Academic Commons

Theses Doctoral

Literature of Landscape: The Enclosure Movement in the Seventeenth Century English Imagination

Cornes, Saskia

"Literature of Landscape: The Enclosure Movement in the Seventeenth-Century English Imagination" examines the writing of England's rural life: the drama, poetry, and epic that depict it, as well as the political pamphlets and husbandry manuals that sought more directly to reshape it. I explore how land, once seen as an immovable legacy tied to particular forms of community stewardship and use, came to be understood as a commodity over which an individual owner should have absolute dominion. I do this by turning to the moral imagination of Renaissance literature, both canonical and little-known. Engaging the rich historical work on the transformation of land use in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, I show how literary, agrarian, and political texts helped early moderns adapt to and make sense of the near total transformation of English rural life that accompanied enclosure and its aftermath: the dissolution of the commons, an expanding and increasingly mobile wage labor market, and changes in land stewardship and agricultural practices prompted by new forms of ownership and loss. At a time when there was no fully developed vocabulary in other forms of discourse, I argue that literary narrative became a key analytical tool for imagining the unimaginable, a ballast and a compass for navigating the seismic socio-economic, environmental, and cultural shifts catalyzed by enclosure.

Geographic Areas


This item is currently under embargo. It will be available starting 2020-02-27.

More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Howard, Jean E.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 5, 2015
Academic Commons provides global access to research and scholarship produced at Columbia University, Barnard College, Teachers College, Union Theological Seminary and Jewish Theological Seminary. Academic Commons is managed by the Columbia University Libraries.