chapter  6
29 Pages

Post-pastoral

In offering, in the first chapter, three uses of the term pastoral, the intention was to clarify three general strands of usage – the literary convention, literature of the countryside and the pejorative of idealisation – rather than to make firm definitive distinctions. It will now be realised how much these strands can overlap in that a travel book about Antarctica by Sara Wheeler, Terra Incognita (1996), might be called a pastoral work in all three senses: she views Antarctica as an Arcadia from which to return with a renewed sense of herself; it is a travelogue describing a natural environment; it could be regarded as an escapist pastoral that self-indulgently ignores, or touches too lightly upon, the urgent political issues concerning the exploitation of the continent. Indeed, ‘the pastoral’s multiple frames’, as Lawrence Buell puts it, can now be seen to include not only a range of kinds of pastoral, but the way in which a single text may be read within several frames. ‘More often than not’, Buell says of American pastorals, ‘accommodation and reformism are interfused’ (Buell 1995: 52). The Winter’s Tale might posit alternative values in the location of retreat, but must ultimately accommodate its contemporary court audience if it

is to be staged at all. Similarly Leo Marx’s ‘pastoral of sentiment and pastoral of the mind’ might not be so easily distinguished in the case of Wordsworth’s ‘Michael’ with which this book began. This is not a case in which, as Marx claims, ‘the pastoral design, as always, circumscribes the pastoral ideal’ (Marx 1964: 72). Wordsworth believes his idyll to represent the truth of human interrelatedness with nature.