Women Public Speakers in the United States, 1925-1993: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook

By Karlyn Kohrs Campbell | Go to book overview
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RACHEL LOUISE CARSON

( 1907-1964), author, naturalist, environmental advocate

CHRISTINE ORAVEC

If women relate to nature differently than their male counterparts, then women's discourse about nature may reveal the difference. Rachel Carson discourse, including her most famous book Silent Spring ( 1962), displayed a way of knowing about nature that challenged received notions of the relationship of subject ("man") to object (Nature as "other"). Before Carson's writing, the masculine orientation emphasized either the dominant, aggressive encounter of humanity with wild nature or the distancing of nature through scientific observation. This separation of subject and object infused even the most important conservationist writing ( McKibben, 1992:32-33). By blurring the boundaries between the self and the objective world, Carson introduced a quieter, more interactive, "feminine" relationship. In so doing, she produced the first widely read book on ecology, a book that is identified with the origins of the modern environmental movement.

Yet little is generally known about Rachel Carson's public and personal life. Only two major adult biographies have been published, and they construct her life in radically divergent ways ( Brooks, 1972; Hynes, 1989). The other biographies, now numbering in the dozens, are written primarily for juveniles. (See the list of references at the end of this chapter.) Except for the occasional feminist view, most of these biographies depict Carson as a serious, quiet girl and a lonely adult whose chief personal disappointment was that she never married ( Hynes, 1989:58, 61-65). On the whole, her individual importance as a leading ecologist and natural historian (not just as the "author of Silent Spring) is not recognized to the same extent as, for example, John Muir or Aldo Leopold.

This lack of interest in the significance of Carson's life may be explained in several ways. Because she built her career by writing popular natural history, a type of literature with feminine connotations, her working life may have been seen chiefly as a role model for girls. Moreover, her relative domestic quiteness and personal diffidence may have so thoroughly violated the conventional norms

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