Posts Tagged ‘Mabel Osgood Wright’

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

Good nature writing according to Wright

After reading Mabel Osgood Wright’s essay, her critique of what she refers to as ‘good nature writing’ stems from the idea that the truth is more valuable than exaggerations when questioning literary merit, “Wright more perceptively sees a question of literary merit—and it is as a deficit writer, rather than as a purveyor of falsehoods” (155).  Wright also suggests that good nature writing should encourage people to abandon their primary households of the indoors and city life to venture out into nature to enlighten the audience to the beauties of nature.  Wright claims that by staying indoors people will not obtain the correct perspective of nature resulting in people seeing nature as “mere inventories, and the values given were of food and meat, not loveliness” (155).


Wright describes the return to the outdoors as a pilgrimage, giving it a minor religious theme of city dwellers converting to appreciating the outdoors and beauty of nature that leads to “the betterment of physical health and mental energy,” claiming that the outdoors has healing powers.


I agree with Mabel Osgood Wright’s interpretation of good nature writing and that due to this style being relatively new publishers and even audiences struggle with the writings.  The Darwinian quote by Wright, “As to the books, let them some, good, bad, and indifferent, the survival will be only for the truest, because in the end they will be found the fittest” (159) describes how good nature writing will be defined in the future as more and more books are published those that not only outlast the others but convey truth over exaggeration will define the genre.


However, Wright does not discuss the problem of the gray-area between artistic freedom of the writers and strictly staying true to the facts.  If good nature writing has fictional elements, the writer cannot be expected to be contained to facts.  There needs to be some form of entertainment otherwise there will not be any profit.  I think there shouldn’t be a fine line to distinguish between the two but there shouldn’t be over exaggerations either.


Mazel, David (ed). A Century of Early Ecocriticism. Ch./Art: Excerpts p. 154-162. Pub. University of Georgia Press 2001

Good Nature Writing

Good nature writing to Wright would consist of a transcendentalist mentality, “a striving against artificial conditions” of city life, considering nature an eternal duality between male and female, and a “stepping forward” mentality into a future in balance with nature (157). She considers these ideas to be a “public appeal” which has “opened an entirely new field for authors, and been productive not only of much interesting and instructive reading-matter but a great deal that must take a permanent rank as literature” (157). I agree with her criteria, except for the idea of moving forward or backward to achieve a balance with nature because this implies that time is linear, which I do not agree with. I would describe this more as a healing process between nature and humanity. There is no going forward or backward because all we ever have is the present moment. I strongly agree with the idea of nature embodying both sexes since most species have both sexes, allowing for life to be both eternal and fragile. I also agree with “striving against artificial conditions” of city life because losing touch with the natural world feels like losing a tremendous part of what defines our humanity (157). We should spend time learning about the wonders of the world that human hands did not entirely create. I would define good nature writing to consist of the qualities Wright mentions, except for the idea of linear time, as well as a few other ideas. I would define good nature writing to consist of some notion of the people in the text learning how to survive while embarking on a journey out of the city life. I would also hope to see the people working to understand names for different entities in nature, whether plant or animal species. A balance between some sort of civilization for humans and the rest of the natural world would be essential to good nature writing as well. The story also may be apocalyptic and describe a world with imbalances between civilization and nature. The people could act compassionately toward other living creatures, only killing anything if they need to for their own sustenance, or they could create a darker dynamic between humans and other animals to shed light on something the author wants to illuminate to society. Good nature writing should strive to teach a lesson about our relation to the natural world that relates to the way a society lives. Nature writing should have some basis in the author’s personal experiences or else the lesson that is taught won’t hold much water.

Mazel, David (ed). A Century of Early Ecocriticism. Ch./Art: Excerpts p. 154-162. Pub. University of Georgia Press 2001

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”.

Group 2’s 6th and Final Blog Post

For your last blog post, pick one of the following options:

  1. Do you agree with Selden Whitcomb’s argument about the trajectory American literature and its treatment of nature by the turn of the 20th century? Why or why not? Use examples from any of our reading this semester to illustrate your points. Feel free to also bring in your knowledge of American literature from other classes or other sources.
  2. Write a response in which you assess Whitcomb’s analysis of either Hector St. John de Crevecoeur or William Cullen Bryant. In your response, you should both reference Whitcomb’s text and cite textual evidence from either “What is an American?” or Bryant’s poetry to support your claims.
  3. Which arguments made during the “Nature Faker Controversy” do you find most convincing? In your response, explain and defend your position. You may want to consider citing from last week’s Seton reading to further illustrate your points.
  4. What criteria does Mabel Osgood Wright propose for “good nature writing?” Do you agree with her criteria? What would you add to her list? In other words, how would you define “good nature writing?”

Remember, your posts should follow these requirements and guidelines:

  • Posts must be at least 300 words.
  • Posts must include at least one quote from the text. If you are writing about both texts, then you’ll need at least one quote from each as support.
  • Stay focused on answering the prompt question above. Avoid repeating the question and be as specific as possible in your answer.
  • Please note that you do not need to answer every “thinking question” I have posted (the questions after the bold directive). These are just options, so you could focus on one or a few. Avoid writing a response that looks like a Q & A or laundry list of answers to these smaller questions; make sure your response flows smoothly and has unity.
  • Your response should make an argument, not summarize the text.
  • Use specific moments from the text(s) to support and illustrate your argument.
  • Be sure to introduce, quote, cite, and comment on all quotes.
  • Don’t forget to tag your posts! Before adding a new tag, check the “choose from the most used tabs” menu to make sure it is not already listed.

Group 1, your blog response is due by class time on Tuesday, November 29. Group 2, blog comments are due by class time on Thursday, December 1.