“Every day was adding to the verdure of the early trees”: Women, Trees, and the Relationship between Self and Other in Jane Austen’s Novels

“Every day was adding to the verdure of the early trees”: Women, Trees, and the Relationship... Jane Austen’s heroines are environmentalists, as evidenced by a pervasive dichotomy in her fictional landscape in which nature-lovers transcend the eco-callous in virtue and likeability. In Pride and Prejudice, the charismatic Elizabeth Bennet belongs to fields and groves and rarely “shut[s herself] into her own room” (PP 186)1 unless confronting a problem, whereas Bingley’s artificial sisters always appear indoors, and Charlotte Lucas sells herself for a home she can enjoy only by giving her moronic husband monopoly of the garden. Elizabeth’s habit of outdoor tramps lends parody to Caroline Bingley’s invitation to “‘take a turn about the room’” (56).2 Similarly, Anne Elliot of Persuasion “glorie[s] in the sea” (P 102) and its rejuvenating influence, while her shallow sister Elizabeth can only move “with exultation from one drawing-room to the other” (138). The green young Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey declares to Henry that “‘[t]he pleasure of walking and breathing fresh air is enough for me, and in fine weather I am out more than half my time.—Mamma says, I am never within’” (NA 174); by contrast, her false friend Isabella Thorpe man-chases her way through ballrooms, city streets, and country drives without heeding her surroundings. More famously, Sense and Sensibility’s Marianne Dashwood expresses a “passion for dead leaves” (SS 88) and bids a bittersweet farewell to the trees of Norland when she and her family are forced to move out, and Mansfield Park’s Fanny Price delivers a “rhapsodizing” ode on the evergreen. Fanny’s foil, narcissist Mary Crawford, responds to this rhapsody by infamously avowing to “‘see[ing] no wonder in this shrubbery equal to seeing myself in it’” (MP 209–10).3 Many scholars have explored the significance of place in Austen’s novelistic vision, whether as a reflection of the eighteenth-century literary legacy she inherited or of contemporary aesthetic and socio-cultural debates grounded in philosophies of landscape. In his classic critical work, The Improvement of the Estate, Alistair Duckworth describes the structuring principle of Austen’s works as one that “grows out of an eighteenth century novelistic concern with the predicament of the dislocated individual” as manifest in “the movement from a condition of initial security to a period of isolation and then to a final reinstatement in society” (10). While I agree with him that Austen “affirm[s] … inherited structures” (23) in narratives in which “each heroine … is finally located in a properly organized space for her social responsible activity” (8), I view this “location” of the female characters as more actively determined by them than he does and as ecofeminist in its implications. Duckworth, among others, also claims that Austen “belong[s] to a long tradition of anti-improvement literature” that criticizes the destructiveness and artifice of landscape design practices of the likes of Lancelot “Capability” Brown and Humphry Repton (xviii–xix). Marilyn Butler similarly generalizes that “eighteenth-century moralists” tend to reject the corrupt city in favor of the country as “a place for the individual to … cultivat[e] the self” or grow in “sober usefulness” to others (97). One can also discern ample novelistic and epistolary evidence that Austen was influenced by the Romantic poets. William Deresiewicz argues that her mature works—Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion—exhibit a greater depth and complexity than the earlier novels in their depictions of the heroines’ gradual personal development, their “memory and loss, interiority and solitude, ambivalence and openness,” like the Wordsworthian “poetry of process” that colors them (19). However, I would argue that Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet and Sense and Sensibility’s Marianne Dashwood, likewise, evidence “an attentiveness and spontaneous emotional responsiveness to nature” (Deresiewicz 20) whose substance and distinctive complexity their author affirms. Austen’s female characters implicitly identify with nature and its vulnerability to men’s oppression or nurturance in ways that manifest her participation in this fundamental paradigm of ecofeminist literature. Barbara Seeber views the human-environment relationship in Austen’s novels as a gendered ideological critique. In Jane Austen and Animals, she delineates patterns in the novelist’s portrayal of the correlative oppression of women, animals, and nature more broadly (71) as well as a scale of male enthusiasm for hunting as a moral litmus test (with disinterest in hunting as a symptom of merit). In a related essay, Seeber avers that “tree-cutting” as well as the acquisition and consumption of animal flesh reflects this shared victimization: “Attitudes toward the natural world were of special significance to women writers, who perceived a relationship between the treatment of nature and the treatment of those constructed as subordinate” (“Nature” 269), as in Austen’s portrayal of Fanny Price’s empathy with her overtaxed mare (“Nature” 272).4 Alison Sulloway asseverates that the author herself “had seen and suffered enough casual exploitation so that she took the pastoral world under her tender but unobtrusive fictional protection, just as she felt protective toward human figures under threat of abuse or neglect” (187). This phrasing makes Jane Austen sound like a tree, extending her literary arm to care for nature as well as the wayward human characters that identify with it. Austen imparts through her fiction that the love of nature for itself constitutes a desirable ideal for both genders as evidence of the capacity to look beyond themselves, thus reaping the reward of self-preservation, or sustainability.5 Laura Mooneyham White argues that “[t]he ultimate goal for each of Austen’s heroines … [is] to find a home in her self, for only then may she be rewarded with the idealized physical space that represents this inner integration” (201). I would modify this assertion to suggest a more reciprocal process—Austen’s heroines find a home in themselves, in and through organic space. They grow into themselves in the landscape like trees, absorbing critical insights into their relationships with themselves, society, and moral absolutes. Although many critics have provided insightful interpretations of Austen’s aesthetic and ideological relationship to nature as expressed in her novels, no one has offered a developed theory of her heroines as arboreal beings. In particular, though these two heroines are seldom compared, Elizabeth Bennet and Marianne Dashwood express strong identification with trees, as a fitting metaphor for their struggles to achieve individuation while finding their literal, social and psychological place in community. Elizabeth Bennet is a tree in search of a forest. She insists on standing alone, but longs to take root in rich soil. Her sassy self-assurance is appropriately manifest in her free occupation of space, but she takes a self-alienating path. On the hike to Netherfield to visit the convalescent Jane, Elizabeth walks Kitty and Lydia to Meryton, where they go “to the lodgings of one of the officers’ wives,” while she strides on energetically “alone, crossing field after field at a quick pace” (Austen, PP 32), muddy fields expressive of her fecundity of mind and body. The generic sisters and wives she leaves behind are “lodged” together in man-made buildings defined by the men they seek for flirtation, while Elizabeth shows comparative independence as a mobile woman of the soil. She overleaps all obstacles and emphatically connects with the land, “jumping over stiles and springing over puddles with impatient activity, and finding herself at last within view of the house, with weary ancles [sic], dirty stockings, and a face glowing with the warmth of exercise” (32). Elizabeth rejects the mediating transport of carriage or horseback, directly contacting nature and receiving its mark of kinship on her petticoat (which Bingley’s sister observes is “‘six inches deep in mud’” (36)). It is as if she plants and replants her feet in the soil with each leap.6 The Bingley sisters and Darcy are all surprised that she walks so far alone, as if to reinforce, as eighteenth-century women’s novels commonly did, “conduct books … stressing self-control and self-denial to the exclusion of psychological complexity” (Poovey 38); their reaction also accentuates the circumscription that the reader imaginatively identifies with Elizabeth’s near-bursting eagerness for the stress-relieving liberation of her walks. The Bingley sisters attempt to denigrate her with animal associations in characterizing her as “‘look[ing] almost wild’” (35) and her walk as “‘scampering about the country’” (Austen, PP 36). In fact, Elizabeth is drawn to cultivated wildness, to the harmonious coexistence of nature and humanity in which humanity plays an active, though careful, role. She is drawn to and takes possession of some park land at Lady Catherine’s estate, on her visit to the unfortunate Charlotte Collins, quickly finding a “favourite walk … where she frequently went while the others were calling on Lady Catherine … along the open grove which edged that side of the park, where there was a nice sheltered path, which no one seemed to value but herself” (169). She is drawn to the fringe of a planted park, a group of cultivated trees, suggesting her subconscious recognition of her need for greater community. Barbara Wenner denotes this scene as one of the “[e]dge-of-the-wood experiences” that function as an “important way for Austen’s heroines to understand and control where they are in the landscapes” and “to control their lives” (9). That Elizabeth chooses to occupy a space that “edges” Lady Catherine’s park while escaping her surveillance and company proves fitting in that Elizabeth ultimately edges Darcy’s aunt out of her schemes for him and his property by imperializing both. The location enables Elizabeth to “remain in touch simultaneously with society and nature—a good place to hide and a good place from which to seek” (Wenner 59). Her home “grove” with Darcy will be both “open” and “sheltered,” as if her taste in nature forecasts her ideal for marriage and social life—rooted, yet selectively thinned out and thus “open” to new growth (Austen, PP 169). Like a tree, Elizabeth must have room to take in sunlight and nutrients, to expand and thrive. The inherence of Elizabeth’s assumed equality with men and even lordship over them is manifest in an intriguing way in her competitiveness toward them in the demarcation of space. She takes offense at Darcy’s perceived encroachment into “her” space at Lady Catherine’s estate: More than once did Elizabeth in her ramble within the Park, unexpectedly meet Mr. Darcy.—She felt all the perverseness of the mischance that should bring him where no one else was brought; and to prevent its ever happening again, took care to inform him at first that it was a favourite haunt of hers.—How it could occur a second time therefore was very odd!—Yet it did, and even a third. It seemed like wilful ill-nature, or a voluntary penance, for on these occasions it was not merely a few formal enquiries and an awkward pause and then away, but he actually thought it necessary to turn back and walk with her. (182) The ironic humor of this scene resides in Elizabeth’s brazen attitude of entitlement toward someone else’s land (to which Darcy has more a right than she), and her obliviousness to his attempt at courtship. She misreads as “ill-nature” his investigation into her tastes, in which his query about “her love of solitary walks” and escort suggest the opposite—his anticipation of honoring her boundaries while sharing in her life. The term “ill-nature” is revealing here; he does not yet respect her as fully as he should, and her territorialism shows her unreadiness to share herself and her life with another. After rejecting his offensive first proposal, she alters her walking route at first, but drawn by the increasing “verdure of the early trees,” she approaches “the sort of grove which edged the park” and he approaches her from inside it (195). They meet at the gate to the grove, where he hands across his letter of explanation for his behavior toward the perfidious Wickham as well as his separation of Bingley from her beloved sister Jane. Although the gate reflects that Elizabeth and Darcy are still emotionally at odds, the fact that she accepts his letter from the other side foreshadows their later full reconciliation at the tree-filled Pemberley estate. Elizabeth claims fields and parks with blunt decision as her modus operandi in the world, leaping to conclusions and walking on others’ boundaries and feelings in the process, but discovers through Darcy’s revelations that she can be completely wrong and that holding herself apart, being a lone tree, has distorted her character. Ultimately, she joins with the woods. When she visits Darbyshire with her appropriately named Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, she: watched for the first appearance of Pemberley Woods with some perturbation; and when at length they turned in at the lodge, her spirits were in a high flutter. The park was very large, and contained a great variety of ground. They entered it in one of its lowest points, and drove for some time through a beautiful wood, stretching over a wide extent. Elizabeth’s mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view. (245) This entry into Darcy’s woods is the climax of Elizabeth’s development. Her expanded insight into herself (and therefore, into him) appears in her diversified views of the “very large” grounds of Pemberley. She observes the park’s vastness and “great variety of ground” as she and the Gardiners travel from “one of its lowest points” to a hilltop overlook and then make a partial descent to the house “standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills” (245).7 Their trip through the park depicts in codified form Elizabeth’s widened sympathies—she has learned to entertain others’ perspectives, whether from below or above her usual line of sight, ultimately settling on the midway point represented by the position of the house itself, which perches between a wooded hillside and a lush river valley. From outside the house, she “admired every remarkable spot and point of view” (245) and from inside, “she looked on the whole scene … with delight” (246). She discovers, literally and figuratively, “the limitations of a private view” (Duckworth 140). Thus, Elizabeth speaks no more than the truth when she quips to Jane that her love for Darcy dawns “‘from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley’” (PP 373)—from the point in her development when she can see beyond her own field of view to someone else’s perspective and, thus, be capable of seeing his lovability as well. That Elizabeth’s climactic revelation “that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!” occurs on the hilltop overlooking the “wide extent” (245) of Pemberley’s myriad naturescapes does not signify her exultation in an imagined social–materialist power in which she has succumbed to Darcy’s temptation, as if he has arrogantly implied, “‘All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me’” (Luke 4: 9).8 Though that was his attitude in his first proposal, both characters have already been humbled into the reform process by this point. Rather, this scene allegorizes the speechless Elizabeth’s almost mystical apprehension of the paradoxical beauty of cultivation for greater authenticity, whether in the self or the soil. She has been a tree standing apart, but has come to see from a broader view, as if from a tree’s height, exercising the independent agency of formulating her own impression, in which she envisions herself as part of a physical and social landscape into which she will ultimately choose to transplant herself. She awakens to her growing feelings for Darcy through her vision of his trees, among which she can picture herself. She grows into a multidimensionality and fullness in which she relates to and strengthens her bonds with others and enriches their lives and her own, rather than reactively trampling upon others’ ground without putting down roots. She reflects that “[s]he had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste” (245), thus recognizing Darcy’s respectful collaboration with nature and also, in the course of the visit, his reformed character and loving respect toward herself. She can plant herself in woods that become equally theirs, and welcomes as part of her family circle—or grove within the woods of society—not only her neighboring, married sister Jane, but her sister-in-law Georgiana and visiting sister Kitty, both of whom she mentors into stronger, more substantial women. Elizabeth no longer hovers at the fringe in isolated, superior independence, but fully enters into a relationship with a selective group of loved ones, in which she helps to reinforce and enhance their lives and her own. While Elizabeth Bennet shows action and thought in nature but rarely speaks of it directly, Marianne Dashwood speaks the romantic language of nature-worship and hurls herself into the landscape with emotional gusto. She is a wind-swept leaf in search of a tree. Marianne tumbles chaotically about the landscape of her life, until she returns to her familial roots, and ultimately becomes embodied in the mulberry tree in Colonel Brandon’s garden. On her family’s forced departure from the Norland estate on the death of her father, Marianne bids a dramatic farewell to the trees: “And you, ye well-known trees!—but you will continue the same.—No leaf will decay because we are removed, nor any branch become motionless although we can observe you no longer!—No; you will continue the same; unconscious of the pleasure or the regret you occasion, and insensible of any change in those who walk under your shade!—But who will remain to enjoy you?” (SS 27) Many readers view Marianne’s proclaimed nature sensibilities as forced theatrics, a parody of Romanticism in which she shallowly “projects onto the landscape feelings derived from verse” (Deresiewicz 20). However, she recognizes the old trees as timeless symbols of continuity and rightly foresees that her cold-hearted, materialistic step-brother and his wife, who take ownership of the property, will jeopardize this continuity because they are incapable of genuine appreciation or respect for nature. Marianne’s attachment to these trees is genuine; her farewell to them shows that she “recognizes the alterity of nature, that the trees exist outside of human demands—whether utilitarian or aesthetic” (Seeber, “Jane” 85). After the Dashwood women’s relocation to Barton, Marianne wonders how the Norland landscape is getting on, and Elinor teases her about her “‘passion for dead leaves’” (Austen, SS 88). Edward Ferrars similarly jokes that if Marianne had the money, “‘she would have every book that tells her how to admire an old twisted tree’” (92). Elinor and Edward represent a tempered, pragmatic view of nature, Elinor claiming in a practical tone that their former home’s “‘woods and walks’” are probably “‘thickly covered with dead leaves’” (87) as usual for the fall, but Marianne instinctively fears that with her brother and sister-in-law in residence, even the dead leaves are neglected: “‘Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from the sight’” (88). Though it might be a stretch to suggest Austen is advocating composting in this scene, Marianne’s rather melodramatic observation shows discernment in that it reflects her awareness of John and Fanny Dashwood’s exploitative attitude toward their newly acquired resources—they are more likely to sweep away organic matter than to foster it. Marianne’s separation anxiety when initially parting from the trees and her prophetic vision of an artificially leaf-free environment is later confirmed when John Dashwood openly informs Elinor that “‘The old walnut trees are all come down to make room for’” a greenhouse (226). Austen clearly conveys the absurdity of cutting down old growth trees for a construct in which limited new growth will be forced; “Elinor kept her concern and her censure to herself; and was very thankful that Marianne was not present, to share the provocation” (226). Foolish John Dashwood and his superficial wife are unworthy of the estate they have inherited and are already brutalizing, which mirrors their uprooting of the Dashwood sisters and their mother from their home landscape, so that they must transplant themselves into the small cottage at Barton. Confining nature into cosmetic sterility for mere appearances shows superficiality and short-term thinking as well as poor taste, and alienation of family isolates John and Fanny in their stasis and corruption of character. Their treatment of trees mirrors their treatment of their female family. Clearly, Marianne, like Elizabeth Bennet, relies on “gardens and pastoral scenes … for their beauty and the invigorating support that they [offer] to people under stress” (Sulloway 186). Substantial critical attention has been paid to Marianne Dashwood’s fall downhill, as a manifestation of her moral and psychological downslide. She hurls herself precipitately into life, running downhill in faster pursuit of more socially suspect inclinations than hiker Elizabeth Bennet does. Marianne’s cultish Romanticism is fittingly encapsulated in her superlative-filled outdoor language and, of course, her famous dash “with all possible speed down the steep side of the hill” that causes her accident (Austen, SS 41). Her increasing loss of self is evidenced in her inability to experience nature apart from its associations with selfish sensualist, John Willoughby. After he plays the loving suitor, almost proposes and then abandons her for a wealthy woman, Marianne plunges herself into a nearly fatal illness during a visit to the Palmers’ estate, wandering “all over the grounds, and especially in the most distant parts of them, where there was something more of wildness than in the rest, where the trees were the oldest, and the grass was the longest and the wettest” (305–306). She associates Willoughby with not only the phallic “fine bold hills” (69) visible from his estate and the “ridge of hills” (303) near Cleveland, but with all the scenery at Barton where their courtship took place: “every field and every tree brought some peculiar, some painful recollection” (342). Marianne’s reclamation of herself parallels her reclamation of the landscape from Willoughby, whom she exorcises from her life by ceremonially returning to, identifying, and dismissing him to the hill where she fell under his influence: “‘There, exactly there’—pointing with one hand, ‘on that projecting mound,—there I fell; and there I first saw Willoughby’” (344). In particularizing the exact site of Willoughby’s first entrance into her life, she narrows and begins to dispel his presence, as if burying his memory in the “projecting mound” (a phrase that can be read as describing her use of it). Now, rather than whirling down to his level, a dying leaf, she stands treelike above him and takes back the landscape. As Marianne recovers, she gradually transforms from resembling the dead leaves she loves—blown about and isolated by the winds of extreme impulses and avoidable consequences that could have landed her in the pile with the novel’s seduced and abandoned women, the younger of whom Willoughby had victimized—to reattaching to her vital family tree. She looks forward to the genuine “happy privilege of country liberty, of wandering from place to place” (303), not in lonely misery as during her and Elinor’s miserable visit to Cleveland after Willoughby’s rejection, but with her entire “dear family party” (343) at home. She tells Elinor they “‘will take long walks together every day’” to landscapes associated with community such as “‘the farm’” and “‘the Abbeyland’” (343). Marianne learns to long for the agrarian proximity that is microcosmically represented by Colonel Brandon’s edenic gardenscape. As Mrs. Jennings comically remarks on learning of Willoughby’s abandonment, “‘tis a true saying about an ill wind, for it will be all the better for Colonel Brandon. He will have her at last’” (196). Perhaps the wind of circumstance blows her closer to the Colonel, but Marianne is no longer a whirling leaf and is not passive in her choice of partner. As she experiences physical renewal, she actively wills her mental reform, consciously returning to the tree of family stability in which she decides to include Colonel Brandon, “invit[ing him] to visit her” during her convalescence in the feminine personal space of “Mrs. Palmer’s dressing-room” (340). This scene foreshadows her corresponding entrance into his garden utopia, which becomes hers, a nurturing yonic space in which to strengthen and bear fruit. As the Colonel enters her heart, she enters the garden of his, not as a dead leaf, but as a whole, vitalized tree that is firmly planted—not in the windy hills, but in rich, well-protected soil. Mrs. Jennings describes Delaford as a self-sustaining agrarian utopia, “ … a nice old fashioned place, full of comforts and conveniences; quite shut in with great garden walls that are covered with the best fruit-trees in the country: and such a mulberry tree in one corner! Lord! how Charlotte and I did stuff the only time we were there! Then, there is a dovecote, some delightful stewponds, and a very pretty canal; and every thing, in short, that one could wish for: and, moreover, it is close to the church, and only a quarter of a mile from the turnpike-road, so ‘tis never dull, for if you only go and sit up in an old yew arbour behind the house, you may see all the carriages that pass along. Oh! 'tis a nice place!” (196–197) In becoming the mulberry tree in the walled garden, Marianne does not become boxed in, but buttressed and, thus, productive and flourishing, “the mistress of a family, and the patroness of a village” (379). As Jill Heydt-Stevenson avers, “When Austen incorporates aesthetic theories in relation to discussions of marriage and colonialism, she suggests that not only the placement of trees, but also the management of women and of other nations will affect the health and future of Britain” (152). The mulberry tree is both beautiful and utilitarian, apart enough “in one corner” (Austen, SS 197) to be individual, but bolstered enough to thrive as an agent of communal sharing; this symbolism and the transformation it embodies convey an almost cosmic significance. Marianne will transform a tree associated with the tragic ancient Babylonian myth of Pyramis and Thisbe—whose forbidden love ultimately leads them each to suicide in Romeo and Juliet fashion, their blood reddening the tree’s fruit (Lehner 71)—into an image that connotes female prosperity. And the old yew trees Mrs. Jennings mentions in describing Delaford—often found in churchyards and associated with longevity, death, and immortal life—make a fitting scenic overlook for a restored Marianne, who has experienced near-death and a kind of rebirth. From the branches of these grand old trees, she can observe a balanced simultaneity of continuity and change and be encouraged to maintain the outward-looking interest in others that her almost-fatal illness invoked. In addition, as Alison Sulloway points out, “she will have plenty of wild places on the Delaford estate to which to repair. Colonel Brandon will not be the husband to try to stop her” (204); more likely, he will often join in her rambles as the two jointly serve as “preservers of lands and of domestic serenity alike” (205). Jane Austen’s women do not have many opportunities to realize their potential; they do not become professionals, politicians, or global leaders. However, her heroines marry the right men, and reinforce in them and their descendants the right use of land and its trees—its organic as well as human occupants. Foolish Mr. Collins of Pride and Prejudice can only view trees, like women, as interchangeable, quantifiable goods: “He could number the fields in every direction, and could tell how many trees there were in the most distant clump” (Austen, PP 156), with no feeling whatsoever for the living beings themselves. Fortunately, Elizabeth Bennet has the sense to reject him and the heartlessly detached consumerism he evinces toward both women and the environment, in favor of a man who learns to cherish her even more than he does his tenderly nurtured woods. In the case of Marianne Dashwood, the heroine first eagerly pursues the wrong man, a wastrel who thoughtlessly consumes her love and faith as he drains his material resources, but then learns through suffering to discern the worthy steward of both her heart and her beloved trees. In Austen’s narrative universe, a gentleman’s harmonious integration of the natural and the domesticated in the landscape through a minimal modulation of wildness bodes well for his attitude toward his wife’s authentic vitality as well.9 Rosemarie Bodenheimer succinctly sums up the importance of women’s assessment of the architecture of men’s outward estates as a manifestation of their inward states: “Elizabeth recognizes Darcy’s value at Pemberley; Emma validates her esteem for Mr. Knightley at Donwell Abbey, and begins to amend her view of Robert Martin as she looks at the view of Abbey-Mill Farm” (610). Human beings’ careful cultivation of the environment parallels the heroines’ own self-cultivation in and through space, toward the longevity of women, the environment, and society as a whole. Austen’s exploration of associations between women and trees as maps of women’s self-navigation within society, as represented by Elizabeth Bennet and Marianne Dashwood, suggests that the diversification of one’s views and experiences increases one’s genuine love of the land. This love transcends superlative eco-language and manifests itself in the practical, strategic work of preservationist stewardship, in an Elizabeth-like willingness to dirty one’s petticoat. Nonetheless, the tree which the tenaciously rooted Fanny Price of Mansfield Park chooses to extol is revealing: “Evergreen trees, in particular, connote immortality because they always look foliated—though in fact they are constantly shedding and growing new needles” (Nadkarni 203). This is the balance that Austen’s heroines, and all human beings, should seek to achieve—the maintenance of rootedness and the continuous achievement of growth and renewal, for themselves as for their naturescapes. Positive change is only that which preserves the ability to self-sustain, regardless of time. By rooting oneself among selective, well-rooted others, one chooses “self-in-society, the vitalized reconstitution of a social totality, the dynamic compromise between past and present, the simultaneous reception of what is valuable in an inheritance and the liberation of the originality, energy and spontaneity in the living moment” (Duckworth 142). Thus, a reading of Elizabeth Bennet’s self-transplantations from lone tree to grove to wood and of Marianne Dashwood’s leafy flight from and reattachment to a rooted family tree underscores the distinctly female eco-consciousness that suffuses all of Austen’s novels. Her heroines’ conservationist landscape aesthetics presage their propagation of scrupulous estate stewardship in succeeding generations. Austen composed her fiction during an era in which “the social order based on patronage gradually gave way, between the 1790s and the 1830s, to the practices and pressures of individualism” and women “were being asked to preserve the remnants of the old society within the private sphere of the home” (Poovey xv). She depicts the inextricable link between women and nature through metaphorical parallels between female characters and especially trees, a link that assists women in realizing their selfhood in a community that will survive and thrive with and because of them. In the accomplishment of this process, paradoxically, female autonomy consists of choosing community, of placing one’s own roots in and maintaining the most prosperous soil, as a tree that is not alone in a field, or at the edge of a small grove, but surrounded by a firm and mutually stabilizing wood. Footnotes 1 All Austen quotes are from the Chapman edition of the novels. 2 As Robert Kern points out, even the beloved but less appealing “Jane’s exposure to the natural world results in a bad cold, but Elizabeth’s makes her radiant” (262). 3 Colin Jager and others interpret Fanny Price’s appreciation for and Mary Crawford’s insensitivity to nature as indicative of Fanny’s moral superiority (57). Rachel Trickett emphasizes the significance of Fanny’s isolation in the landscape and her identity as “very much a romantic” (91). 4 In her dissertation, P. Keiko Kagawa describes ways in which “Fanny’s physical location and isolation [are] symbolic of her social ostracism from the more wealthy members of her family” (98), such as when she is left on the bench at Sotherton while Edmund and Mary go exploring. 5 Susan Morgan claims that the season-contextualized events in Pride and Prejudice “all take for granted the connections between our hearts and the natural landscape, the physical cycles of our lives” (170), that “the natural landscape” is an element of Austen’s realism and that “the meaning of nature, like the meaning of any experience, is intertwined with our feelings about it” in her novels (172). 6 In Joe Wright’s film version of “Pride & Prejudice,” Keira Knightley is visually identified with a lone tree. During her walk to Netherfield to visit her sister Jane, the camera cuts to a long shot of a grassy field dominated by an irregularly shaped, gnarly barked tree crowned with lush foliage that has an almost bonsai look. The subtext suggests that Elizabeth is the exotic tree that stands alone but is teetering a bit in its isolated independence. 7 Darrel Mansell credits the Gardiners with “introduc[ing] her to this ‘nature’ in an even wider sense—the human nature that Elizabeth still archly holds herself above” (92). While I agree that they are instrumental in encouraging Elizabeth’s environmental enthusiasm as well as ongoing moral growth as role models, Elizabeth has already begun her descent to greater humility and self-knowledge before this scene and no longer views herself as “above” her flawed humanity. 8 King James Bible. 9 Numerous male characters are morally defined and evaluated for their husband potential based on their landscape aesthetics. The characters of Edmund Bertram, Henry Crawford and Mr. Rushworth in Mansfield Park are reinforced by their views of nature—Edmund seeks a harmonious co-inherence of buildings with nature that is somewhat akin to Darcy’s management of Pemberley and possesses an authentic moral center, whereas Henry prefers artificial “improvements” that resonate with his false persona (which hides a wicked heart) and Mr. Rushworth desires supposed “improvements” without possessing a clear vision of either his landscape aesthetic or his overall identity. Works Cited Austen Jane. The Novels of Jane Austen. Vols. 1–3, 5. Ed. Chapman R. W. , 3rd ed. Oxford UP , 1933 – 67 . Bodenheimer Rosemarie. “Looking at the Landscape in Jane Austen.” SEL , 21 . 4 ( 1981 ): 605 – 23 . Butler Marilyn. Jane Austen and the War of Ideas . Clarendon P , 1975 . Deresiewicz William. Jane Austen and the Romantic Poets . Columbia UP , 2004 . Duckworth Alistair M. The Improvement of the Estate. 1971 . Johns Hopkins UP , 1994 . Heydt-Stevenson Jill. Unbecoming Conjunctions: Subversive Laughter, Embodied History . Palgrave Macmillan , 2005 . Jager Colin. “Mansfield Park and the End of Natural Theology.” Modern Language Quarterly , 63 . 1 ( 2002 ): 31 – 63 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Kagawa P. Keiko . Bodies in the “House of Fiction”: The Architecture of Domestic and Narrative Spaces by Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot . Dissertation, U of Oregon , 2002 . Kern Robert. “Ecocriticism: What Is It Good For?” The ISLE Reader: Ecocriticism, 1993-2003 , Eds. Branch Michael P. et al. U of Georgia P , 2003 . 258 – 81 . Lehner Ernst , Johanna Folklore and Symbolism of Flowers, Plants and Trees . Tudor , 1960 . Mansell Darrel. The Novels of Jane Austen: An Interpretation . Macmillan , 1973 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Morgan Susan. In the Meantime: Character and Perception in Jane Austen’s Fiction . U of Chicago P , 1980 . Nadkarni Nalini M. Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connections to Trees . U of California P , 2008 . Poovey Mary. The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer . U of Chicago P , 1984 . Seeber Barbara K. Jane Austen and Animals . Ashgate , 2013 . Seeber Barbara K. . “ Nature, Animals, and Gender in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and Emma .” Lit: Literature Interpretation Theory , 13 . 4 ( 2002 ): 269 – 85 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Sulloway Alison G. Jane Austen and the Province of Womanhood . U of Pennsylvania P , 1989 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Trickett Rachel. “Mansfield Park.” Wordsworth Circle , 17 . 2 ( 1986 ): 87 – 95 . Wenner Barbara Britton. Prospect and Refuge in the Landscape of Jane Austen . Ashgate , 2006 . White Laura Mooneyham. “Traveling to the Self: Comic and Spatial Openness in Jane Austen’s Novels.” Critical Essays on Jane Austen , Ed. Mooneyham White Laura . G.K . Hall , 1998 . 198 – 213 . © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment Oxford University Press

“Every day was adding to the verdure of the early trees”: Women, Trees, and the Relationship between Self and Other in Jane Austen’s Novels

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Abstract

Jane Austen’s heroines are environmentalists, as evidenced by a pervasive dichotomy in her fictional landscape in which nature-lovers transcend the eco-callous in virtue and likeability. In Pride and Prejudice, the charismatic Elizabeth Bennet belongs to fields and groves and rarely “shut[s herself] into her own room” (PP 186)1 unless confronting a problem, whereas Bingley’s artificial sisters always appear indoors, and Charlotte Lucas sells herself for a home she can enjoy only by giving her moronic husband monopoly of the garden. Elizabeth’s habit of outdoor tramps lends parody to Caroline Bingley’s invitation to “‘take a turn about the room’” (56).2 Similarly, Anne Elliot of Persuasion “glorie[s] in the sea” (P 102) and its rejuvenating influence, while her shallow sister Elizabeth can only move “with exultation from one drawing-room to the other” (138). The green young Catherine Morland of Northanger Abbey declares to Henry that “‘[t]he pleasure of walking and breathing fresh air is enough for me, and in fine weather I am out more than half my time.—Mamma says, I am never within’” (NA 174); by contrast, her false friend Isabella Thorpe man-chases her way through ballrooms, city streets, and country drives without heeding her surroundings. More famously, Sense and Sensibility’s Marianne Dashwood expresses a “passion for dead leaves” (SS 88) and bids a bittersweet farewell to the trees of Norland when she and her family are forced to move out, and Mansfield Park’s Fanny Price delivers a “rhapsodizing” ode on the evergreen. Fanny’s foil, narcissist Mary Crawford, responds to this rhapsody by infamously avowing to “‘see[ing] no wonder in this shrubbery equal to seeing myself in it’” (MP 209–10).3 Many scholars have explored the significance of place in Austen’s novelistic vision, whether as a reflection of the eighteenth-century literary legacy she inherited or of contemporary aesthetic and socio-cultural debates grounded in philosophies of landscape. In his classic critical work, The Improvement of the Estate, Alistair Duckworth describes the structuring principle of Austen’s works as one that “grows out of an eighteenth century novelistic concern with the predicament of the dislocated individual” as manifest in “the movement from a condition of initial security to a period of isolation and then to a final reinstatement in society” (10). While I agree with him that Austen “affirm[s] … inherited structures” (23) in narratives in which “each heroine … is finally located in a properly organized space for her social responsible activity” (8), I view this “location” of the female characters as more actively determined by them than he does and as ecofeminist in its implications. Duckworth, among others, also claims that Austen “belong[s] to a long tradition of anti-improvement literature” that criticizes the destructiveness and artifice of landscape design practices of the likes of Lancelot “Capability” Brown and Humphry Repton (xviii–xix). Marilyn Butler similarly generalizes that “eighteenth-century moralists” tend to reject the corrupt city in favor of the country as “a place for the individual to … cultivat[e] the self” or grow in “sober usefulness” to others (97). One can also discern ample novelistic and epistolary evidence that Austen was influenced by the Romantic poets. William Deresiewicz argues that her mature works—Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion—exhibit a greater depth and complexity than the earlier novels in their depictions of the heroines’ gradual personal development, their “memory and loss, interiority and solitude, ambivalence and openness,” like the Wordsworthian “poetry of process” that colors them (19). However, I would argue that Pride and Prejudice’s Elizabeth Bennet and Sense and Sensibility’s Marianne Dashwood, likewise, evidence “an attentiveness and spontaneous emotional responsiveness to nature” (Deresiewicz 20) whose substance and distinctive complexity their author affirms. Austen’s female characters implicitly identify with nature and its vulnerability to men’s oppression or nurturance in ways that manifest her participation in this fundamental paradigm of ecofeminist literature. Barbara Seeber views the human-environment relationship in Austen’s novels as a gendered ideological critique. In Jane Austen and Animals, she delineates patterns in the novelist’s portrayal of the correlative oppression of women, animals, and nature more broadly (71) as well as a scale of male enthusiasm for hunting as a moral litmus test (with disinterest in hunting as a symptom of merit). In a related essay, Seeber avers that “tree-cutting” as well as the acquisition and consumption of animal flesh reflects this shared victimization: “Attitudes toward the natural world were of special significance to women writers, who perceived a relationship between the treatment of nature and the treatment of those constructed as subordinate” (“Nature” 269), as in Austen’s portrayal of Fanny Price’s empathy with her overtaxed mare (“Nature” 272).4 Alison Sulloway asseverates that the author herself “had seen and suffered enough casual exploitation so that she took the pastoral world under her tender but unobtrusive fictional protection, just as she felt protective toward human figures under threat of abuse or neglect” (187). This phrasing makes Jane Austen sound like a tree, extending her literary arm to care for nature as well as the wayward human characters that identify with it. Austen imparts through her fiction that the love of nature for itself constitutes a desirable ideal for both genders as evidence of the capacity to look beyond themselves, thus reaping the reward of self-preservation, or sustainability.5 Laura Mooneyham White argues that “[t]he ultimate goal for each of Austen’s heroines … [is] to find a home in her self, for only then may she be rewarded with the idealized physical space that represents this inner integration” (201). I would modify this assertion to suggest a more reciprocal process—Austen’s heroines find a home in themselves, in and through organic space. They grow into themselves in the landscape like trees, absorbing critical insights into their relationships with themselves, society, and moral absolutes. Although many critics have provided insightful interpretations of Austen’s aesthetic and ideological relationship to nature as expressed in her novels, no one has offered a developed theory of her heroines as arboreal beings. In particular, though these two heroines are seldom compared, Elizabeth Bennet and Marianne Dashwood express strong identification with trees, as a fitting metaphor for their struggles to achieve individuation while finding their literal, social and psychological place in community. Elizabeth Bennet is a tree in search of a forest. She insists on standing alone, but longs to take root in rich soil. Her sassy self-assurance is appropriately manifest in her free occupation of space, but she takes a self-alienating path. On the hike to Netherfield to visit the convalescent Jane, Elizabeth walks Kitty and Lydia to Meryton, where they go “to the lodgings of one of the officers’ wives,” while she strides on energetically “alone, crossing field after field at a quick pace” (Austen, PP 32), muddy fields expressive of her fecundity of mind and body. The generic sisters and wives she leaves behind are “lodged” together in man-made buildings defined by the men they seek for flirtation, while Elizabeth shows comparative independence as a mobile woman of the soil. She overleaps all obstacles and emphatically connects with the land, “jumping over stiles and springing over puddles with impatient activity, and finding herself at last within view of the house, with weary ancles [sic], dirty stockings, and a face glowing with the warmth of exercise” (32). Elizabeth rejects the mediating transport of carriage or horseback, directly contacting nature and receiving its mark of kinship on her petticoat (which Bingley’s sister observes is “‘six inches deep in mud’” (36)). It is as if she plants and replants her feet in the soil with each leap.6 The Bingley sisters and Darcy are all surprised that she walks so far alone, as if to reinforce, as eighteenth-century women’s novels commonly did, “conduct books … stressing self-control and self-denial to the exclusion of psychological complexity” (Poovey 38); their reaction also accentuates the circumscription that the reader imaginatively identifies with Elizabeth’s near-bursting eagerness for the stress-relieving liberation of her walks. The Bingley sisters attempt to denigrate her with animal associations in characterizing her as “‘look[ing] almost wild’” (35) and her walk as “‘scampering about the country’” (Austen, PP 36). In fact, Elizabeth is drawn to cultivated wildness, to the harmonious coexistence of nature and humanity in which humanity plays an active, though careful, role. She is drawn to and takes possession of some park land at Lady Catherine’s estate, on her visit to the unfortunate Charlotte Collins, quickly finding a “favourite walk … where she frequently went while the others were calling on Lady Catherine … along the open grove which edged that side of the park, where there was a nice sheltered path, which no one seemed to value but herself” (169). She is drawn to the fringe of a planted park, a group of cultivated trees, suggesting her subconscious recognition of her need for greater community. Barbara Wenner denotes this scene as one of the “[e]dge-of-the-wood experiences” that function as an “important way for Austen’s heroines to understand and control where they are in the landscapes” and “to control their lives” (9). That Elizabeth chooses to occupy a space that “edges” Lady Catherine’s park while escaping her surveillance and company proves fitting in that Elizabeth ultimately edges Darcy’s aunt out of her schemes for him and his property by imperializing both. The location enables Elizabeth to “remain in touch simultaneously with society and nature—a good place to hide and a good place from which to seek” (Wenner 59). Her home “grove” with Darcy will be both “open” and “sheltered,” as if her taste in nature forecasts her ideal for marriage and social life—rooted, yet selectively thinned out and thus “open” to new growth (Austen, PP 169). Like a tree, Elizabeth must have room to take in sunlight and nutrients, to expand and thrive. The inherence of Elizabeth’s assumed equality with men and even lordship over them is manifest in an intriguing way in her competitiveness toward them in the demarcation of space. She takes offense at Darcy’s perceived encroachment into “her” space at Lady Catherine’s estate: More than once did Elizabeth in her ramble within the Park, unexpectedly meet Mr. Darcy.—She felt all the perverseness of the mischance that should bring him where no one else was brought; and to prevent its ever happening again, took care to inform him at first that it was a favourite haunt of hers.—How it could occur a second time therefore was very odd!—Yet it did, and even a third. It seemed like wilful ill-nature, or a voluntary penance, for on these occasions it was not merely a few formal enquiries and an awkward pause and then away, but he actually thought it necessary to turn back and walk with her. (182) The ironic humor of this scene resides in Elizabeth’s brazen attitude of entitlement toward someone else’s land (to which Darcy has more a right than she), and her obliviousness to his attempt at courtship. She misreads as “ill-nature” his investigation into her tastes, in which his query about “her love of solitary walks” and escort suggest the opposite—his anticipation of honoring her boundaries while sharing in her life. The term “ill-nature” is revealing here; he does not yet respect her as fully as he should, and her territorialism shows her unreadiness to share herself and her life with another. After rejecting his offensive first proposal, she alters her walking route at first, but drawn by the increasing “verdure of the early trees,” she approaches “the sort of grove which edged the park” and he approaches her from inside it (195). They meet at the gate to the grove, where he hands across his letter of explanation for his behavior toward the perfidious Wickham as well as his separation of Bingley from her beloved sister Jane. Although the gate reflects that Elizabeth and Darcy are still emotionally at odds, the fact that she accepts his letter from the other side foreshadows their later full reconciliation at the tree-filled Pemberley estate. Elizabeth claims fields and parks with blunt decision as her modus operandi in the world, leaping to conclusions and walking on others’ boundaries and feelings in the process, but discovers through Darcy’s revelations that she can be completely wrong and that holding herself apart, being a lone tree, has distorted her character. Ultimately, she joins with the woods. When she visits Darbyshire with her appropriately named Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, she: watched for the first appearance of Pemberley Woods with some perturbation; and when at length they turned in at the lodge, her spirits were in a high flutter. The park was very large, and contained a great variety of ground. They entered it in one of its lowest points, and drove for some time through a beautiful wood, stretching over a wide extent. Elizabeth’s mind was too full for conversation, but she saw and admired every remarkable spot and point of view. (245) This entry into Darcy’s woods is the climax of Elizabeth’s development. Her expanded insight into herself (and therefore, into him) appears in her diversified views of the “very large” grounds of Pemberley. She observes the park’s vastness and “great variety of ground” as she and the Gardiners travel from “one of its lowest points” to a hilltop overlook and then make a partial descent to the house “standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills” (245).7 Their trip through the park depicts in codified form Elizabeth’s widened sympathies—she has learned to entertain others’ perspectives, whether from below or above her usual line of sight, ultimately settling on the midway point represented by the position of the house itself, which perches between a wooded hillside and a lush river valley. From outside the house, she “admired every remarkable spot and point of view” (245) and from inside, “she looked on the whole scene … with delight” (246). She discovers, literally and figuratively, “the limitations of a private view” (Duckworth 140). Thus, Elizabeth speaks no more than the truth when she quips to Jane that her love for Darcy dawns “‘from my first seeing his beautiful grounds at Pemberley’” (PP 373)—from the point in her development when she can see beyond her own field of view to someone else’s perspective and, thus, be capable of seeing his lovability as well. That Elizabeth’s climactic revelation “that to be mistress of Pemberley might be something!” occurs on the hilltop overlooking the “wide extent” (245) of Pemberley’s myriad naturescapes does not signify her exultation in an imagined social–materialist power in which she has succumbed to Darcy’s temptation, as if he has arrogantly implied, “‘All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me’” (Luke 4: 9).8 Though that was his attitude in his first proposal, both characters have already been humbled into the reform process by this point. Rather, this scene allegorizes the speechless Elizabeth’s almost mystical apprehension of the paradoxical beauty of cultivation for greater authenticity, whether in the self or the soil. She has been a tree standing apart, but has come to see from a broader view, as if from a tree’s height, exercising the independent agency of formulating her own impression, in which she envisions herself as part of a physical and social landscape into which she will ultimately choose to transplant herself. She awakens to her growing feelings for Darcy through her vision of his trees, among which she can picture herself. She grows into a multidimensionality and fullness in which she relates to and strengthens her bonds with others and enriches their lives and her own, rather than reactively trampling upon others’ ground without putting down roots. She reflects that “[s]he had never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so little counteracted by an awkward taste” (245), thus recognizing Darcy’s respectful collaboration with nature and also, in the course of the visit, his reformed character and loving respect toward herself. She can plant herself in woods that become equally theirs, and welcomes as part of her family circle—or grove within the woods of society—not only her neighboring, married sister Jane, but her sister-in-law Georgiana and visiting sister Kitty, both of whom she mentors into stronger, more substantial women. Elizabeth no longer hovers at the fringe in isolated, superior independence, but fully enters into a relationship with a selective group of loved ones, in which she helps to reinforce and enhance their lives and her own. While Elizabeth Bennet shows action and thought in nature but rarely speaks of it directly, Marianne Dashwood speaks the romantic language of nature-worship and hurls herself into the landscape with emotional gusto. She is a wind-swept leaf in search of a tree. Marianne tumbles chaotically about the landscape of her life, until she returns to her familial roots, and ultimately becomes embodied in the mulberry tree in Colonel Brandon’s garden. On her family’s forced departure from the Norland estate on the death of her father, Marianne bids a dramatic farewell to the trees: “And you, ye well-known trees!—but you will continue the same.—No leaf will decay because we are removed, nor any branch become motionless although we can observe you no longer!—No; you will continue the same; unconscious of the pleasure or the regret you occasion, and insensible of any change in those who walk under your shade!—But who will remain to enjoy you?” (SS 27) Many readers view Marianne’s proclaimed nature sensibilities as forced theatrics, a parody of Romanticism in which she shallowly “projects onto the landscape feelings derived from verse” (Deresiewicz 20). However, she recognizes the old trees as timeless symbols of continuity and rightly foresees that her cold-hearted, materialistic step-brother and his wife, who take ownership of the property, will jeopardize this continuity because they are incapable of genuine appreciation or respect for nature. Marianne’s attachment to these trees is genuine; her farewell to them shows that she “recognizes the alterity of nature, that the trees exist outside of human demands—whether utilitarian or aesthetic” (Seeber, “Jane” 85). After the Dashwood women’s relocation to Barton, Marianne wonders how the Norland landscape is getting on, and Elinor teases her about her “‘passion for dead leaves’” (Austen, SS 88). Edward Ferrars similarly jokes that if Marianne had the money, “‘she would have every book that tells her how to admire an old twisted tree’” (92). Elinor and Edward represent a tempered, pragmatic view of nature, Elinor claiming in a practical tone that their former home’s “‘woods and walks’” are probably “‘thickly covered with dead leaves’” (87) as usual for the fall, but Marianne instinctively fears that with her brother and sister-in-law in residence, even the dead leaves are neglected: “‘Now there is no one to regard them. They are seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much as possible from the sight’” (88). Though it might be a stretch to suggest Austen is advocating composting in this scene, Marianne’s rather melodramatic observation shows discernment in that it reflects her awareness of John and Fanny Dashwood’s exploitative attitude toward their newly acquired resources—they are more likely to sweep away organic matter than to foster it. Marianne’s separation anxiety when initially parting from the trees and her prophetic vision of an artificially leaf-free environment is later confirmed when John Dashwood openly informs Elinor that “‘The old walnut trees are all come down to make room for’” a greenhouse (226). Austen clearly conveys the absurdity of cutting down old growth trees for a construct in which limited new growth will be forced; “Elinor kept her concern and her censure to herself; and was very thankful that Marianne was not present, to share the provocation” (226). Foolish John Dashwood and his superficial wife are unworthy of the estate they have inherited and are already brutalizing, which mirrors their uprooting of the Dashwood sisters and their mother from their home landscape, so that they must transplant themselves into the small cottage at Barton. Confining nature into cosmetic sterility for mere appearances shows superficiality and short-term thinking as well as poor taste, and alienation of family isolates John and Fanny in their stasis and corruption of character. Their treatment of trees mirrors their treatment of their female family. Clearly, Marianne, like Elizabeth Bennet, relies on “gardens and pastoral scenes … for their beauty and the invigorating support that they [offer] to people under stress” (Sulloway 186). Substantial critical attention has been paid to Marianne Dashwood’s fall downhill, as a manifestation of her moral and psychological downslide. She hurls herself precipitately into life, running downhill in faster pursuit of more socially suspect inclinations than hiker Elizabeth Bennet does. Marianne’s cultish Romanticism is fittingly encapsulated in her superlative-filled outdoor language and, of course, her famous dash “with all possible speed down the steep side of the hill” that causes her accident (Austen, SS 41). Her increasing loss of self is evidenced in her inability to experience nature apart from its associations with selfish sensualist, John Willoughby. After he plays the loving suitor, almost proposes and then abandons her for a wealthy woman, Marianne plunges herself into a nearly fatal illness during a visit to the Palmers’ estate, wandering “all over the grounds, and especially in the most distant parts of them, where there was something more of wildness than in the rest, where the trees were the oldest, and the grass was the longest and the wettest” (305–306). She associates Willoughby with not only the phallic “fine bold hills” (69) visible from his estate and the “ridge of hills” (303) near Cleveland, but with all the scenery at Barton where their courtship took place: “every field and every tree brought some peculiar, some painful recollection” (342). Marianne’s reclamation of herself parallels her reclamation of the landscape from Willoughby, whom she exorcises from her life by ceremonially returning to, identifying, and dismissing him to the hill where she fell under his influence: “‘There, exactly there’—pointing with one hand, ‘on that projecting mound,—there I fell; and there I first saw Willoughby’” (344). In particularizing the exact site of Willoughby’s first entrance into her life, she narrows and begins to dispel his presence, as if burying his memory in the “projecting mound” (a phrase that can be read as describing her use of it). Now, rather than whirling down to his level, a dying leaf, she stands treelike above him and takes back the landscape. As Marianne recovers, she gradually transforms from resembling the dead leaves she loves—blown about and isolated by the winds of extreme impulses and avoidable consequences that could have landed her in the pile with the novel’s seduced and abandoned women, the younger of whom Willoughby had victimized—to reattaching to her vital family tree. She looks forward to the genuine “happy privilege of country liberty, of wandering from place to place” (303), not in lonely misery as during her and Elinor’s miserable visit to Cleveland after Willoughby’s rejection, but with her entire “dear family party” (343) at home. She tells Elinor they “‘will take long walks together every day’” to landscapes associated with community such as “‘the farm’” and “‘the Abbeyland’” (343). Marianne learns to long for the agrarian proximity that is microcosmically represented by Colonel Brandon’s edenic gardenscape. As Mrs. Jennings comically remarks on learning of Willoughby’s abandonment, “‘tis a true saying about an ill wind, for it will be all the better for Colonel Brandon. He will have her at last’” (196). Perhaps the wind of circumstance blows her closer to the Colonel, but Marianne is no longer a whirling leaf and is not passive in her choice of partner. As she experiences physical renewal, she actively wills her mental reform, consciously returning to the tree of family stability in which she decides to include Colonel Brandon, “invit[ing him] to visit her” during her convalescence in the feminine personal space of “Mrs. Palmer’s dressing-room” (340). This scene foreshadows her corresponding entrance into his garden utopia, which becomes hers, a nurturing yonic space in which to strengthen and bear fruit. As the Colonel enters her heart, she enters the garden of his, not as a dead leaf, but as a whole, vitalized tree that is firmly planted—not in the windy hills, but in rich, well-protected soil. Mrs. Jennings describes Delaford as a self-sustaining agrarian utopia, “ … a nice old fashioned place, full of comforts and conveniences; quite shut in with great garden walls that are covered with the best fruit-trees in the country: and such a mulberry tree in one corner! Lord! how Charlotte and I did stuff the only time we were there! Then, there is a dovecote, some delightful stewponds, and a very pretty canal; and every thing, in short, that one could wish for: and, moreover, it is close to the church, and only a quarter of a mile from the turnpike-road, so ‘tis never dull, for if you only go and sit up in an old yew arbour behind the house, you may see all the carriages that pass along. Oh! 'tis a nice place!” (196–197) In becoming the mulberry tree in the walled garden, Marianne does not become boxed in, but buttressed and, thus, productive and flourishing, “the mistress of a family, and the patroness of a village” (379). As Jill Heydt-Stevenson avers, “When Austen incorporates aesthetic theories in relation to discussions of marriage and colonialism, she suggests that not only the placement of trees, but also the management of women and of other nations will affect the health and future of Britain” (152). The mulberry tree is both beautiful and utilitarian, apart enough “in one corner” (Austen, SS 197) to be individual, but bolstered enough to thrive as an agent of communal sharing; this symbolism and the transformation it embodies convey an almost cosmic significance. Marianne will transform a tree associated with the tragic ancient Babylonian myth of Pyramis and Thisbe—whose forbidden love ultimately leads them each to suicide in Romeo and Juliet fashion, their blood reddening the tree’s fruit (Lehner 71)—into an image that connotes female prosperity. And the old yew trees Mrs. Jennings mentions in describing Delaford—often found in churchyards and associated with longevity, death, and immortal life—make a fitting scenic overlook for a restored Marianne, who has experienced near-death and a kind of rebirth. From the branches of these grand old trees, she can observe a balanced simultaneity of continuity and change and be encouraged to maintain the outward-looking interest in others that her almost-fatal illness invoked. In addition, as Alison Sulloway points out, “she will have plenty of wild places on the Delaford estate to which to repair. Colonel Brandon will not be the husband to try to stop her” (204); more likely, he will often join in her rambles as the two jointly serve as “preservers of lands and of domestic serenity alike” (205). Jane Austen’s women do not have many opportunities to realize their potential; they do not become professionals, politicians, or global leaders. However, her heroines marry the right men, and reinforce in them and their descendants the right use of land and its trees—its organic as well as human occupants. Foolish Mr. Collins of Pride and Prejudice can only view trees, like women, as interchangeable, quantifiable goods: “He could number the fields in every direction, and could tell how many trees there were in the most distant clump” (Austen, PP 156), with no feeling whatsoever for the living beings themselves. Fortunately, Elizabeth Bennet has the sense to reject him and the heartlessly detached consumerism he evinces toward both women and the environment, in favor of a man who learns to cherish her even more than he does his tenderly nurtured woods. In the case of Marianne Dashwood, the heroine first eagerly pursues the wrong man, a wastrel who thoughtlessly consumes her love and faith as he drains his material resources, but then learns through suffering to discern the worthy steward of both her heart and her beloved trees. In Austen’s narrative universe, a gentleman’s harmonious integration of the natural and the domesticated in the landscape through a minimal modulation of wildness bodes well for his attitude toward his wife’s authentic vitality as well.9 Rosemarie Bodenheimer succinctly sums up the importance of women’s assessment of the architecture of men’s outward estates as a manifestation of their inward states: “Elizabeth recognizes Darcy’s value at Pemberley; Emma validates her esteem for Mr. Knightley at Donwell Abbey, and begins to amend her view of Robert Martin as she looks at the view of Abbey-Mill Farm” (610). Human beings’ careful cultivation of the environment parallels the heroines’ own self-cultivation in and through space, toward the longevity of women, the environment, and society as a whole. Austen’s exploration of associations between women and trees as maps of women’s self-navigation within society, as represented by Elizabeth Bennet and Marianne Dashwood, suggests that the diversification of one’s views and experiences increases one’s genuine love of the land. This love transcends superlative eco-language and manifests itself in the practical, strategic work of preservationist stewardship, in an Elizabeth-like willingness to dirty one’s petticoat. Nonetheless, the tree which the tenaciously rooted Fanny Price of Mansfield Park chooses to extol is revealing: “Evergreen trees, in particular, connote immortality because they always look foliated—though in fact they are constantly shedding and growing new needles” (Nadkarni 203). This is the balance that Austen’s heroines, and all human beings, should seek to achieve—the maintenance of rootedness and the continuous achievement of growth and renewal, for themselves as for their naturescapes. Positive change is only that which preserves the ability to self-sustain, regardless of time. By rooting oneself among selective, well-rooted others, one chooses “self-in-society, the vitalized reconstitution of a social totality, the dynamic compromise between past and present, the simultaneous reception of what is valuable in an inheritance and the liberation of the originality, energy and spontaneity in the living moment” (Duckworth 142). Thus, a reading of Elizabeth Bennet’s self-transplantations from lone tree to grove to wood and of Marianne Dashwood’s leafy flight from and reattachment to a rooted family tree underscores the distinctly female eco-consciousness that suffuses all of Austen’s novels. Her heroines’ conservationist landscape aesthetics presage their propagation of scrupulous estate stewardship in succeeding generations. Austen composed her fiction during an era in which “the social order based on patronage gradually gave way, between the 1790s and the 1830s, to the practices and pressures of individualism” and women “were being asked to preserve the remnants of the old society within the private sphere of the home” (Poovey xv). She depicts the inextricable link between women and nature through metaphorical parallels between female characters and especially trees, a link that assists women in realizing their selfhood in a community that will survive and thrive with and because of them. In the accomplishment of this process, paradoxically, female autonomy consists of choosing community, of placing one’s own roots in and maintaining the most prosperous soil, as a tree that is not alone in a field, or at the edge of a small grove, but surrounded by a firm and mutually stabilizing wood. Footnotes 1 All Austen quotes are from the Chapman edition of the novels. 2 As Robert Kern points out, even the beloved but less appealing “Jane’s exposure to the natural world results in a bad cold, but Elizabeth’s makes her radiant” (262). 3 Colin Jager and others interpret Fanny Price’s appreciation for and Mary Crawford’s insensitivity to nature as indicative of Fanny’s moral superiority (57). Rachel Trickett emphasizes the significance of Fanny’s isolation in the landscape and her identity as “very much a romantic” (91). 4 In her dissertation, P. Keiko Kagawa describes ways in which “Fanny’s physical location and isolation [are] symbolic of her social ostracism from the more wealthy members of her family” (98), such as when she is left on the bench at Sotherton while Edmund and Mary go exploring. 5 Susan Morgan claims that the season-contextualized events in Pride and Prejudice “all take for granted the connections between our hearts and the natural landscape, the physical cycles of our lives” (170), that “the natural landscape” is an element of Austen’s realism and that “the meaning of nature, like the meaning of any experience, is intertwined with our feelings about it” in her novels (172). 6 In Joe Wright’s film version of “Pride & Prejudice,” Keira Knightley is visually identified with a lone tree. During her walk to Netherfield to visit her sister Jane, the camera cuts to a long shot of a grassy field dominated by an irregularly shaped, gnarly barked tree crowned with lush foliage that has an almost bonsai look. The subtext suggests that Elizabeth is the exotic tree that stands alone but is teetering a bit in its isolated independence. 7 Darrel Mansell credits the Gardiners with “introduc[ing] her to this ‘nature’ in an even wider sense—the human nature that Elizabeth still archly holds herself above” (92). While I agree that they are instrumental in encouraging Elizabeth’s environmental enthusiasm as well as ongoing moral growth as role models, Elizabeth has already begun her descent to greater humility and self-knowledge before this scene and no longer views herself as “above” her flawed humanity. 8 King James Bible. 9 Numerous male characters are morally defined and evaluated for their husband potential based on their landscape aesthetics. The characters of Edmund Bertram, Henry Crawford and Mr. Rushworth in Mansfield Park are reinforced by their views of nature—Edmund seeks a harmonious co-inherence of buildings with nature that is somewhat akin to Darcy’s management of Pemberley and possesses an authentic moral center, whereas Henry prefers artificial “improvements” that resonate with his false persona (which hides a wicked heart) and Mr. Rushworth desires supposed “improvements” without possessing a clear vision of either his landscape aesthetic or his overall identity. Works Cited Austen Jane. The Novels of Jane Austen. Vols. 1–3, 5. Ed. Chapman R. W. , 3rd ed. Oxford UP , 1933 – 67 . Bodenheimer Rosemarie. “Looking at the Landscape in Jane Austen.” SEL , 21 . 4 ( 1981 ): 605 – 23 . Butler Marilyn. Jane Austen and the War of Ideas . Clarendon P , 1975 . Deresiewicz William. Jane Austen and the Romantic Poets . Columbia UP , 2004 . Duckworth Alistair M. The Improvement of the Estate. 1971 . Johns Hopkins UP , 1994 . Heydt-Stevenson Jill. Unbecoming Conjunctions: Subversive Laughter, Embodied History . Palgrave Macmillan , 2005 . Jager Colin. “Mansfield Park and the End of Natural Theology.” Modern Language Quarterly , 63 . 1 ( 2002 ): 31 – 63 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Kagawa P. Keiko . Bodies in the “House of Fiction”: The Architecture of Domestic and Narrative Spaces by Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell and George Eliot . Dissertation, U of Oregon , 2002 . Kern Robert. “Ecocriticism: What Is It Good For?” The ISLE Reader: Ecocriticism, 1993-2003 , Eds. Branch Michael P. et al. U of Georgia P , 2003 . 258 – 81 . Lehner Ernst , Johanna Folklore and Symbolism of Flowers, Plants and Trees . Tudor , 1960 . Mansell Darrel. The Novels of Jane Austen: An Interpretation . Macmillan , 1973 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Morgan Susan. In the Meantime: Character and Perception in Jane Austen’s Fiction . U of Chicago P , 1980 . Nadkarni Nalini M. Between Earth and Sky: Our Intimate Connections to Trees . U of California P , 2008 . Poovey Mary. The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer . U of Chicago P , 1984 . Seeber Barbara K. Jane Austen and Animals . Ashgate , 2013 . Seeber Barbara K. . “ Nature, Animals, and Gender in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and Emma .” Lit: Literature Interpretation Theory , 13 . 4 ( 2002 ): 269 – 85 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Sulloway Alison G. Jane Austen and the Province of Womanhood . U of Pennsylvania P , 1989 . Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Trickett Rachel. “Mansfield Park.” Wordsworth Circle , 17 . 2 ( 1986 ): 87 – 95 . Wenner Barbara Britton. Prospect and Refuge in the Landscape of Jane Austen . Ashgate , 2006 . White Laura Mooneyham. “Traveling to the Self: Comic and Spatial Openness in Jane Austen’s Novels.” Critical Essays on Jane Austen , Ed. Mooneyham White Laura . G.K . Hall , 1998 . 198 – 213 . © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

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ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and EnvironmentOxford University Press

Published: Apr 6, 2018

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