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Fabienne Moine. Women Poets in the Victorian Era: Cultural Practices and Nature Poetry

Farnham : Ashgate, 2015, 305 p.
Sophie Laniel-Musitelli
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Fabienne Moine. Women Poets in the Victorian Era: Cultural Practices and Nature Poetry. Farnham: Ashgate, 2015, 305 p. ISBN 9781472464774

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1Women Poets in the Victorian Era : Cultural Practices and Nature Poetry explores the affinities and the tensions between women’s poetry and nature writing in the Victorian era from a cultural perspective. The corpus encompasses more than a hundred women poets, from the eminent to the so-far neglected. It is an extended and variegated selection, ranging from conservative to Chartist poets. Yet, the book shows that traditional conceptions of nature and femininity alike are refracted and questioned in the poems, beyond the differences in political opinion or gender identities of their authors. It reveals the poetic garden as a place created by women poets to reflect on the affinity between femininity and nature as an ideological construct, either to subvert it or to perpetuate it, and to meditate on the condition of women in a male-dominated intellectual and literary landscape.

2The author does not limit her analysis to a specific poetic genre, and instead attends to the plasticity of genres and forms within the field of nature poetry and at the margins of the literary canon. She examines a wide array of writing practices, from well-established genres with a twist, such as pet elegies in Chapter 4, to examples of cross-disciplinary practices such as science poetry in Chapter 5. The author never engages in purely formal analysis, and always keeps the emphasis on the social and political discourses behind the poems, and in particular on anything that might ‘endow nature with an egalitarian dimension’ (272).

3Throughout the book, and more specifically in the last chapter, a diachronic perspective emerges, as it traces the way evolutionary theories started to pervade high-brow and popular cultures alike after the publication of On the Origin of Species. The author also attends to the way Victorian women poets entered into creative dialogues with earlier poets, and in particular with male Romantics, but also with female figures such as Anna Laetitia Barbauld. She also draws on current developments in ecocriticism and environmental studies to show that our own representations of gender and nature partly stem from Victorian cultural representations. Yet, the author is also careful to point out the cultural gap between the Victorians and our own environmental concerns, pointing out the anthropomorphism and the quest for morality in nature in the Victorian era.

4The various chapters adopt different approaches, from the study of cultural representations in Chapters 1 and 3 to the study of nonhuman sources of poetic inspiration in Chapters 2 and 4, while Chapter 5 recaps the whole project from a different perspective : the original and deeply relevant question of the relationship between nature writing and scientific discourse.

5Chapter 1 looks at the ambiguity of the Victorian poetic garden, sometimes seen as a place of confinement and sometimes as a locus of reflection on the female condition. It eloquently shows that nature writing implies a reflection by female authors on their own status. Chapter 2 is concerned with the floral metaphors often associated with women poets and to their works. Fabienne Moine brings to light the social and ideological ramifications of the motif, revealing what is at stake behind activities often seen as trivial in Victorian society. Chapter 3 deals with the garden in between the private space and the public forum in a particularly original and challenging way. It explores varied spaces, from cottage gardens to public parks and suburban lawns, looking into their diverging literary and social significances. It sheds light on the interactions between rural and urban areas, and dwells on the patriarchal practices behind the ownership of land. Chapter 4, dedicated to animal poetry, brings to light the Victorians’ ambivalent relationship to animals, between a fascination for the radical otherness of the nonhuman and the temptation of anthropomorphism, from the representation of the animal as a symbol for the imagination (and in particular for male creativity) to the ambition of lending a voice to animals. Chapter 5 examines women’s poetry inspired by science, between popularization, often considered by the Victorians as fit for a woman’s educational role, and the knowledge of natural history and talent for observation displayed by Victorian women poets. It focuses more specifically on the debate around evolutionary theories.

6Women Poets in the Victorian Era: Cultural Practices and Nature Poetry not only offers informed and perceptive analyses of lesser-known texts, but also provides a valuable resource as those texts are not always easily available. One of the main strengths of Fabienne Moine’s book is to bring to light a whole continent, or rather an archipelago, of long neglected poems by Victorian women, thus raising new questions in an emerging field of research. It reveals the field of nature poetry as a social and political arena, challenging essentialist conceptions of femininity and of nature alike. It offers a very engaging vision of women poets creating a space of their own outside established literary circles and beyond party lines, in the open air of the garden. It explores the politics of writing and the politics of nature from the perspective of gender, and reveals the poem as a place of resistance and a locus of conflict between the respectable and the subversive.

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Sophie Laniel-Musitelli, « Fabienne Moine. Women Poets in the Victorian Era: Cultural Practices and Nature Poetry », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 89 Spring | 2019, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2019, consulté le 19 novembre 2019. URL :

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Sophie Laniel-Musitelli

Université de Lille

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Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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