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French Ecocriticism

From the Early Modern Period to the Twenty-First Century

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Daniel A. Finch-Race and Stephanie Posthumus

This book expounds fruitful ways of analysing matters of ecology, environments, nature, and the non-human world in a broad spectrum of material in French. Scholars from Canada, France, Great Britain, Spain, and the United States examine the work of writers and thinkers including Michel de Montaigne, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Arthur Rimbaud, Marguerite Yourcenar, Gilbert Simondon, Michel Serres, Michel Houellebecq, and Éric Chevillard. The diverse approaches in the volume signal a common desire to bring together form and content, politics and aesthetics, theory and practice, under the aegis of the environmental humanities.

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Victor Hugo and the Politics of Ecopoetics (Karen F. Quandt)

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Karen F. Quandt

Victor Hugo and the Politics of Ecopoetics

Abstract: This chapter argues that Victor Hugo’s interactions with the natural landscapes of the Channel Islands throughout his exile in the 1850s form an ecopoetics in Les Contemplations (1856) that influences the theorising of an eco-conscious society in Les Misérables (1862). I trace an evolution from the poet’s pre-exilic, fraught relationship with nature in a cycle of poems from 1846 to explicitly environmental poems from 1855 that inspire a pragmatic call for conservation in Les Misérables. By examining a highly charged chapter of the novel in which a damaged but healing landscape is featured, I propose that Hugo’s tale represents a vast, but united, ecopoem in prose that envisions a rehabilitated human relationship to nature.

Although Hugo repeatedly insisted in his correspondence that Les Contemplations [The Contemplations] (1856) exemplified ‘pure poetry’,1 certain poems resonate with a recent French essay that defines ‘l’écopoétique [ecopoetics]’ as the lyric incitation to act on a collective scale: ‘cette esthétique concerne donc la pratique politique au sens où elle met en exercice non plus simplement l’idée d’un vivre ensemble, mais d’un faire ensemble, ou d’un faire par le vivre [this aesthetic thus concerns political practice in the sense that it enacts not merely the idea of living together, but of a doing together, or of a doing through living]’.2 It is through a burgeoning love for...

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