Good Nature Writing

Mabel Osgood Wright’s writings reveal her thoughts on what good nature writing should be. She claims that the best nature writing focuses more on the personal discovery aspect of outdoor life instead of the author’s perception of what nature is. The transcendental writings of Emerson and Thoreau meet her criteria because those authors focused on writing about the journey of self-discovery that nature allows people to embark on. She describes Thoreau’s book “A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers” as “our first example of Nature literature pure and simple” (157). Wright feels so strongly about this book as well as other transcendental writings because they do not try to define nature as the author sees it but instead urge the audience to go out and explore nature and make their own personal discoveries. This goal is what Wright feels is the most important criteria for nature writing.

Wright also describes what she considers to be bad nature writing. She feels that authors such as Ernest Thompson Seton and William J. Long are bad for nature writing because they focus on the singular experience of an individual, whether that’s a person in the story or an animal. This style of nature writing fails to meet her criteria because the stories force the reader to believe that what the author is writing is mostly truth and not just a fictional tale based off of true events. Wright feels this is misleading because the authors do not specify which parts of their stories are true and which parts have been overly exaggerated or changed to give the story more literary merit. She writes that, “It is when the authors in this new field insist that they are not only telling ‘the truth and nothing but the truth,’ which moreover, that have personally touched, tasted, swallowed, and digested, that a halt must be called” (161). By trying to write true events in a way that makes for good reading, the authors Wright criticizes miss the mark of what good nature writing entails. 

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One response to this post.

  1. I think you did a great job breaking down Wright’s piece, but i have to disagree with her claims. She wants nature writers to present the facts and leave personal experieince aside, and i dont think this is possible. Personal experience makes up our enitre thought process, so when describing nature, my personal experience might lend to my description of a certain plant or animal as ugly or i might skip over something thinking it irrelevant, when another person might devote an entire chapter to this same thing. For this reason i dont think her claim is plausible.

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