Hewitt, "Joanna Baillie's Ecotopian Comedies"
Utopianism and Joanna Baillie
Joanna Baillie’s Ecotopian Comedies
Regina Hewitt, University of South Florida
Though the term “ecotopian” evokes the environmentally “good place”/“no place” in Ernest Callenbach’s novel, the concepts that it combines appear together in many other spaces: ecology and utopia make good partners, according to Lucy Sargisson, because both criticize the dominant ways of thinking and living in the modern, western world, and both seek “paradigm shifts in consciousness” issuing in different attitudes, values, relations, and behaviors (Utopian Bodies 15). There are many “green literary utopias,” and many “intentional communities” pursue ecological goals. Ecocritical and utopian studies have also been partners in revising their scope: both have moved away from genre and structure—the literal delineation of a polity or the literal description of nature—as the criteria for inclusion in the given category, and both now take more interest in any work or act that provokes thought about relationships among all beings in the world.
The transition in utopian studies is detailed in the essay (“Utopianism and Joanna Baillie: A Preface to Converging Revolutions”) introducing this Praxis volume. The transition in ecocriticism has been noted and advocated by Karla Armbruster and Kathleen Wallace (among others) in their collection of essays titled Beyond Nature Writing. In their Introduction, Armbruster and Wallace argue that ecocriticism should be paying more attention to the human presence in nature, to “nature and culture as interwoven rather than as separate sides of a dualistic construct” (4). Their reference to overcoming dualistic thinking aligns their goals with Lucy Sargisson’s, whose “transgressive utopianism” likewise resists familiar binary oppositions. Studies of landscape such as Rachel Crawford’s and Kenneth Olwig’s offer comparable cautions against separating nature from culture. Physical space includes social, political, and legal space, they tell us; landscape is “mindscape” (Crawford 13; Olwig, xxxi, 17, 62). Our definitions of natural spaces—“wilderness,” for example—are cultural creations that we often experience through the kind of dramatic staging that Adam Sweeting and Thomas Crochunis (in Armbruster and Wallace’s volume) have analyzed.
If the broadening of utopian studies makes it possible to consider Joanna Baillie’s work within that category (as this Praxis volume does), so, too, does the broadening of ecocriticism open opportunities to approach Baillie in new ways. Referentially, only The Alienated Manor among her plays, a few of her poems, and her pamphlet on kindness to animals deal explicitly with “nature.” But all of her dramas deal with the cultural direction of biological impulses—i.e., the learned behavior of controlling one’s passions—and with the interactions of humans with and within a socio-physical environment. When ecological interest is understood to encompass the latter concerns, the applicability to Baillie becomes quite evident. The claims I venture in this essay about Baillie’s “ecotopian” aspects proceed from such an expanded view of ecocriticism and its alliance with utopian studies.
Article-length scope does not permit me to cover all fourteen plays (eight tragedies, five comedies and one “serious musical drama”) in the Series that Baillie wrote and published intermittently from 1798 to 1836. In what follows, therefore, I proceed selectively. First, I look at the ecological aspects of the aims of the Series as Baillie presents them in the Introductory Discourse published with the first volume. I concentrate on the type of “Characteristic Comedy” that Baillie theorized in the Discourse, arguing for its affinities with the Comedy of Survival theorized in the ecocritical work of Joseph Meeker. Though I consider briefly how each of the comedies in the Series furthers the project’s aims, I devote most attention to The Second Marriage and The Alienated Manor because they deal explicitly with the “recoding” of natural and cultural spaces, public and private spheres, in ways that clearly show the intersection of ecological and utopian thought.
Even before Armbruster and Wallace called on all ecocritics to move “beyond nature writing,” Karl Kroeber encouraged Romanticists to see the complex interactions of humans in the environment as central to ecologically oriented studies of the period. Kroeber investigates one means of refiguring the nature-culture dichotomy through the concept of co-evolution. As he explains in his essay on Northanger Abbey, co-evolution refers to the ability of the human mind to affect biological processes. For example, syntactical language and reflexive consciousness enable people to give meaning to information about the world: they can grasp, share and create new knowledge; they can envision alternatives to their current identities and situations, and they can try “to change [their] behavior or the environment or both” (“Biopoetics” 99-100, 110). Kroeber finds in literary works such as Northanger Abbey the most compelling uses of language to reflect on and generate new reflections about human interaction. He argues that such works shed light on the adaptive and maladaptive implications of cultural practices; they encourage awareness of and participation in the continual processes of adjusting to the social and natural environment in which we live (110).
Turning from Kroeber’s analysis of Austen to Baillie, I find an especially prominent concern with the evolution of reflexive consciousness. According to the Introductory Discourse, God “implanted” a “sympathetic propensity” in humans, but people must cultivate it if they are to realize its use. It takes stimulation by “circumstances” (a recurrent term in the Discourse), especially circumstances scripted in dramatic literature, to prompt people to “reason and reflect” on human affairs and to develop sympathetic responses to them (2-4). Baillie credits sympathy, once activated, with the power to help people adapt to social life. It enables them to recognize what they have in common with others (“to know what men are in the closet”)—even with “fellow-creatures” who have been stigmatized as criminals (5, 3). Baillie’s observations suggest a co-evolutionary theory of morality: through conscious sympathetic effort, people can become less selfish and “more just, more merciful, more compassionate”; more “respect[ful] of [them]selves” and their “kind” (4). I accent the developmental strain in Baillie’s Discourse lest her reference to sympathy as God-given tie her to earlier design theories of the universe. The point is important in light of Kroeber’s argument that evolutionary awareness must be evident for a way of thinking to qualify as ecological. Baillie’s use of both teleological and evolutionary references places her between two epistemic systems, but the tendency of her thinking favors development over design. Moreover, her well documented interest in her uncles’ and brother’s medical work makes it likely that she would be familiar with and attracted to innovative ideas linking mind and matter.
One might read each play within the Series as a study in the evolution of emotional control, of sympathy emerging to balance self-interest. In each play, Baillie delineates how a selected passion (love, hate, ambition, jealousy, fear, remorse, hope) grows into an obsession threatening the survival of the afflicted protagonist. Her purposes are predictive and corrective. For Baillie, drama works by analogy: the represented characters and actions should remind spectators of people and events in their own experience and invite them to draw comparisons (4, 13). In the case of the “passions” plays, watching the gradual stages by which an emotion can overwhelm the mind and body of a character should enable spectators to identify early signs of emotional imbalance in their experiences outside of the theater; armed with that knowledge, they should be able to “combat” the problem before it becomes too strong to change (10-11). Such a scenario treats both unconscious physical processes and conscious redirection of them as natural for humans: passions arise unbidden, but people can control them to some extent. Baillie’s plays encourage inquiry into the best means of control to create a sympathetic culture.
Despite the combat metaphor in the Discourse, Baillie does not advocate aggressive approaches to self-control or to instructing others. In the Series of Plays, both tragedies and comedies represent aggressive behavior and heroic ideals as selfish rather than noble. The undermining of heroism is arguably the most innovative and most explicitly feminist feature of her tragedies, as scholarship by Julie Carlson (on Henriquez), Beth Friedman-Romell (on Constantine Paleologus) and Susan Bennett (on Witchcraft) has shown. In the vocabulary of Sargisson’s and Pohl’s new utopian studies, it might be said that Baillie critiques or resists the dominant value system of her culture and creates an alternative, “recoded” version in her plays. In the vocabulary of ecocriticism, it might be said that she shows aggression to be maladaptive behavior, to be unsuited for the evolution of human relations in the world. Adaptive alternatives emerge more fully in the comedies, which offer some generic precedent for departing from lofty ideals. Baillie took a particular interest in comedy, and her Introductory Discourse includes a theory of “Characteristic Comedy” that shares some elements with Meeker’s Comedy of Survival.
Meeker presents comedy as both a mode of behavior and a literary genre, and he finds it more “universal” than tragedy “because it depends less upon particular ideologies or metaphysical systems” and more upon “the biological circumstances of life” (15). In other words, comedy represents the characteristic behavior of the human species. It situates human society within the larger natural environment, taking the boundaries between culture and nature, humans and animals, to be flexible (51, 62). Ambiguity and interdependence define the terms of existence in this world; wit and creativity the mode of response to them (37, 62-69). Comic actors, whom Meeker models on the picaro in contrast to the tragic or pastoral hero, are not at odds with the world because they do not think in terms of oppositions or polarities. Instead of seeing themselves as pursuing transcendent ideals outside of society, they see themselves as seeking welfare within it (60). Though Meeker does not make utopian comparisons, his rejection of dualism and of ideal structures aligns him with Sargisson and others who associate utopianism with the fostering of unconventional behaviors, beliefs and organizations. The pragmatism of comic actors does not necessarily reduce human conduct to physical gratification because human nature includes intellectual aspects. In Meeker’s words, “superior mentality merely permits the picaro to become a better animal, not to transcend his animality” (62). Comic actors use their uniquely human characteristics, which include “consciousness, intelligence, language, imagination” (69)—and compassion (71), a crucial trait aligning Meeker with Baillie to which I return below—to cope with the threats and difficulties that inevitably affect all creatures in a system not designed to favor individuals. While part of their energy goes into “self-defense,” part also goes into “playing with others and with [their] surroundings” (69). Realizing that individual welfare may best be achieved by living in harmony with others, comic actors do not seek power or domination (16, 69). Instead, they try to “mak[e] the best of whatever the world may offer” (69). Tragic heroes perish because their aggressive and idealistic striving is maladaptive; comic actors survive because their responsive interactions are adaptive.
Meeker’s examples range from Dante’s Comedy through Grimmelshausen’s Simplicissimus to Mann’s Felix Krull and Heller’s Catch 22. As this historic range shows, writers need not have a consciously ecological view or plan to portray the human condition in ways we may later understand through ecology. We may add Baillie’s comedies to this list without attributing ecological prescience to her. But our evaluation of her achievement is enhanced when we interpret her plan for “Characteristic Comedy” in ecological terms. However embryonic Baillie’s ideas about evolution may have been, she did write with the intention of describing and promoting humanely adaptive behavior in the world. Like the legal utopian theorists (de Sousa Santos and Rodríguez-Garavito) cited in the preface to this volume, she refused to reduce reality to the power structures that exist.
As Meeker sees comedy as having a biological rather than idealistic focus, so Baillie sees it as properly centering on the “original distinctions of nature” rather than on the “adventitious distinctions . . . of age, fortune, rank, profession, and country” (13). She believes that popular forms of the genre, which she lists and analyzes as satirical, witty, sentimental, and busy or circumstantial comedies, have sacrificed the appropriately human focus to a fascination with superficial manners and mannered technique. With her “Characteristic Comedy,” she proposes to restore the emphasis on people “as we find them in the ordinary intercourse of the world, with all the weaknesses, follies, caprice, prejudices, and absurdities which a near and familiar view of them discovers” (12-13, 11). While she shows fashions and manners, social situations and personal traits, she balances them against a more comprehensive sense of the human condition (or in her words, she keeps them “in due subordination to nature” 14) so as to provoke thought about interactions across these changeable divisions. By raising questions about what is essential to human nature, Baillie facilitates discovery of how many traits and distinctions are actually learned and therefore available for conscious evaluation and modification.
In keeping with the design of the Series of Plays on the passions, the comedies portray how the characters develop emotionally and intellectually in response to occurrences in their environment. The successful characters, like Meeker’s picaresque survivors, use their wits and imaginations to create ways of living cooperatively with others. They control emergent traits of fear (The Siege), jealousy (The Alienated Manor), ambition (The Second Marriage), hatred (The Election), and self-love (The Trial) that threaten to put them in opposition to others. They do not live up to ideals; they adapt to circumstances. The comedies further Baillie’s goal of having spectators reflect on the dramatized conduct, along with the analogies it “call[s] up in the[ir] mind[s],” by showing unchecked passions as ridiculous in appearance and consequences (13). Such a representation, she argues, can do more to discourage self-indulgence than precepts, “moral cautions, or even, perhaps, . . . the terrifick examples of tragedy” (14).
Baillie’s enlisting comedy for moral instruction, albeit by example rather than precept, would seem to separate her from Meeker, who declares that “comedy literally has no use for morality” (15), but this declaration applies primarily to the idealistic systems that cultures have set up in opposition to nature (70). In the broader sense of taking responsibility for others, morality clearly does figure in the comedy of survival. Both Meeker and Baillie single out compassion or sympathy (their usages are equivalent) as the touchstone by which to recognize behavior that conduces to human development, not just to the promotion of individual interest. According to Meeker, “compassion for suffering may be the most serious emotion” experienced by picaresque heroes. . . . [and they] make little distinction between [their] own misfortune and that of others, treating both with solicitude and resignation” (71). Though they are not idealistically self-sacrificing, they prefer to solve their problems without harming others, and they often try to help other victims in addition to themselves. Their concept of responsibility applies to the well-being of humanity in the world; it is a larger concept than self-interest or altruism, and it moves away from the opposition between self and other implied by the selfish-altruistic dichotomy. It values the survival of the self along with others (64-71). If utopianism can be defined by its revisionary views of justice (as Sargisson [“Justice”] posits), then Meeker’s comic actors are utopians who redefine justice as an inclusive and cooperative condition of being.
Baillie’s comedies reorient people from relying on principles or pursuing ideals toward adapting strategies. The strategies of comedy—disguise, dissembling, compromise—are, as Meeker points out, the strategies of subordinate and oppressed people. Women, slaves, and victims of poverty seek non-threatening ways to fulfill their needs; powerful heroes, in contrast, “impose [their] will upon others” (16). Baillie does not merely replace familiar condemnations of deception with approvals, for doing so would merely invert the values assigned to behaviors in abstract systems. In the Discourse, she criticizes the “continual lying and deceit” in Busy or Circumstantial Comedy, finding its “moral tendency” to be “pernicious” (12). In her Characteristic Comedy, deception is still often negative. One cannot evaluate the characters’ strategies apart from their motives and circumstances, and that embedding of value judgments is, I maintain, the hallmark of adaptive ethics and ecological (or ecotopian) thinking. Sympathy serves as a guideline for evaluating the strategies used in particular situations. The judgments apply in the situations, not to the strategies abstracted from them. Dissembling and evasion can be acceptable if they allow people to live in harmony and avoid confrontation. They are not acceptable when they promote the interest of one person at the expense of others.
A clear example of the need to judge situated behavior rather than abstractions can be found in The Siege. In that play, the seemingly positive ideal of plain-speaking becomes negative when it is used for unsympathetic, self-righteous pronouncements. Concomitantly, deception is allowed to have some positive effects when it is used to prevent victimization. The Siege unsettles the distinction between honesty and falsehood, showing the cultural ideal of absolute honesty to be inhumane or “utopian” in the old-fashioned, pejorative sense. The new utopian attitude seeks to create just and merciful interactions through which people can live with each other.
The Siege opens with a discussion of plain-speaking between Walter Baurchel, who takes pride in always practicing it, and his brother the Baron Baurchel, who finds that practice “savage,” “brutified,” and unsuitable in “civilized Europe” (1.1.227). Walter’s self-proclaimed refusal to let his “tongue . . . be bridled by another person’s feelings” differs from the candor with which his brother and his friend Dartz sometimes speak. When they are plainly critical of him, they speak with the sympathetic motive of persuading him to adapt, as they have, to a social environment that can require veiled statements. “Away with the honesty that cannot afford a few civil words to a friend, who is doing his best to oblige you!” the exasperated Dartz exclaims to Walter; “As much duplicity as this amounts to, would not much contaminate your virtue” (2.1.282).
Episodes in The Siege explore the problem of determining when to use deception in social life. The subplot involving a ruse to expose the insincerity of Countess Valdemere’s professed love for Baron Baurchel is easy to evaluate. By disguising himself as a jeweler’s assistant and learning that the Countess would gladly exchange his portrait for the value of its frame and that she mocks his poetry behind his back, the Baron saves himself—and possibly others—from being the victim of the Countess’s greed. The main plot involving a ruse to expose the boastfully brave Count Valdemere as actually quite fearful is more ambiguous. Irritated by Valdemere’s bragging about his own courage and disparaging that of others, Dartz and the brothers Baurchel plan to test his bravery by staging a mock siege of the castle, which Valdemere’s position—and his bragging—will require him to defend. They guess rightly that he will run away from combat, and their scheme has some positive results: it “cure[s . . . Valdemere] of arrogance and boasting” (5.2.297) and more importantly of the sense of superiority behind those airs. That self-image had more detrimental effects than irritating the conspirators, for it made Valdemere feel entitled to seduce a servant, and the conspirators seek just compensation for her as well as satisfaction for themselves as part of the plot. Like the tragedies that undermine the heroic ideal, this comedy “recodes” heroism to exclude aggression and exploitation. Baillie accepts the value of self-defense but does not reward it with entitlements that allow the warrior to take advantage of others. The play demands self-restraint even of the relatively harmless conspirators.
Since the conspirators take pleasure in humiliating Valdemere—priming his fear with invented reports of dreams of destruction and even having one dress up as a fortune-teller to prophesy his death—their conduct is ethically questionable. The ruse may have avoided open confrontation, but it did not avoid hidden aggression. In the final scene, the truly brave soldier Antonio, who has defended the castle from the real siege that occurred at the same time as the mock attack, likewise defends Valdemere from the conspirators’ scorn. Speculating that Valdemere may have been braver if “differently circumstanced,” Antonio chastens them for “sport[ing] wantonly with a weakness of our nature in some degree common to all. We admire a brave man for overcoming it, and should pity the less brave when it overcomes him” (5.2.297). Antonio’s sympathetic and contextualized approach to evaluating the behavior of both the conspirators and their victim shows him to have achieved control of his own passions, and it models the kind of behavior that sustains human communities.
Significantly, Baillie does not give the comedy a stock happy ending. Valdemere neither forgives nor refuses to forgive the conspirators. He asks instead that they not seek forgiveness “at present”: he acknowledges his faults, but he also protests the mercilessness of their correction. Accepting this, Walter states that forgiveness in time is “as much as we can reasonably expect” (5.2.299). The characters in The Siege have learned to live with each other. Their somber and tentative adaptations make the conclusion more ecologically sound than would their full and immediate reconciliation. The stock ending would uphold an unnatural ideal of forgiveness, making culture suppress nature; Baillie’s ending lets culture work with nature as people gradually adjust to each other in their social environment.
A similar disruption of idealizing occurs in The Trial, a comedy on love with an exuberant plot teeming with too many disguises to detail here. The observation I wish to make here about The Trial relates to its questioning of the ideal of love as blind to its object’s shortcomings. In the play, such an ideal is treated as a self-indulgent obsession. The conventionally happy ending, projecting the marriage of Agnes and Harwood, actually depends on an unconventional demonstration that he would love her less if she were a violent-tempered slanderer and that she would love him less if he were not appalled by such an objectionable character. This comedy encourages skepticism about love as an exclusive passion that ignores other people and values in the world; it directs romantic love by social sympathy, so that lovers remain able to adjust their perceptions of each other by broader criteria. By the end of The Trial, Agnes and Harwood look forward to finding mutual satisfaction in a future that includes social service: they agree that he should reject the life of an “idle gentleman” and practice law as “the weak one’s stay, the poor man’s advocate” (5.2.76). They are poised to establish a responsible household, a functional rather than a structural utopia.
The question of responsible housekeeping with which The Trial concludes organizes the plots of two other comedies in the Series. The Second Marriage and The Alienated Manor explore the consequences of mistaking ownership and status—structural signs of achievement—for success in human relations. In questioning the kind of interactions that traditional social structures foster, these plays take up issues that are central to green utopianism. The very term “ecology” itself, coined by Ernst Haeckel late in the nineteenth-century, emerged from a change in thinking about the economy of household affairs. Commenting on Haeckel’s blending of socialism and science, William Howarth describes “ecology” as a new way of managing one’s dwelling place: “from oikonomia to oikologia” is a shift from “house mastery to house study, a shift that changed species from resources into partners of a shared domain” (73). Considering ecology and utopianism, Sargisson sees intentional communities as crossing the boundary between the household (oikos) or private sphere and the polis or the public sphere, realizing that the two condition each other—even, or especially, when the private is believed to be a separate haven from public, political affairs (56-75). Approaching these communities, Sargisson asks, “what happens when the home is a consciously and intentionally politicised space?” (60). This question is likewise the starting point for The Second Marriage and The Alienated Manor. The answer is that the home is a dystopian, ecologically dysfunctional place when notions of status, possession, and resource exploitation structure its occupants’ relationships, but homes can become functional ecotopias when personal values reorganize those structural markers, overcoming the public/private dualism. Ecotopias, whether among Sargisson’s intentional communities or Baillie’s comic households, are not non-politicized households but alternatively politicized households.
The Second Marriage focuses on the politicization of the household from the very first scene, which presents a gardener uprooting flower beds cherished by the first and now deceased wife of Anthony Seabright to make room for more practical plantings preferred by Lady Sarah, the second wife, who would sooner count cabbages than admire rose-trees (1.1.198-99, 2.2.205). Seabright’s motive for marrying Lady Sarah is transparently political. He admits as much to his daughter Sophia, stating, “I don’t marry now to be beloved” but to form an alliance with the “sister of Lord Allcrest . . . [who] is related to the first people of the country” (1.3.204). Even the gardener knows that Seabright aspires to win “his lady-wife and the borough together” (1.1.199), and throughout the play, Seabright preoccupies himself with signs of rank and privilege, quizzing his former brother-in-law, the minister Beaumont, about the career of a friend who likewise made a strategic marriage (1.2.201), and pressing Lady Sarah for the genealogy behind the family ring she wears (2.2.206).
Seabright’s conception of human relations is entirely instrumental: he expects a person’s position in the public socio-economic structure to determine the content of private interactions. He looks forward to rising high enough that people will be “forced to respect him” despite their “unwilling[ness] at first to acknowledge the superiority of him who has been more nearly on a level with themselves” (2.3.208). Lady Sarah shares this orientation. As she explains to Seabright while writing letters to influential people she does not like, “if people would be attend to it, every acquaintance that they make, every letter that they write, every dinner that they give, might be made to turn to some advantage” (3.2.214). She is eager to repeat the pattern of strategic alliance by marrying Sophia to Sir Crafty Supplecoat and to implement a strict household budget—rationing the servants’ use of butter and cream, lessening the quality of the medicinal cordials for the poor, and even having Seabright write on scrap paper and buy less wool from his constituents—in order to save money to pay for higher offices (2.2.206-07).
Beaumont, who deliberately looks for good in everybody (2.2.205, 5.3.228), explains Lady Sarah’s meanness as an effect of the way she had been “circumstanced” before her marriage when she lived as a dependent spinster in the household of Lord Allcrest (3.1.213). Circumstantial explanations are crucially important to Baillie’s conceptualization of character, and scholarship on The Second Marriage has referred to this point to generate sympathetic interpretations of this unsympathetic figure. Burroughs and Slagle read the play as exposing the other characters’ meanness toward Lady Sarah, seeing her as treated unfairly by her new family as she struggles to learn the role of a wife (Burroughs, Closet Stages 163; Slagle 103), and Purinton (in her essay in this volume) shows how anxieties about the nature of the spinster distort Sarah’s behavior and the other characters’ interactions with her. Though my reading is less forgiving, it is consonant in treating her as one of Baillie’s strong but flawed female characters who belie idealizations and essentializations of women. Lady Sarah herself embraces and enacts economic priorities in ways that reveal the personal, social and ecological tolls they take, and it is the acceptance of such priorities by any character that the play criticizes.
The more Seabright gains in the public sphere (election to Parliament, a baronetcy, an offer of high office), the more he loses in his household. Baillie captures this contradictory condition with what we would now call ecological metaphors. Seabright exclaims:
[I]s there no getting on in this upward path of honour, unless we tear our way through all these briars and nettles?—Contention and misery at home! is this the price we pay for honour and distinction in the world? Would no honours take root on my untoward soil, till I had grubb’d up every sprig and shoot of comfort to make room for them? It were better to be a panniered jack-ass and pick up my scanty provender from the ditch, than be a garter’d peer in such a home as this.—I had once a home! (4.4.221)
Seabright’s home has become a mere extension of the political arena that Baillie consistently associated with conflict and contention. The Election, her comedy on hatred, indicts the political process that unleashes that uncontrolled passion in the candidates, their wives, and their households.
An affectual orientation that contrasts with Seabright’s instrumentalism is represented in The Second Marriage by Seabright’s daughter Sophia. Sophia defines success entirely in terms of caring relationships within a household. Trying to help her siblings cope with the loss of their mother by stepping into that role herself, she aspires only to “overlook the household matters and order every thing in the family as [Seabright] would like to have it”; her greatest hope is that he “will put confidence in” her (1.3.203). Though Sophia’s orientation seems preferable to Seabright’s, the play reveals it as an opposite extreme that cannot simply be endorsed. Sophia, for instance, takes no notice of any public context for the household. When Seabright faces bankruptcy, she cheerfully embraces the prospect of the family being beggars together (5.3.225) and when help from his first wife’s uncle enables Seabright to set up a more modest household, Sophia quickly idealizes the happiness they can enjoy together even in the “lowliest cottage in England” (5.3.227). Despite its emphasis on relationships, Sophia’s utopian cottage is still more structural than functional. In another context, the reference to the cottage might introduce an ecological or even ecotopian alternative to the “improved” estate (such as the one in The Alienated Manor on which I comment below), but Sophia’s outlook doesn’t adapt to any new circumstances so much as it clings to the former behavior patterns in her family.
The opposed orientations represented by Sophia and by Seabright/Lady Sarah co-exist in the play as competing ways of “recoding” the household. The different versions of the space that they suggest closely resemble the different codings of the country house that Pohl details in Women, Space, and Utopia. In Pohl’s reading of texts from Ben Jonson’s “To Penshurst” to Sarah Scott’s Millenium Hall, country house literature has consistently examined tensions between the emotional and economic bases of community. Country house poems are usually coded to present the household as a place in which dwelling with others fulfills the physical and emotional needs of the self. Modeled on the aristocratic ideal of balancing power between the country and the court (an early version of the private vs. public dilemma), this notion of the dwelling place can be and was used to endorse the households of more bourgeois and commercial owners when they remained open to non-economic relationships (53-64). According to Pohl, women writers like Sarah Scott recoded the country house space to make it more fulfilling for women who could never fully enjoy the legal ownership and control of such estates. This alternative coding emphasizes what people can do (“social capital”) to create a community rather than what they can possess or what bounty they can extend (“economic capital”) to do so (70-88). Baillie’s Second Marriage participates in a similar recoding of dwelling places. It calls for an adaptation of the personal priorities cherished by Sophia to the public sphere in which the household is situated. Instead of being structured by the public economy and hierarchy, the household must challenge that dualism and move toward a more integrated—and thus ecological—culture.
The process of making Seabright’s household more habitable is spurred by characters whose kinship with the family is distant or figurative, indicating that Baillie is not merely reverting to old ideals of literal consanguinity. The adaptive characters are Beaumont and Morgan, relatives of Seabright’s first wife, and Robert, her “foster-brother” (1.1.199), who is something more than a servant but less than a guest in Seabright’s house and who has the traits of Meeker’s tricksters. Robert helps the servants organize a campaign to frighten Lady Sarah into liberalizing her rations and regulations. While his appearing in the disguise of a devil and orchestrating ghostly noises and visions seem objectionable, they are presented in the play (as in Meeker’s theory) as the desperate measures of victims who have no other means to resist oppression or seek justice. Though the campaign is morally ambiguous, like the conspiracy to frighten Valdemere in The Siege, the play places Robert in a favorable light: he decides not to disguise himself as the first Mrs. Seabright because he believes that doing so would be disrespectful (4.2.218) and he wants most of all to prompt the second Mrs. Seabright to be kinder to the children (4.3.220). When Seabright becomes bankrupt, Robert offers his own money to help repair the damage, an offer made unnecessary by the more ample donation from Uncle Morgan (5.3.227-28).
As in The Siege, deceptions that help characters live with each other appear more tolerable than moral ideals that create divisions and conflicts. Selfish deceptions, however, are condemned. In fact, a selfish deception brings about Seabright’s ruin: against the wishes and knowledge of the frugal Lady Sarah, Seabright has entered into a risky scheme to profit from the price of salt—ironically, a household preservative—and he is ruined when the scheme fails. The economic disaster allows for a qualifiedly happy ending. Seabright has the chance to start over in a modest cottage where he and his extended family can live in “respectable and useful privacy” (5.3.226). In effect, the ending offers the opportunity to politicize the household differently, making it a functional utopia where dwelling with others fulfills individual and collective needs.
Readings that focus on Lady Sarah as a victim are most troubled by the fact that she returns to her brother’s house rather than live in reduced circumstances with Seabright (Burroughs, Closet Stages 163; Slagle 103). But as the stage directions emphasize, Lady Sarah chooses this course of action (5.3.226). She cannot or will not give up her ambitions or adapt to the new situation; she will not even sympathize with Seabright. While Sophia attempts to make him feel better, Lady Sarah only scolds him for being in a “hurry to get rich” instead of following her slower but surer savings plan (5.3.226). Though the exclusion of Lady Sarah casts a shadow over the end of the comedy, it also allows the play to avoid the unnatural and immediate reconciliations typical of stock comedies (and not typical of Baillie’s comedies) as well as the reductionism of structural utopias. Instead of showing a reformed Lady Sarah, Baillie shows that Lady Sarah has the capacity to reform. Before leaving with her brother, she attempts to make peace with Seabright by asking to have one of the children live with her. Warming to human relations, she still retains an instrumental orientation and treats the child as a means to an end. But disappointment is avoided when a plan for frequent visits satisfies all (5.3.227). Compromise and negotiation, key characteristics of the comedy of survival, have bridged oppositions and adjusted untenable ideals.
A similar movement from treating a home as a status marker to treating a home as a dwelling place is traced in The Alienated Manor, which investigates the practice of housekeeping as mastery and shows it to be harmful—not only to the land and people Mr. Charville wishes to dominate but to Charville himself. In trying to control his possessions, Charville becomes consumed by jealousy, but true to comedic type, the play allows him to reject his economic priorities and adopt a more ecological outlook. Because Charville’s desires manifest themselves especially in his effort to “improve” the landscaping on his estate, the play is more referentially connected to environmentalism than any of Baillie’s other works, but it is not necessarily more conceptually ecological if we understand ecology in the broader sense that I have been using throughout this essay. Nevertheless, it is helpful to contextualize the play with respect to the trends toward “improvement” that dominated land management for decades before Baillie wrote. Its popularity furnished her with symbols, terms, and clichés through which to expose the dystopian effects of such mastery on the human and non-human beings it affected.
The Parliamentary enclosures and the Highland clearances of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were driven by the “ideology of improvement” (to borrow Saree Makdisi’s phrase 78)—the desire to make land yield surplus profit or prestige for an owner. The Enclosure Acts, which took land out of common use and fenced it in for private cultivation, tied agriculture to commerce. As Crawford details, Parliamentary enclosure (unlike earlier, less formal versions of the process) was often carried out by scientific surveys and road-widening projects that all aimed to decrease the number of workers needed for farming or animal husbandry, to curtail the independence of laborers, and to move goods to market efficiently. Lost in the pursuit of productivity were the customary rights of rural residents to sustain themselves by farming or grazing in open fields (Crawford 37-64). Without denying differences between England and Scotland, one can observe a similar trend in land management in northern Britain, and doing so is important in light of Baillie’s Scottish roots and lifelong attachment to the country she had left at an early age. Analyzing agrarian improvement in Scotland, T. M. Devine stresses the change in attitude behind the acts of clearing tenants off the land. Land had been redefined as “as asset to be exploited” by individuals rather than a source of “welfare” for all (158). Joining this attitude with imperial designs, Makdisi sees the Scottish clearances as a “rehearsal of the multitudinous practices of ‘improvement’” staged and restaged throughout nineteenth-century Britain (79).
The most “predatory” form of enclosure was imparkment, the fencing in of wide landholdings to create prestigious estates (Crawford 43). In a study of the politics of landscape, Nigel Everett explains imparkment as the indulgence of privilege. Its “emotional appeal” lay in possessing what “others do not and generally cannot enjoy” (39). Understandably, albeit not excusably, ostentatious landholding was favored most by new Whigs whose wealth and power came from trade. By commodifying land, such figures could literally and symbolically take the traditional source of sustenance, authority, and belonging away from those with inherited title to it (Everett 45). In the vocabulary of Baillie’s play, they could alienate it, i.e., transfer it to themselves, for the primary meaning of the term in the title comes from the legal use of “alienation” to denote sales, gifts, and other non-hereditary conveyances of property. Charville comes to possess the manor by ruthlessly exacting payment for a debt. For Charville, as for his contemporaries outside the theater, demonstrating possession of what they had acquired became their most important goal.
Possession was shown by dominating the land and its inhabitants through such procedures as cutting down trees, altering the course of a stream, or moving cottages—or even whole villages—to suit the owner’s view. Ironically, artificial ruins were often placed over the sites of such genuine destruction. In another political study, Kenneth Olwig compares the landscaping of vast estates to the scenery at earlier court masques: both constructed settings to showcase elite power (100-17). The artificiality of the grounds “masked” the local, natural features of a place, substituting the abstract, ideal designs of owners and improvers (100-17; cf. Everett on “ideal nature” 40). In contrast to these New Whig improvers, Tories and Old Whigs rejected the commodification of land, treating it instead as a resource they held in trust for others (Everett 16). They cultivated relationships of benevolent paternalism instead of individualistic enterprise. Though we must be wary of oversimplifying the political dichotomy or crediting Tory landlords with living up to their “benevolent” image, we must also remain aware of these general tendencies that politicized or “recoded” homes before and during Baillie’s time. Attitudes toward improvement did divide (or were popularly perceived to divide) clearly enough along party lines for Baillie to use them in characterizing the candidates in The Election: the Whig candidate, Freemantle, “cut[s] down the old gloomy trees” and straightens the stream on his estate, thus displeasing his neighbor, the Tory candidate Baltimore (2.3.113-14); Baltimore in turn scoffs at Freemantle’s importing plants and hiring a botanist as “abominable ostentation” (4.1.122). Since The Election focuses on the hatred that arises from political contention itself, it does not develop its references to improvement, but the usefulness of these references as thumbnail sketches for the candidates testifies to the opposing attitudes we must keep in mind to appreciate the critique of possessiveness and suggestion of more generous alternatives in The Alienated Manor.
When the curtain rises, we find Sir Level Clump, the “improver” or landscape architect employed by Mr. Charville, discussing with Charville’s neighbor Crafton his plans for the estate. Sir Level’s plans include “clearing away the underwood, and cutting / out that heavy mass of forest trees into separate groups,” which would, he rhapsodizes, give the place “a very elegant, tasteful, parkish appearance.” Comparing the forest in its natural form to “a rude untamed clown,” he aims to turn it into “a gentleman” (1.1.337). It is tempting at first to consider Sir Level the “villain” of this play and to wonder how Baillie could create such a caricature in a “characteristic” comedy that purports to delineate ordinary human nature, but Sir Level only carries out his employers’ wishes. Like the modern real estate developer whom Lyn Lofland defends from charges of villainy, Sir Level could not carry out such extreme plans if many other and more powerful people in his culture did not encourage him to do so. Blaming the architect, then, is a form of scapegoating, deflecting blame from others in society and avoiding it oneself. As a caricature, rather than a fully developed character, Sir Level Clump is the repository of his society’s desires. He can be dismissed from the stage when those desires change, but not before.
The characters, in contrast to the caricatures, are dynamic figures able to respond to their circumstances and alter their responses in ways crucial to the play. In keeping with the goals of the Series of Plays on the passions, The Alienated Manor dramatizes Charville’s jealousy as a likely response to his situation as a landholder. That situation is strategically evoked by the opening scene’s attention to his landscape designs, which identifies him with ambitious New Whigs before he appears on the stage. His jealousy emerges within this situation and is thus not only a personal emotion but a culturally conditioned one. Curbing it requires reassessing the value of aggressive acquisition, mistakenly assumed to be adaptive. Less possessive and more adaptive alternatives are modeled by Charville’s wife, sister and neighbors. Though their behaviors have some flaws, they are more conducive to mutual survival. Spectators who rise to Baillie’s challenge to analogize and reflect find themselves confronting the damaging implications of their social, commercial, and legal systems.
When we first meet Charville, we find him improving his wife’s appearance by putting flowers in her hair. Though she protests that “they look awkward, affected, and silly,” she agrees to wear them because Charville takes her resistance as a sign that she does not love him (1.2.339). Charville cannot bring himself to accept his wife’s own identity or give her space for her own development. He cancels trips to remain at home with her, eavesdrops on her conversations, reads her letters, and even disguises himself as a servant in his own house to spy on her. The exasperated and plain-speaking Mrs. Charville tries to discuss this conduct with him, exclaiming: “I hate a man who is so selfish that he must engross his wife’s attention entirely. What do you think of the matter?” Instead of answering her question and confronting the problem of his obsession, Charville sulks over what he construes as her rejection of his love (1.2.339).
In its negative portrayal of the subordination of women, The Alienated Manor has much in common with Witchcraft, The Match, and other plays by Baillie that have been studied in feminist terms for their resistance to patriarchal domination. As those plays protest (in Purinton’s readings) the ways in which the medical profession limits the range of normal behavior for women, The Alienated Manor protests the legal system that limits women’s personhood. But the ecological dimension of The Alienated Manor goes beyond this gendered protest to question the very value of possessiveness. Charville’s possessiveness has the same effect on his relations with everyone and everything in his environment as with his wife. It is alienating in several senses of the term. Legally, it causes him to transfer their existence to his domain. Ethically, intellectually, and emotionally, it estranges him from others.
An alternative attitude (or a “recoding”) is represented by Mrs. Charville. She paints butterflies and sketches bats, taking an interest in the creatures in their own right rather than as resources to be managed. Her conversations about her nature studies pointedly contrast her attitude with her husband’s: “He,” she says, “looks at no creatures but those which are bred in his kennels and his stables” (2.3.345-46)—in other words, those which he possesses and controls. Baillie does not hide the shortcomings of Mrs. Charville’s interest in nature. It is rather superficial, possibly cruel or careless insofar as it involves capturing the bat she sketches, and not much different from her interest in writing parodies of sentimental novels or speculating about her neighbors’ love letters (2.1.342; 3.2.350-51). Nevertheless, as is suitable for a character in a comedy of survival, Mrs. Charville recognizes the separate existence of other beings because such recognition is what she wishes her husband to grant her. Within The Alienated Manor, she exhibits one plausible strategy for cooperative survival that does not depend on possessiveness. Similar alternatives are also exhibited by male characters, notably Crafton and his nephew Freemantle.
In The Alienated Manor, Crafton and Freemantle are the adapters rather than aggressors. It was their relative who lost the manor to Charville; moreover Charville has purchased at a discount some other portions of Crafton’s family estate and has bankrupted, through gambling, a cousin of Freemantle. The security of Freemantle’s own modest estate is somewhat uncertain as the papers documenting his title are lost until the end of the play. Despite these disadvantages, Crafton and Freemantle are not openly hostile to Charville. Knowing that Charville acted meanly, Crafton nevertheless remains on civil terms with him: “one must keep up some intercourse with the world as it is,” he remarks; “the grass would grow on my threshold, were I to confine my visits to the immaculate” (1.1.337). In this tolerance, he contrasts with his cousin’s servant who tries to shoot Charville in revenge for his taking advantage of his employer (5.2.358). But Crafton does not resign himself to injustice. He is resourceful—crafty, as his name implies—and like the stock comedic rogues and tricksters who are Meeker’s survivors, he turns to deception to gain some compensation for his family. The plot he hatches shows the compassion for all sufferers, including himself, predominant among Meeker’s list of traits. Crafton would like his nephew to succeed in marrying Charville’s sister, not only because it would make his nephew happy but because it would bring some property back into the family and might also irritate Charville enough to make him want to move away and sell Crafton’s estate back to him at an affordable price. For his part, Freemantle wishes simply to put the gambling incident out of his mind because his love for Mary is more important to him (1.1.338). Both know that Charville expects his sister to marry a richer man than Freemantle. Crafton advises Freemantle to use Charville’s jealous love of all his possessions, including his wife, to his (Freemantle’s) own advantage: Freemantle should court Mrs. Charville’s favor so that she will persuade her husband to accept Freemantle’s marrying Mary (1.1.338-39). The plot goes awry because Charville thinks Freemantle is seducing his wife.
Evaluating Crafton’s dissembling by motives and circumstances, the play tends to exonerate him, though he himself apologizes for it at the end and believes it makes him unworthy to regain the property (5.3.360). His sympathetically motivated plot, however, contrasts favorably with Charville’s jealously motivated attempts to disguise himself to spy on his wife (3.1.349; 3.2.349-50). Through other contrasts between Charville and Crafton throughout the play, Baillie presents an alternative to Charville’s possessiveness in Crafton’s less acquisitive attitude. When Crafton wishes to buy adjacent property, he first ascertains whether Charville wants it as well because he will not compete for it (3.1.348). Further, he is willing to use what resources he does have to help his nephew and other relatives (4.3.356), and he has made it known, to Sir Level’s dismay, that he will reverse the improvements on any property he does acquire (4.4.355). Were it not for the selfish aspect of his part in the courtship plot, he would seem to represent the benevolent Tory or Old Whig ideal that Everett opposes to the New Whig improver. Making him less than ideal, Crafton’s human flaws make him a better model of adaptive behavior. That he later regrets his selfishness and refuses to press his advantage against Charville suggests moral growth. Mutual survival becomes possible at the end of this play.
Before that conclusion, however, Charville nearly destroys himself. The more obsessed with controlling his property he becomes, the more “warped” (to use the term his sister applies [4.4.356]) he becomes in his judgments of other people. When called upon to serve as magistrate in a wife-beating case, he projects his jealousy into the situation, dismissing the woman as “a hypocrite, and a liar and a jade” who deserves whatever punishment her husband chooses to inflict (4.3.355). Unhappy in all his personal relations, he finally wishes to sell the very property he has so wished to dominate so that he can leave the environment in which he can no longer function (4.3.354-55). He considers suicide (5.1.356-57). Through Charville’s disintegration, Baillie disrupts the correlation between success or survival and aggressive, individualistic, acquisitive behavior. In The Alienated Manor, as in Meeker’s comedy of survival, such behavior is maladaptive. Charville’s dominating attitudes threaten his success and his very existence.
Because The Alienated Manor is a comedy, it brings Charville back from the brink of destruction and, as in The Siege, makes it possible for the characters to learn to live with each other. Once Charville learns that Freemantle loves his sister, not his wife, he sees that his selfishness interfered with his judgment. He admits that he must change his attitude and restore the manor to Crafton. Crafton and Mrs. Charville join him in resolving to be more considerate of others (5.3.360). Just as reconciliation does not come immediately at the conclusion of The Siege, so genuinely improved relations in The Alienated Manor are a goal requiring ongoing efforts to be at home with others in the world.
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1“Green literary utopias” is the term Werner Christie Mathisen applies to Callenbach as well as Ursula Le Guin’s The Dispossessed and Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time (110); “intentional communities are bodies of people who have chosen to live—and usually work in some way—together,” pursuing some “common aim or commitment,” according to Sargisson (Utopian Bodies 29), who has extensively studied intentional communities with ecological commitments (Utopian Bodies 29-53, Sargisson and Sargent).
2 Timothy Morton's Ecology Without Nature also argues against the separation of nature from culture, using deconstruction to undermine the "ecologocentricism" that makes "nature" a sacred place uninhabited by humans (1-28, 84-94). Morton presents his approach as anti-utopian (3, 21-24), but he uses "utopian" only as a negative term for unrealistic thinking or mistaken idealism. He does not cite Sargisson or address revisionist utopianism.
3David Perkins alludes to Baillie’s pamphlet and her poem “The Kitten,” in his book on Romanticism and Animal Rights. A more detailed view of the pamphlet was presented by Judith Bailey Slagle at the 2007 NASSR Conference (“Emergence of Animal Rights”); Slagle’s biography of Baillie remarks on the environmental consciousness in The Alienated Manor.
4As I indicate in “Utopianism and Joanna Baillie,” Nicole Pohl’s concept of “recoding” spaces and Sargisson’s challenge to the separation of public and private spheres are central to new utopian studies. I return to these points in my analyses of Baillie’s comedies in this essay.
5In Kroeber’s theory and practice, “ecological literary criticism concentrates on linkages between natural and cultural processes” (ELC 1). It considers, for example, how Romantic poetry counters assumptions about human alienation with assurances that humans belong in the world; it studies how Romantic narratives depict adaptive and maladaptive behaviors and how they inspire readers to modify their own attitudes, actions or situations (ELC 5, 13; “Biopoetics” 99-114). Contributions by Kroeber (and numerous other scholars) to ecocriticism are dismissed by Joseph Carroll, whose Literary Darwinism takes a more reductionistic view of the relationship between nature and culture, a view in which older scientific attachments to “progressive findings” and a “determinate causal order” still prevail (46-49). I offer an alternative view of the evolution of ecocriticism in “Reconciling Opposites.”
6Published after Kroeber’s article, Richerson and Boyd’s Not by Genes Alone offers further explanation and advocacy of co-evolutionary thinking. Co-evolutionary theory also grounds Peter Swirski’s analysis of how thought experiments work.
7Citations to the Introductory Discourse as well as to the plays are from Baillie’s Dramatic and Poetical Works. Because the edition has no line numbers, plays are cited by act.scene.page.
8Kroeber argues strongly for designating as “ecological” only thinking that is informed by evolutionary concepts (ELC 26-28; “Proto-Evolutionary Bards” 167). Interesting possibilities are arising, however, for deploying “ecological” as an antonym for “exploitative” in pre-nineteenth-century thinking. Fine examples include Diane McColley’s “Milton’s Environmental Epic” and Richard Pickard’s “Augustan Ecology.” I suggest that these possibilities are not necessarily incompatible with Kroeber’s position insofar as they do not confuse the ecological with design theory but apply it strategically to cultural relations.
9Scholarship situating Baillie in medical contexts includes works by Burwick, Dwyer, McMillan, Myers (“Medico-Legal Discourse”) and Purinton (“Feminist Utopianism”; “Socialized and Medicalized Hysteria”).
10Richerson and Boyd also support the idea that aggression can be less adaptive than more sympathetic responses, and as I treat in detail below, so does Meeker.
11Though Meeker’s position is itself arguably an ideology, its value is not diminished by that acknowledgment.
12Catherine Burroughs has explored at length the ways in which Baillie’s work facilitates the evaluation and modification of gender roles, especially in the context of the private theatrical often staged in women’s “closets” (Closet Stages; and on comedy in particular see her article on The Tryal). Additionally relevant scholarship by Purinton addresses Baillie’s awareness of and resistance to the restraining influence of gender norms.
13There may be reasons to separate the meanings of the terms in other contexts, but they seem to be interchangeable in Baillie’s and Meeker’s works. Both stress the idea of feeling or suffering along with another. The more nuanced treatments (such as those by Carney, Leach, Forbes, and Myers [“Theatre of Cruelty”]) of Baillie’s sympathy and its resonances with versions of the concept in the philosophy of Adam Smith (and others) do not preclude consonance with Meeker.
14Sargisson distinguishes inversion from the genuinely critical and creative rethinking evident in utopianism: “inversion of hierarchy is not . . . sufficient to challenge the existence of hierarchy” (Utopian Bodies 130-31).
15Baillie repeats the phrase “differently circumstanced” in The Second Marriage (3.1.212). Cf. her use of “similarly circumstanced” in the Introductory Discourse, which I quote later in this essay.
16For a fuller analysis of this play’s disruption of gender conventions, see Purinton’s “Women’s Sovereignty.”
17Placing Joanna Baillie in a “counter-public sphere,” Mellor paved the way for an understanding of Baillie as resisting the conventional separation of public from private. Mellor’s Mothers of the Nation shows the public/private dichotomy to be inapplicable to the situation of numerous other Romantic-era writers.
18What Adriana Craciun says about her decision to write a book on violent women furthers an understanding of Baillie’s unlikable female characters. Craciun seeks a more complex view of women than that implied by “feminism’s persistent ideology of the consolation of women’s natural nonviolence and benevolence” (9).
19On The Election, see Purinton’s article containing that title and my Symbolic Interactions 183-88.
20As I explain below, but as most readers of this essay will already know, “improvement” represents a range of land management practices by which owners radically altered natural terrains and displaced poor residents in order to annex the territory to their estates. Studies by Crawford and Everett comment on a contrasting “cottage system,” which favored the enclosure of small plots to be cultivated independently by people of modest means. Both scholars believe that the cottage ideal, which fostered respect for the small household in which all members enjoy moderate bounty, had some influence in curbing the extremes of “improvement” (Crawford 38-40; Everett 74-82).
21For more technical agricultural details, see Overton. Oddly, The Alienated Manor gives no example of the notorious conflict between owners and the villagers they deprived of grazing, farming or gleaning rights, but Baillie had already used such an episode in The Trial to emphasize the possessiveness of one of the suitors, Mr. Royston, who protected his improved property by “prosecuting widow Gibson for letting her chickens feed amongst his corn” (2.1.55).
22Crawford identifies alienable property as the chief means of upward mobility for a middle class with money but without inherited land (44). My article “Improving the Law” explores the legal dimensions of The Alienated Manor.
23The caution against “ideological oversimplifications” comes from Kroeber’s review of Everett’s book, though the review is predominantly positive (232-33). Everett often uses “benevolence” and “improvement” as antonyms, a usage I borrow when it sheds light on The Alienated Manor.
24The play contains another caricature, the German philosopher Smitchenstault, who represents the fixation on the aesthetics of the sublime and picturesque that helped make improvement fashionable. Though more concerned with the picturesque, both Olwig and Crawford comment on the related vogue for the sublime and its impact on land use (Olwig 159-75; Crawford 67-69).
25The superficial Mrs. Charville might be contrasted with the more dedicated women naturalists in Sylvia Bowerbank’s study who want to advance to the study of natural philosophy, which was reserved for men, or who develop an “ethics of caring for nature” (142-43). That Baillie does not endorse the affinity between women and nature assumed in the approaches Bowerbank studies as well as in the ecofeminism of our own time is consistent with the rejection of gender essentialism stated in her Introductory Discourse and demonstrated in her plays. Sargisson strongly criticizes ecofeminism for inverting rather than rethinking dualisms (Utopian Bodies 22; “What’s wrong with Ecofeminism?” 59-61).