Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Dr. Peter Walmsley
This dissertation examines issues of gender, class and species in the work of five eighteenth-century British labouring-class women poets, Mary Collier (1690-1762), Mary Leapor (1722-1746), Elizabeth Hands (fl. 1789), Ann Cromartie Yearsley (1752-1806) and Janet Little (1759-1813). Using ecocriticism, which posits links between literature and the physical world, and ecological feminist theories, which emphasize the interdependence of women and nature as a feminist issue, the author interrogates the meanings of "nature" in the eighteenth century as they are represented in labouring-class women's poetry and in other relevant eighteenth-century texts such as Le Comte de Buffon's Histoire Naturelle (1749-1804), Mary Astell's Some Reflections on Marriage (1700), Bernard Mandeville's Fable of the Bees (1714) and Thomas Topham's Treatise on Cattle (1787). Fashioning new critical readings of labouring-class women's poetry which focus on nature at the intersection of gender, class and species rather than merely the scene of the narrative or the mirror of the protagonist's mind, the author exposes the ideological functions underlying particular conceptualizations of nature. For eighteenth-century labouring-class women poets, a poignant and potent example is the popular idea of the "natural Genius" as an uneducated "rustic" who composes poetry "spontaneously". Chapter one begins by defining "domestication"--of women in the family, animals, domestic servants and labouring-class women poets--in the context of Mary Leapor's poem "Man the Monarch" (1746). In chapter two, the relationship between a labouring-class woman poet and a mad heifer is read through the ecological feminist concept of "interlocking oppressions". In chapter three, the author explores the changing nature of farm labour as the division-of-labour is naturalized within the quintessential emblem of industry--the beehive. Chapters four and five both focus on the forced artificiality of the domesticated pet as "essential" to the nature of a burgeoning consumer culture. The dissertation ends with a consideration of the relationship between literary criticism and environmental politics in the context of the twentieth-century environmental crisis.
Milne, Anne, ""Lactilla tends her fav'rite cow": Domesticated animals and women in eighteenth-century British labouring-class women's poetry" (1999). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 1819.