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


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Howard, Jean E.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 5, 2015