The garden politic: botany, horticulture, and domestic cosmopolitanism in nineteenth-century American literature
Kuhn, Mary Pauline
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My dissertation examines the political significance of nineteenth-century domestic literature by situating it within the overlapping cultural and scientific histories of plants. While scholars have largely understood the gardens and plants of nineteenth-century American literature as metaphors for and projections of human experience, I demonstrate the ways in which literary authors, like the cultures in which they wrote, understood plants to be distinct. The writers considered here--Lydia Maria Child, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Emily Dickinson--examine how botanical life challenged the categorical systems and geographical boundaries that organized political thought and practice. I read canonical literary texts alongside home garden manuals, horticultural club records, seed catalogs, herbariums, botany textbooks, and popular periodicals to reveal how the discursive and material practices of domestic horticulture prove to be surprisingly international in scope and political in nature. My study is the first to offer a sustained examination of the way domestic writers invoked plant science and the language of grafting, transplanting, arranging, and weeding to engage central social issues of the century: imperialism, slavery, women's rights, and the democratic use of space. Chapter One explores how the idea of plant geography and transplantation fostered a nationalist discourse about plant origins. Focusing on writings across Lydia Maria Child's career, I argue for the central role plants play in her sentimental conception and eventual critique of American nationalism. Chapter Two shows how Hawthorne's understanding of botanical mobility--seedlings and soil whose circulation flouts national and legal boundaries--leads him to dismiss the idea of a civic identity grounded in personal property. Chapter Three demonstrates how Stowe comes to believe that biological diversity is necessary to America's democratic project. In attending to the ways that botanical science at mid-century celebrate ecological diversity, Stowe's second abolitionist novel, Dred, imagines a more racially diverse society than that envisioned in Uncle Tom's Cabin. In Chapter Four, Dickinson turns to theories of plant vitality and migration to critique a scientific method that set plants apart from humans, posing instead the possibility of a radical environmental ethic that accounts for plant rights.