds, outhouses and greenhouses, ruined or in working order.
· Technology and its impact across the 19th century, in gardens and in the subsequent effects on literature; for example, the increasing use of poisons, and machines.
· ‘Absent’ gardens; ‘secret’, ‘forsaken’, or ‘unloved’ gardens (or portions of gardens) and their representations as natural/unnatural voids or uncanny and persistent presences, or sites of transformation aided by non-human nature.
· Gardeners, human, non-human and more than human.
· Public gardens.
· Garden design as a means of ‘unnatural’ control; materials (and people) used to enforce design schemes and their consequences.
· ‘Non-native’ species in garden ecologies.

Please send draft or outline submissions, including the paper title, abstract (300 words) and c.v. to Sue Edney s.edney@bathspa.ac.uk by 31st July 2017.

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