How the word “nature” functions in Farnham’s “California, In-doors and Out”

The word nature in Farnham’s text is used both to describe the natural world and to explain characteristics of people, especially women.

Early in the text she refers to nature as a female, in a moment where the beauty and calmness of California momentarily overcomes her senses. “For the hour, I forget that life subjects the spirit to jar and discord, and am only conscious of the harmony that flows form the generous breast of nature into our own, when, for a happy moment, she gets undivided audience of it.” (Farnham 45) She explains nature as something separate from the hustle of the gold mining that is aggressively being pursued in the region. Those miners show no interest in cultivating the land which she sees as some of the finest farmland anywhere, given the mild winters, and plentiful moisture from the coast.

Later in the text she explains that this region has a corrupting effect on the nature of women. The caring, giving and healing “proportions of the (her) moral nature will be gradually broken down, as the surface of the stone is hollowed, and its original form in part destoryed by the unceasing friction.” (Farnham 294)

The friction she speaks of is both the hardness of living in this newly settled land, and the apparent distrust men of the region have of women. That only “fools and dupes” believe in the wholesome nature of women. That “there was not one honest one in the country” (Farnham 292) was the prevailing sentiments of the transient men who inhabited the region.

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3 responses to this post.

  1. I agree that nature is both used to describe a dream-like state away from the chaos and hardships in the west for Lawrence. Also, nature is used to describe the typical nature of women as kind, gentle, a quiet leader, and etc. Lawrence seems in awe of the land around her. She takes in the beauty of it. She describes it as holy, “filled with repose and beauty” (45), and a dream of goodness. The awe-inspring, peaceful holy nature is contrasted with the chaotic, tough, problematic western life. Nature’s role in this text is to be in the highest position in a hierarchy. The western life is beneath the pristine nature Lawrence observes. Also, the tough attitude of other women who have been changed by the hard western life is beneath the true nature of women. The woman who “reached her journey’s end a gentle, soft-spoken woman, with manners as unsoiled by her hard experience as truly feminine and sweet.” (299) Nature is the ideal place to be such as the woman finding comfort and peace while she can away from her children. Women who stay uncorrupted and pure in heart are the ideal women instead of the corrupted ones.

  2. I agree with your analysis of how nature is used to describe femininity in the text. To provide another example, Farnham admires “families where the mother, richly endowed by nature with womanly gentleness, had preserved it unsullied in herself and children on these great plains” (297-298). She also describes how she dislikes the fact that the nature of frontier life causes people to grow up fast: “boys and girls took on themselves the cares and toils of men and women, and assumed, unchecked…the manners, consequence, and language of mature years” (297). Nature for Farnham thus seems to be associated with innocence, a characteristic she greatly admires. Although she admires people who work on the frontier, she also wants these people to retain their innocence, kindness, and gentleness, particularly the women. As you mentioned, this view is probably a result of her experiences with corrupt men during her travels to the West and during her stay on her late husband’s estate, and these experiences inspired her to keep from becoming like these uncaring people.

  3. Posted by lmc908 on October 27, 2011 at 11:26 am

    I agree with your claim that nature is separate from the everyday life of farming and mining. Although both of these occupancies require working with nature, one does not experience nature when doing so. As Lawrence describes, the time that Farnham experienced the awe of nature was when she was meditating by herself. It was interrupted by her children; they pulled her back into the everyday reality. Later, when she tries to go back to reestablish that connection she cannot because the moment is gone and she knows this—“the charm was broken; there was no return to the world from which they had recalled me” (47). Nature seems to be something that we can only establish when we are truly separated from the bounds of reality. Farnham was not able to connect with nature again because her mind was occupied with the responsibilities of being a mother.
    I believe that the idea of a woman who is independent and able to work the land, but still retain her gentleness is problematic. The hardships that the women who travelled to California experienced on the trip and upon arriving affect their personalities and characters. The experiences that one encounters in life shape who we become—we are in constant change. These women are becoming the new women; a new self-reliable, self-protecting woman. Wanting to keep them as the old type of woman, the gentle family-pleasing woman, goes against feminism and the development/progress of women.

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