#3. Farnham’s use of the ‘natural’ order in “California, In-doors and Out”

Throughout Eliza Burhans Farnham’s California, In-doors and Out, the subject of agriculture was a major theme for those who inhabitedCalifornia that were not involved in the mines.  The presence of agriculture was described as being very ‘natural’ by Farnham because “With such a climate and soil it will readily be supposed that the farmer may have always planting or harvesting in hand” (31) implying that the farmer is a ‘natural’ part of the land.  Following the agriculture theme Farnham discusses the agriculture seasons of the east compared to the west that follow the ‘natural’ cycle:

In most of the older States, some portion of the year, if not a very considerable one, is spent in preparing to meet the severity of winter.  Here, no such preparation is needed.  The season of growth commences soon after the first rains fall (unusually in the latter part of October), and continues until some time in May, when the country is become a vast, rich meadow, wherein the hay is already cured and spreads for the innumerable herds; and in which oat-fields, millions of acres in extent, offer a subsistence nowhere else to be found by animals who feed without the care of man (31),

arguing that the use of agriculture is more ‘natural’ inCaliforniabecause of the timely rain season that allows less processing of the land like in the ‘older States’ in the east.  Farnham distinguishes the ‘natural’ from the ‘unnatural’ based on whether or not it follows an unchanging order or cycle like in the example Farnham gives about the account of the grasshoppers destroying the crop, “The former, he knows, will not fail, if they have had anything like fair treatment, unless, indeed, the grasshoppers overtake them in their season of tenderness, in which case a few days cropping by them will save him the labor he has been dreaming in the harvest” (35).  The grasshoppers disrupt the farmers crops that would have produced if the grasshoppers where not as prominent.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by bhough on October 27, 2011 at 11:24 am

    I find your post very intriguing. One thing that struck me especially is the fact that Farnham felt such an allegiance towards the West and their lifestyle, when she had lived most of her life in the East. There often seems to be a rather severe divide between those who live in the Eastern and Western United States, instead of a feeling of brotherhood or community. For women at least, I think this intense allegiance to their newer homes probably came from the more advanced work they were allowed and expected to do in the West. The more responsibilities they had, especially outside of the domestic sphere, the more they felt they were a part of the community.

    • But not too much freedom. Farnham explains how having too much or possibly the wrong kind of freedom leads to moral degeneration. I think that is why agriculture is so prevalent in her text, it requires constant work. Though the farm may represent the potential from oppressive male dominance, thus as a space that women can create for themselves, it also represents a massive commitment.

  2. Posted by yribaf on October 28, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    I like your topic, and I would analyze why Farnham considers farming natural above other forms of living if she has to spend so much time working to get her food and then sometimes grasshoppers eat her crops before she can. Why does Farnham think having too much free time leads to moral degeneration when she finds getting lost in the beauty of the natural landscape to be so miraculous? She seems to enjoy having free time and considers how she spends her free time as a divine escape more than a moral degeneration.

  3. Posted by bharta1 on October 28, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    Good observation. I would look into Garrard’s chapter on Wilderness on page 75. Of the wild and “nature” narratives the lone woman’s (in this book) view of nature is very much different. Where men are fighting for a nature they can quite seem to put into words, the woman sees a wildness on her farm and as Garrard put it, “her protagonist is the land”, or Buell, whatever… Anyway, I think it would be interesting to consider whether or not her new beginnings as a more or less “free” woman may have given here the room to perceive what she was doing as natural because it was on her own volition, not under the thumb of social and patriarchal norms.

    I recommended this to someone else doing a paper on Farnham but I think it might fit well with your paper as well, what would change if the land and environment were not as forgiving? Meaning, what kind of nature is good enough to be “natural”?

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