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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Romantic improvement : the infrastructural poetics of agricultural capitalism TeBokkel, Nathan


Romantic Improvement: The Infrastructural Poetics of Agricultural Capitalism restores the material and ideological continuities between the eighteenth-century agricultural phenomenon called Improvement and the early nineteenth-century cultural development called Romanticism. The enclosure and allotment of the commons, the introduction of numerous management techniques like irrigation, crop rotation, selective breeding, wasteland planting, leases, and the proliferation of the picturesque, pastoral, and lyric genres, as well as agricultural tours and periodicals: Improvement is the origin of capitalism. Improvement’s infrastructure, not only enclosure’s fences or draining’s ditches but also agriculture’s rhetoric, scaffolds Romanticism; Romanticism is the cultural superstructure’s response to changes in the socioeconomic base. The poetics we have come to call Romantic were consolidations and sublations of poetics that served functions in this infrastructure. Romantic Improvement studies the agricultural-aesthetic writing of Improvers like Lord Kames, Edmund Burke, Arthur Young, William Marshall, and hundreds more alongside and as a crucial, overlooked part of the aesthetic-agricultural poetry of Romantics like William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and John Clare. Each chapter focuses on one poet in the context of his involvement in Improvement, whether larch planting, irrigation, or labour management, and in the context of his corollary development of a certain generic component of Improvement infrastructure, whether the picturesque, with its commodification of waste and mandate of total profitability, the pastoral, with its naturalization of sociotechnical means and laundering of managerial experience, or the lyric, with its conflations of scarcity and productivity and of pleasure and labour. As a result, canonical literary criticism is shifted to accommodate this history and to resolve heretofore unresolved questions about the interactions of nature and culture under agricultural capitalism.

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