Abandoned New England focuses on five modern American visual artists and poets—Winslow Homer, Robert Frost, Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, and Elizabeth Bishop—who portrayed the stark traditional beauty of New England landscape. Their paintings and poetry of abandoned terrain ask: what does a landscape represent and what meaning can it have when nature’s power appears supplanted by urban or technological forces and when the observing eye is no longer emblematic of an enlightened viewer? Abandoned New England pursues these inquiries by discussing shifting and conflicting cultural attitudes toward the wild, rural, and domestic. In her readings of texts and images, Paton explores landscape as the synthesis of the human and nonhuman, as a place simultaneously reflecting and resisting desire, as the setting for social dilemmas, as encounters with otherness and a past both lost and inescapable, and as an integral part of creating and limiting identity.
Paton argues that although “landscape” seems to have lost some of its significance in the modern era, longings for its potential value persist. Landscape iconology, ecocriticism, green cultural studies, cultural geography, and aesthetics provide fresh perspectives on how iconic New England artists have depicted landscape, revised stale conventions, undermined biases surrounding nativism, and recharged our reception of the rustic pastoral. Ultimately, Paton’s analysis of the works of these beloved New England artists demonstrates a postmodern yearning to reinvent nature and reimagine Eden.