The Degenerate Muse: American Nature, Modernist Poetry, and the Problem of Cultural Hygiene

Overview


A tide of newfound prosperity swept through America as the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth. Modernity had arrived. Yet amid this climate of progress, concerns over the perils of modernity and civilization began to creep into the national consciousness. Stress, overcrowding, and immigration stoked fears of degeneration among the white middle- and upper classes. To correct course, the Back to Nature movement was born. By shedding the shackles of modernity and embracing the great outdoors, Americans ...
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Overview


A tide of newfound prosperity swept through America as the nineteenth century turned into the twentieth. Modernity had arrived. Yet amid this climate of progress, concerns over the perils of modernity and civilization began to creep into the national consciousness. Stress, overcrowding, and immigration stoked fears of degeneration among the white middle- and upper classes. To correct course, the Back to Nature movement was born. By shedding the shackles of modernity and embracing the great outdoors, Americans could keep fit and stave off a descent down the evolutionary ladder.

Drawing on a wide range of primary and archival sources, Robin Schulze examines how the return to nature altered the work of three modernist poets: Harriet Monroe, Ezra Pound, and Marianne Moore. Like other Americans of their day, the trio heeded the widespread national call to head back to nature for the sake of the nation's health, but they faced a difficult challenge. Turning to nature as a means to combat the threat of degeneration in their literary and editorial work, they needed to envision a form of poetry that would be a cure for degeneration rather than a cause. The Degenerate Muse reveals the ways in which Monroe, Pound, and Moore struggled to create and publish poems that resisted degeneration by keeping faith with nature-influenced ideas about what American poetry should be and do in the twentieth century.

A combination of environmental history and modernist studies, The Degenerate Muse reveals that the American relationship to nature was a key issue of modernity and an integral part of literary modernism.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Schulze is a shrewd and brilliant historian of American culture expressed through the poetic arts. In this book she shows how the seemingly banal phrase 'getting back to nature' was really full of meaning and shadows, and how it stands right at the center of what we mean by modernity." --Donald Worster, author of A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir

"In The Degenerate Muse, Schulze provides a radically new understanding of early modernism, illuminating ways that scientific debates about nature in relation to national degeneracy, with its deep gender and racial biases, impacted the development of modernism, especially the policies of Monroe's Poetry magazine and the early poems of Pound and Moore."-Cristanne Miller, author of Reading in Time: Emily Dickinson in the Nineteenth Century

"This brilliantly revisionary, meticulously researched, and elegantly written new book from one of the foremost scholars of American modernist poetry reveals the distinctly modern and modernist concerns of the Progressive era's Back to Nature movement. Schulze gives us interdisciplinary work at its best, bridging the often vast divide between ecocritical and New Modernist approaches."-Mark Morrisson, author of Modern Alchemy: Occultism and the Emergence of Atomic Theory

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199920327
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 8/30/2013
  • Series: Modernist Literature and Culture Series
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Robin G. Schulze is Professor of English at the University of Delaware. She is the author of The Web of Friendship: Marianne Moore and Wallace Stevens and the editor of Becoming Marianne Moore: The Early Poems, 1907-1924.

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Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Introduction: Toward a Modern Nature

Chapter One: Nature Study, Degeneration, and the Problem of Poetry

Chapter Two: Harriet Monroe's Pioneer Modernism

Chapter Three: Ezra Pound and the Poetics of Hygiene

Chapter Four: Marianne Moore, Degeneration, and Domestication

Chapter Five: Marianne Moore, Nature, and National Health

Conclusion

Bibliography

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