Laidlaw Research Proposal

A brief introduction to my self-defined research project for this summer; "Nature as Rejuvenation in Literary Depictions of Isolation Past and Present."

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My research will address concurrent themes of nature and isolation in early 20th century and contemporary literature, exploring how writers intertwine these themes and use them in tandem to shape a character's development across a novel. 

A recurring motif in literature is nature providing central characters with some kind of catharsis, or awakening. If writers aren't using nature to do this, it is often deployed as the ultimate sympathetic background. Characters’ moods are frequently reflected or drawn from the natural world and the elements surrounding them. This research will address four separate texts in which nature offers inspiration and clarity, or lack thereof, to isolated protagonists. 

My four chosen texts are The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson-Burnett (1911), Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938), Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (1966), and Normal People by Sally Rooney (2018). All of these texts are significantly set in the UK and Ireland and feature female protagonists. The former two texts explore nature as a cleansing entity that transforms the central characters’ lives. In Wide Sargasso Sea, however, Jean Rhys puts forward a much more negative perspective on the British countryside. Equally, although appearing an unusual choice, Normal People offers a crucially modern example of nature being deployed by the author to draw out emotional states.  

Despite having a sense of how nature and isolation correspond in the respective texts, my research will delve deeper. Using key characters as focal points, I will focus on specific examples and various literary devices and contextualise these both in terms of the chosen novel and broader literary movements and analysis. Crucially, my approach will be informed by secondary reading surrounding the texts themselves and critical engagement with literary theory such as ecocriticism. 

I’m currently in the process of developing a literature review of secondary reading about ecocriticism. I want to build a broad picture of what I’m working with to then springboard my research when I start my six week research period. I look forward to the start of July, when I properly begin. I am especially excited to bring my love for the outdoors to my love of literature - these are some great books, and I believe this will be a unique and refreshing way of approaching them! 

Mia Fulford

English and Art History Student, Undergraduate Research Scholar, University of Leeds

I am a member of the University of Leeds' 2021 Laidlaw Scholar Cohort. My self-defined project explores the representation of concurrent themes of nature and isolation in 20th century and contemporary literature. I study English and History of Art and have a love of all things books, art and the outdoors! I also run a zine that features contributions from young creatives across the UK. 

Please take a look at my blog which delves into my research project a bit deeper here: https://outdoorfiction.blogspot.com/ 

Comments

Go to the profile of Cath Brislane
3 months ago

This is such an interesting topic Mia! Landscapes are so important in setting the scene in literature; I've studied Wuthering Heights for a while at A-level and it is so interesting to see how the landscape plays into that text too. On another note, you have given me another excuse to read Normal People, which I should probably do!

Go to the profile of Mia Fulford
3 months ago

Thank you! Wuthering Heights is such a great book and Cathy is the quintessential angsty woman who runs for the hilltops (lol). I wholeheartedly recommend Normal People as well. Fair warning though - it's not the most cheerful book ever written.