UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Eco-illusions : uncovering urban nature in the modernist short story Browning, Celeste Elizabeth Strachan


A recurring theme in literary modernism is a feeling of alienation in the modern individual. Most critical readings of the modernist city have focused on urbanity as the main site of alienation thus far. However, this approach overlooks the great presence of nature in modernist descriptions of city landscapes. Due to the common impression that nature and city are binary opposites, urban nature is either perceived within cultural conventions of nature or within the context of the natural world. Both of these interpretations lead the reader away from a true understanding of nature as polluted and altered by the city space. Using selected short fiction by James Joyce and Katherine Mansfield, this thesis investigates the ecocritical value of illusory symbolism and characters’ misperceptions of nature in cities of the Western World. During a moment of internal crisis or epiphany, characters often notice the nature in their surroundings, like the snow in “The Dead” or the pear tree in “Bliss”. Other times, the narrator notes the character’s distance from nature in relation to their immorality, like the obscured moonlight in “Two Gallants”. However, the language of covering and blurring used to describe nature reveals its integration with the city. This thesis then proposes a third landscape of ‘urban nature’ in modernist short fiction with its own unique structure of meaning. I argue that the character is aware of this landscape, but applies false symbolism to nature in order to disguise their imperfect lives from modern society. In this way, emotional alienation exposes the city’s alienation of nature in the early twentieth century. This study explores various features of society – namely social normalcy, marriage, and fame – that distances the modern subject from feeling connected to their sense of self, and by extension, to the natural world.

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