According to the tenets of ecofeminism, there are explicit connections between society's treatment of women and the degradation of our environment, connections made apparent in the patriarchal devaluation of both women and nature. In Speaking for Nature, a groundbreaking inquiry into the contributions of early modern English women writers to ecological thought, Sylvia Bowerbank uncovers the historical roots of contemporary debates within ecofeminism as found in the works of such major literary figures as Mary Wroth, Margaret Cavendish, and Mary Wollstonecraft.
In early modern England, the entry of women into the politics of nature occurred during a volatile period when the cultural meaning of nature was being destabilized by scientific advances and religious controversies, thus opening up new rights, roles, and responsibilities for women. For the two centuries covered in this book, Bowerbank describes a range of choices made by literary women in negotiating their place within the broader discourse on nature and humanity's changing relationship to it. We learn about Wroth's gendered critique of pastoral fantasies and green utopias, Cavendish's resistance to the philosophy that declared "Great Nature" dead, and Wollstonecraft's opposition to both world capitalism and local subsistence. Anna Seward champions the local as a site of environmental well-being and the eighteenth-century invention of "the study of nature" as a legitimate field of intellectual inquiry. Speaking for Nature explores this rich, diverse, and often contradictory legacy of ecological thought, the value of which is only just being appreciated and evaluated by present-day environmentalists and feminists.