What “Good Nature Writing” IS NOT

When reading this essay, I found that Wright chooses to define “good nature writing” more by what it IS NOT than by what it actually is. This is seen in her denouncement of nature writing that is overly embellished but claims to be the truth. Wright states that the authors of such pieces have made a “grave error” in claiming to be truly good nature writers. Specifically, she condemns the writings of William J. Long for stating that his works are “careful and accurate [observations]” when the reader can clearly see he is elaborating. She does not condemn these elaborations for simply embellishing the truth but merely finds faults in the claims that they are the pure truth, almost as an attempt to lie to readers.

Like Wright, I also find it easier to exclude some works of writing (such as Long’s) from the category of “good nature writing” rather than to try to categorize all works that may or may not fit into the genre. Because, like Wright states, we should not regard all writing as false, and therefore, poor nature writing, simply “because they are not within the range of our own experiences”. I feel that a simpler way to eliminate a poor nature writer is to look at the extent to which he or she is honest with the reader. I think elaborative writing can explain a different, more personal aspect of nature and it can be regarded as worthwhile as long as the aspects of it that are purely fictitious are acknowledged.

In addition to the need for honesty in nature writing, I agree with Wright that good nature writing it also about “stepping forward” and meeting nature as an equal rather than the traditional view of “going back to Nature”. However, this led me to question the pastoral trope and it’s idealization of returning to nature. Perhaps just a reframing of the trope is necessary to categorize pastoral writings as great nature writing because the writer is not so much trying to reclaim lost nature of years past but rather reuniting with nature with “out-stretched hands”.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Another thing that Wright mentions is not part of good nature writing is the gendering of nature. She states that always portraying nature as “feminine…indicates the incomplete…[while] nature is one and indivisible” (156). Yet I definitely agree with you that she does focus more on what is not part of good nature writing as opposed to what is.

  2. Posted by bhough on December 1, 2011 at 11:59 am

    I think your statement, that “a simpler way to eliminate a poor nature writer is to look at the extent to which he or she is honest with the reader” is spot on. In my personal opinion, I don’t believe any writing should be excluded from the nature genre, as long as it is up front with its readers- discussing candidly what may be true, what may be exaggerated, and what is pure imagination. This is, of course, the major issue Burroughs had when dealing with Long’s and Seton’s work, but he himself was also charged with writing from too personal a view point.

    It is very interesting to me how heated an argument about the validity of nature writing can become. As we have discussed all semester, nature is an incredibly subjective and personal experience. Even Ansel Adam’s, whose stark photography forever changed Americans’ views of nature, has been called subjective, purely for pointing the camera in the direction he chose to. I don’t think anyone could ever give an entirely objective view of nature; thus, the best option is to let those in the field express themselves as they wish, in a frank and candid manner with their audiences.

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