New book: Ecocriticism and the Island by Pippa Marland

Announcing the publication of:

Ecocriticism and the Island: Readings from the British-Irish Archipelago – Pippa Marland (Rowman and Littlefield, December 2022).

Ecocriticism and the Island explores a wide selection of island-themed creative non-fiction, offering new insights into the ways in which authors negotiate existing cultural tropes of the island while offering their own distinctive articulations of “islandness.” This book represents an important intervention into both island literary studies and ecocriticism.


Ecocriticism and the Island is a fascinating study of the diversity and importance of literature and life across the north Atlantic archipelago. Written with clarity and insight, it is a guide to the histories of communities around Ireland and Britain and an augur of our collective future through engagement with art, language, and climate science, all brought together in a compelling critical and creative narrative. It is an important addition to the archipelagic and blue humanities and marks a good step forward in island thinking.”

Nicholas Allen, director, Wilson Center for Humanities and Arts, University of Georgia

“Drawing upon an impressive breadth of theoretical reference as well as interviews with key writers, Pippa Marland offers sensitive and illuminating close readings of a diverse range of creative non-fictional texts. The result is a brilliantly original and engagingly lucid work of ‘archipelagraphy’ that demonstrates how ecocriticism might contribute to island studies and how island-themed texts might advance ecocritical practice. Ecocriticism and the Island is essential reading for all researchers and students interested in the intersections of literature, place, and contemporary environmental thought.”

David Cooper, founding co-director of the Centre for Place Writing, Manchester Metropolitan University

“Read this book if you are drawn to the ever-more-crowded bookstore shelves of creative nonfiction about place and about living in, traversing, or mapping distinctive geographies and their communities. Ecocriticism and the Island is a meticulously researched study of island-themed books by some of the most important writers on these shelves. It is a gift to researchers seeking new approaches to island literary studies, offering thorough and utterly persuasive close readings that confirm the ultimate inseparability of actual and imagined islands. It is also a gift to researchers seeking a route between the concepts and methods of island studies and of ecocriticism, two approaches that, as Marland amply demonstrates, need each other.”

Lisa Fletcher, Head of Humanities, University of Tasmania

Pippa Marland is a Lecturer in Humanities at the University of Bristol

Gifts of Gravity and Light

A post by Dr Pippa Marland (University of Bristol Department of English, and Centre for Environmental Humanities)

This time last year, in my role as one of the Land Lines team at the University of Leeds, I helped to organise a crowd-sourced online Spring nature diary, in collaboration with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the National Trust. Taking place on and in the week following the 2020 Spring Equinox, the event coincided with the UK entering its first period of lockdown. As people uploaded their written and visual snapshots it became apparent that not only were we seeing a picture of spring arriving across the country, but also witnessing the cumulative record of what nature meant to people at a time of personal, national and global crisis.

In April 2020 this dimension of the diary was reported in The Guardian in an article that highlighted the way in which the entries spoke of the solace and hope nature offered at this time. The piece also referred to the breadth of the public response to the event and, in fact, the diary had been envisioned as contributing to a democratisation of nature writing through welcoming a range of new perspectives to a genre that throughout its history has been something of a monoculture.

As a result of the Guardian coverage, Rupert Lancaster, Non-fiction Publisher at Hodder and Stoughton, got in touch with me to suggest a collaboration. He was keen to develop the idea of a seasonal almanac, and we immediately contacted Anita Roy, author of A Year in Kingcombe, which traces the course of year in a Dorset nature reserve, to see if she would be interesting in co-editing the book with me. From the start, we wanted to curate a series of essays by diverse, distinctive voices – brilliant authors who might not be immediately associated with the nature writing genre, but whose work nevertheless often revolves around the subject of nature. We also wanted to commission essays that represented a kind of dialogue – with the British landscape, with people’s individual and collective cultural histories, with ideas of ethnicity, disability, sexuality, gender and class, and with existing literary traditions of writing about the natural world.

Anita and I drew up a wish list, hoping to mix emerging authors with some well-established names. Nearly all of them said yes. From early on we had the support of the Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, who allowed us to take a passage from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight for our epilogue, and it was while discussing Simon’s contribution to the project that Rupert suggested as a title for the collection the phrase ‘gifts of gravity and light’ from Simon’s poem ‘You’re Beautiful’. We’d been mulling over numerous different possibilities, but this one resonated very powerfully with us. It symbolised the kind of balance we were looking for – between the weight and darkness of writing about nature in the midst of the Anthropocene and the inspiration and illumination that can still be involved in exploring the natural world and our place in it.

We were delighted when Bernardine Evaristo, a tireless champion of diversity in all genres of writing and winner of the 2019 Booker Prize, agreed to write the foreword for the book. Jackie Kay, the outgoing Scottish Makar, also gave us her gracious permission to reprint her New Year poem ‘Promises’ as the epigraph. As the collection progressed, Anita and I assessed our own role as editors and realised that we didn’t want to write a standard introduction to the volume. Instead we decided to contribute our own pieces of creative writing – equinoctial ‘hinges’ for the spring and autumn sections of the book.

Now, a year on, we are checking the proofs and today we’re revealing the beautiful cover, which features a kestrel, or windhover, made by the artist Zack Mclaughlin. It has the names of the contributors – Kaliane Bradley, Testament, Michael Malay, Tishani Doshi, Jay Griffiths, Luke Turner, Raine Geoghegan, Zakiya McKenzie, Alys Fowler, and Amanda Thomson – all fanned out on the bird’s lifted wing. 

Michael Malay is, like me, a member of the Centre for Environmental Humanities at Bristol, and is rapidly gaining recognition for his nature writing, being shortlisted for the inaugural Nan Shepherd Prize in 2019.

The book’s content reflects not only the diversity of the authors’ voices but the endlessly changing natural world itself. There are meditations on mud – in a Birmingham park and in the trenches of the First World War – on greeting the arrival of cherry blossom in East London with a Cambodian New Year’s dance; on seeing nature pushing through the cracks of a Manchester pavement; on watching sea otters at play in the summer sun; on imagining eels gathering in the dark waters of the Bristol Channel; on leaving India to spend summers in Wales; on hearing Romany family stories of celebrating the hop harvest; on experiencing the icy stillness of winter in the Cairngorms or remembering the ‘sun drunk’ days of a Jamaican childhood in the chill of a British Christmas.

For me, working on this collection has been an absolute gift of light in a dark year, as has collaborating with Anita Roy and the team at Hodder and Stoughton. Gifts of Gravity and Light will be published on 9th July 2021 and is available for pre-order from Waterstones, and Amazon, among other outlets.

EcoGothic gardens in the long nineteenth century

Dr Sue Edney, Senior Associate in the Department of English, has just published her new book with Manchester University Press, EcoGothic gardens in the long nineteenth century: Phantoms, fantasy and uncanny flowers.

We’re delighted to share the details of the book here, along with a podcast Sue put together for Manchester University Press.

From the MUP website:

EcoGothic gardens in the long nineteenth century provides fresh approaches to contemporary ecocritical and environmental debates, providing new, compelling insights into material relationships between vegetal and human beings. Through twelve exciting essays, the collection demonstrates how unseen but vital relationships among plants and their life systems can reflect and inform human behaviours and actions. In these entertaining essays, human and vegetal agency is interpreted through ecocritical and ecoGothic investigation of uncanny manifestations in gardens – hauntings, psychic encounters, monstrous hybrids, fairies and ghosts – with plants, greenhouses, granges, mansions, lakes, lawns, flowerbeds and trees as agents and sites of uncanny developments. The collection represents the forefront of ecoGothic critical debate and will be welcomed by specialists in environmental humanities at every level, as a timely, innovative inclusion in ecoGothic studies.

Table of contents

Introduction: Phantoms, fantasy and uncanny flowers – Sue Edney

1. Deadly gardens: The ‘Gothic green’ in Goethe and Eichendorff – Heather I. Sullivan
2. ‘Diabolic clouds over everything’: An ecoGothic reading of John Ruskin’s garden at Brantwood – Caroline Ikin
3. The Gothic orchard of the Victorian imagination – Joanna Crosby
4. Gothic Eden: Gardens, religious tradition and ecoGothic exegesis in Algernon Blackwood’s ‘The Lost Valley’ and ‘The Transfer’ – Christopher M. Scott
5. ‘That which roars further out’: Gardens and wilderness in ‘The Man who Went too Far’ by E. F. Benson and ‘The Man Whom the Trees Loved’ by Algernon Blackwood – Ruth Heholt
6. Darwin’s plants and Darwin’s gardens: Sex, sensation and natural selection – Jonathan Smith
7. ‘Tentacular thinking’ and the ‘abcanny’ in Hawthorne’s Gothic gardens of masculine egotism – Shelley Saguaro
8. Green is the new black: Plant monsters as ecoGothic tropes; vampires and femme fatales – Teresa Fitzpatrick
9. Death and the fairy: Hidden gardens and the haunting of childhood – Francesca Bihet
10. Presence and absence in Tennyson’s gardens of grief: ‘Mariana’, Maud and Somersby – Sue Edney
11. Blackwater Park and the haunting of Wilkie Collins’s The Woman in White – Adrian Tait

Afterword: Z Vesper, the Wilderness Garden, Powis Castle – Paul Evans