In Common Things: Commerce, Culture, and Ecology in British Romantic Literature
Published: April 2022© 2022
Imprint: University of Toronto Press
Page Count: 232 Pages
Illustrations: 1 b&w illustration, 1 b&w table
Dimensions: 6.20 x 9.10
232 Pages, 6.20 x 9.10 x 1.00 in, 1 b&w illustration, 1 b&w table
The hardness of stone, the pliancy of wood, the fluidity of palm oil, the crystalline nature of salt, and the vegetable qualities of moss – each describes a way of being in and understanding the world. These substances are both natural objects hailed in Romantic literature and global commodities within a system of extraction and exchange that has driven climate change, representing the paradox of the modern relation to materiality.
In Common Things examines these five common substances – stone, wood, oil, salt, and moss – in the literature of Romantic period authors, excavating their cultural, ecological, and commodity histories. The book argues that the substances and their histories have shaped cultural consciousness, and that Romantic era texts formally encode this shaping. Matthew Rowney draws together processes, beings, and things, both from the Romantic period and from our current ecological moment, to re-invoke a lost heritage of cultural relations with common substances.
Enabling a fresh reading of Romantic literature, In Common Things prompts a reevaluation of the simple, the everyday, and the common, in light of their contributions to our contemporary sense of ourselves and our societies.
Introduction: In Common Things
1. “The Bones of the World”: Mary Wollstonecraft’s Social Geology
2. “Broken Arbour”: The Ruined Cottage and Deforestation
3. “Strange Look’d it There!”: The Paradox of the Palm in the Poetry of Felicia Hemans
4. Preserver and Destroyer: Salt in The History of Mary Prince
5. “Lin’d with Moss”: John Clare’s Rhizomatic Poetics
"In Common Things offers a new approach to the Romantic period and Romantic-period literature while making a strong case for reading Romantic literature through the lens of substances, and substances through the lens of Romantic literature. This exciting and innovative volume clearly contributes to a vibrant and multi-faceted conversation."Julia S. Carlson, Associate Professor of English, University of Cincinnati
"In Common Things is innovative and refreshing. The research referenced – such as environmental histories and contemporary poetry – creates unanticipated arguments about well-known Romantic texts. It is energizing to find Romantic texts I’ve read for years in conversation with, for example, contemporary Jamaican poetry or a Native American writer like Robin Wall Kimmerer. Matthew Rowney’s sharp and precise prose takes poetic and philosophical turns that makes the book a pleasure to read."Katey Castellano, Professor of English, James Madison University