CFP: NeMLA 2020: New Materialist Readings of 19th-century Writers

Marriott Copley Place, Boston, MA

March 5-8, 2020

This session engages in a matter-oriented approach, raising questions about the ontological status of the autonomous writing subject by joining it to the vast network of relations to objects within an area—ecozone, bioregion, biome, or ecosystem. Though the contributions by science-based writers are important (e.g., Humphry Davy, Michael Faraday, George Perkins Marsh, John Muir, etc.) New Materialist Interpretations of 19th-century Writers focuses on a different trajectory, accentuating less detectable and unacknowledged contributions to natural history writing offered by literary writers. For example, in as much as Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus(1818, 1831) along with The Last Man (1826), she had been fascinated by the field of vitalism, delving into the life principle, which became the basis for her gothic and disaster narratives. Further, while William Wordsworth poeticized about the Lake District, his Guide to the Lakes features a study of the geography, meteorology, and botany, especially Scotch firs. Similarly, Charlotte Brontë narrativized about indigenous flora in Haworth, Yorkshire evident in her novels, especially Jane Eyre (1847) and Villette (1853); she often depicted the native plants through detailed watercolors currently held at the Brontë Parsonage Museum, showing her acute study of species such as convolvulus, crocus, and aster. In addition, in America, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and Susan Fenimore Cooper each engaged in acute observations of the environs recorded in their writing. Their documentation of interrelations among human, nonhuman, and nonliving entities in the environs by literary writers through various genres (e.g., literary, nonliterary, and visual) is distinctive due to their unexpected and unanticipated perceptual power to see into objects-as-active matter while recognizing the value of their own interactivity with the more-than-human world. New materialist interpretations of 19th-century literary writers informed by Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter (2010) and Stacy Alaimo’s Bodily Natures (2010) will be of special interest.

For consideration, please submit an abstract (150-200 words) and biography (100 words) to the following link at the NeMLA website:

If you have any questions, feel free to contact Dewey W. Hall, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona at

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