Wright or Wrong: “Good” Nature Writing

Whilst reading “Mabel Osgood Wright on Nature, Gender, Outdoor Life and Fiction,” something that is made very clear for good nature writing is an emphasis on truth.  She values authors to stick specifically to their experiences and refrain from embellishing. Elaborating beyond the truthful experience leads to falsehoods which misleads the reader and cheapens the work and its value. I don’t agree with her notion of what good nature writing it because in class I have been personally affected by more mystical/embellished writing than what Wright would deem of “literary merit.” Wright assesses historical writing on nature were “mere inventories, and the values given were of food and meat, not loveliness” (155). In my opinion, adhering to Wright’s guidelines of “good nature writing” would bolster this notion of viewing nature more as a commodity versus taking it in the sublime sense. The reality of today is that nature is most commonly used as a commodity, and in order to view nature as otherwise, one must think outside the usual realm of reality. In order to achieve this thought process, one must in a a way, be able to dismiss the confines of reality and alter their perception of nature. Once this is accomplished, we are then able to switch our perspectives and admire the “loveliness” afforded by nature rather than the superficial values of “meat and food.” Wright acknowledges the “natural world affords an appropriate vehicle for fiction and that fiction conveys truth of its own” (155). However, she destroys this notion by following it with the “question of literary merit” (155).  To me, the concept of literary merit is a work from which cultural or aesthetic value can be derived. Under these requirements, a work does not have to be purely fact in order to be valuable. Wright claims “throughout all time natural history has been a setting for mythology, overdrawn conclusions and errors of observation” (155). Mythology is works of fiction but they still have great cultural value in that they have morals to the story and are meant to teach a lesson and increase human knowledge. These works would not have survived thousands of years if they did not have some sort of merit to them.  Works of fiction may deviate from the truth but that brings in the philosophical question of “what is truth?” If one person perceives nature in a way which another does not, does that make their claims falsehoods? I feel Wright is focusing too much on small facts and whether or not they are truthful, and as a result, missed the overarching message within works containing nature.

Mazel, David (ed). A Century of Early Ecocriticism. Ch./Art: Excerpts p. 26-47, 87-100, 113-147, 154-162. pub. University of Georgia Press 2001

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3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by brightgirl04 on December 1, 2011 at 12:19 am

    I agree with this writer who disagrees with Wright that you must stick specifically to your experiences in nature and not embellish. I do not find entirely wrong the idea of making nature unreal in order to make it unique (159). I too, found the mystical/embellished writing more affecting and interesting such as Harriet Prescott Spoffords “Circumstance” over more “real” nature writing. After studying many texts I think it is generally obvious when something appears false and Wright does not give enough credit to the young and “impressionable pilgrims”. I agree that Wright focuses too much on small facts.

  2. While I definitely agree with you that what really should determine whether something should be given literary merit is if some kind of meaning/value can be derived from it and that Wright is not giving enough or even at some points any credit to works of fiction I have to say that the author should have knowledge of what they’re writing about. I personally can understand where Wright is coming from, if for example I read a story where a writer completely butchers something that is fact.

  3. I think that the meaning behind the embellishement is very important because it holds the authors value of nature and embellishing nature is a creative approach. The portrayal of nature has room for both scientific writing of nature and creative expressions.

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