Botanical Nature Writing: An Ecocritical analysis/Botaaniline Looduskirjandus: Kirjandusokoloogiline Analuus

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The background of the present article lies in the American tradition of ecocritical literary studies and in a concept central to it, nature writing. Our purpose is to detect the tradition of nature writing in Estonia and to analyse its characteristic traits on the example of a botany-focused book. In introducing the notion of nature writing (Finch & Elder, 2002) and applying ecocritical reading (Glotfelty & Fromm, 1996) on an exemplary text (Rebassoo, 1975a), we want to test the benefits of literary analysis for texts that have been regarded as popular science in Estonian reception and left without much critical response. There is a whole array of books on natural history that in some regard conform too little to the rules of popular science, but cannot be considered fiction either. The problem is that such texts have been written for decades, but they have not received much critical attention or feedback. The lack of conceptual tools is definitely one reason for this situation.

Ecocritical interest in nature writing provides a context for re-actualizing a wide range of previously under-conceptualized publications. As a recently developed approach in literary theory that focuses on human-environment relationships (Buell, 1995; Love, 2003; Murphy, 2009), ecocriticism has taken nature writing as one of the central types of literature studied with its methods. In the Anglo-American tradition, the notions such as wilderness, experience of sublime, solitude, pastoral, and apocalypse have been central for the scholars analysing such texts (Garrard, 2009). One of the distinctive traits of the Estonian tradition of nature writing is a strong scientific background of its authors (Tuur & Maran, 2005). Scientific names, data, and explanations are routinely provided as comments to the immediate observations of natural phenomena. At the same time, such texts cannot be approached as academic papers as the writer's subjective persona is ever present in them. The solution we are offering in the present article is to consider such texts as nature writing. The dynamic model of nature writing is introduced and applied, demonstrating some possibilities of ecocritical analysis.

MATERIAL AND METHODS

Source material

The source material for the present study is a book based on botanical fieldwork notes that resembles a diary rather than a research text.

The author Haide-Ene Rebassoo (b. 1935) is an Estonian botanist who has published extensively on Estonian plants, plant communities, their distribution and protection; she has written chapters for encyclopaedic collections and accounts of plants for a wider public (for her bibliography, see Kukk, 1999). The present article focuses on her book titled Botaanilisi kilde 17 Hiiumaa suvest [Botanical Fragments from 17 Summers in Hiiumaa] (further referred to as BF), published in 1975. Unlike the majority of the books issued during the Soviet period, this one does not have an annotation on its impressum page. It is merely indicated that 10 000 copies of the book were printed. No reviews of the book appeared in periodicals.

As the title of the book suggests, flora and botanical knowledge are the focus of the text. The time span specified in the title is 17 summers. Each year's accounts are limited to summer, or at least to the vegetation period, as this is the most suitable time for botanical explorations. The setting is specified as the island of Hiiumaa, North-West Estonia. At the beginning of the book, a hand-drawn map of Hiiumaa is presented (Fig. 1), showing the natural features of the island (rivers, swamps, islets) and the approximate locations of the settlements mentioned in the text. The elements of the natural environment are brought to the fore; no roads are marked on the map.

BF has three inserted sections of black and white plant photographs, each section containing 41 to 44 photos, 129 in total. …