19CC Research Seminar: Dr Phillippa Bennett (Northampton)

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19CC Research Seminar

Dr Phillippa Bennett (University of Northampton)

Wednesday 26th April 2023, 4:30pm-6:30pm

Arts 103 (Constance Naden Room)

Dr Phillippa Bennett (University of Northampton), ‘Wild Belongings: Community, Story and Rewilding in William Morris’s News from Nowhere and Diane Setterfield’s Once Upon a River

Contemporary cultural interest in the concept of rewilding has generated a number of books documenting relationships with the natural world which are personally restorative and redemptive. Whilst such narratives of individual re-engagement with the wild can make an important and often inspirational contribution to the broad canon of ‘nature writing’, rewilding is essentially a communal process, necessitating social engagement and action. I will propose in this paper that William Morris’s utopian romance News from Nowhere (1890) and Diane Setterfield’s neo-Victorian novel Once Upon a River (2018), implement some of the central tenets of rewilding philosophy and offer a more comprehensive and meaningful account of how human beings might reconstruct their relationship with the natural environment, recognising the fundamental connection between social justice and environmental justice.  Set around the river Thames, and particularly its upper reaches, both narratives focus on the importance of social commitment and communal activity which establish the human as an integral part of Nature, and dismantle what Evan Horne calls the ‘ontological priority’ that too often drives our relationship with the non-human world. Central to this process of rewilding in both books is storytelling, and it is through the story as a social act of remembering and reimagining that Morris and Setterfield offer a compelling vision of rewilding as, in George Monbiot’s definition, ‘a life richer in adventure and surprise’.