Reading Green in Early Modern England

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  • Leah Knight, Brock University, Canada
  • Green in early modern England did not mean what it does today; but what did it mean? Unveiling various versions and interpretations of green, this book offers a cultural history of a color that illuminates the distinctive valences greenness possessed in early modern culture.

    While treating green as a panacea for anything from sore eyes to sick minds, early moderns also perceived verdure as responsive to their verse, sympathetic to their sufferings, and endowed with surprising powers of animation. Author Leah Knight explores the physical and figurative potentials of green as they were understood in Renaissance England, including some that foreshadow our paradoxical dependence on and sacrifice of the green world. Ranging across contexts from early modern optics and olfaction to horticulture and herbal health care, this study explores a host of human encounters with the green world: both the impressions we make upon it and those it leaves with us. The first two chapters consider the value placed on two ways of taking green into early modern bodies and minds-by seeing it and breathing it in-while the next two address the manipulation of greenery by Orphic poets and medicinal herbalists as well as grafters and graffiti artists. A final chapter suggests that early modern modes of treating green wounds might point toward a new kind of intertextual ecology of reading and writing.

    Reading Green in Early Modern England mines many pages from the period - not literally but tropically, metaphorically green - that cultivate a variety of unexpected meanings of green and the atmosphere and powers it exuded in the early modern world.
  • Contents: Introduction: first impressions. Part I Impressed by Nature: Seeing green: early modern optics on gardens of verse; Breathing green: airs, pollution, and the green solution. Part II Impressing Nature: Moving green: rhetorical motivation and botanical animation; Writing green: inscribing early modern trees. Part III Lasting Impressions: Healing green: or, how Andrew Marvell read Gerard’s Herbal; Conclusion: easy being? Green in early modern England; Bibliography; Index.
  • About the Author: Leah Knight is Associate Professor of English at Brock University, Canada. Her study Of Books and Botany in Early Modern England was the winner of the British Society for Literature and Science (BSLS) Book Prize for 2009.
  • Reviews: Prize: Winner of the British Society for Literature and Science Book Prize 2014

    'Leah Knight’s Reading Green in Early Modern England is fresh, energetic, and rich in historical detail without forfeiting lucidity or personal voice. Readers will learn, in eco-friendly but unpolemical terms, about how exterior nature entered interior design, about the salubrious functions of green light for the eyes and flowery air for the lungs, about dancing trees and inscribed trees, and about how all these traditions shaped the scientific and literary writings of the period.'
    Robert N. Watson, Neikirk Distinguished Professor of English, UCLA

    'We may think that the virtues of being 'green'--as an attitude towards the world and a philosophical and political movement--are essentially metaphorical, but in Knight's wide-ranging and penetrating analysis we see just how literally the early moderns took all things green. For the senses of sight, smell and hearing and the intellectual activities of reading and writing (and their associated acts of naming and carving), Knight shows that the green world was a powerfully charged agent of individual and collective good. All explorers of early modern ideas about our relationship with the natural world are in Knight's debt for this meticulous and perceptive study.'
    Gabriel Egan, Professor of Shakespeare Studies and the author of Green Shakespeare and the forthcoming Shakespeare and Ecocritical Theory

    ‘… Knight connects seeing, breathing, painting, carving, and Early Modern literary culture. … this detailed study will prove informative for those interested in Early Modern English concepts of the natural environment and human sensory perception. Summing Up: Recommended. Graduate students, faculty, researchers.'

    'Knight has produced an experimental, original, and fascinating book whose underlying messages suggests all criticism bears a green imprint.'
    Review of English Studies

    '… quirky, well-informed and literary … [The book] is full of matter: snippets of information which charm, interpretations of text or cultural habits which engage and inform…'
    Green Letters

    '[Leah Knight] adds to the growing compendium of environment-oriented literary research with a lucid and germane reading of multiple genre from the early modern period.'
    Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment

    '… ecocritics are precisely the audience most likely to read this book and to apply its insights. If Knight refrains from unraveling the ecocritical stakes of her invigorating study, one can bet that many readers of Reading Green will - like the vegetation animated by Orpheus - be quickened and stirred by her words to do exactly that.'
    Renaissance Quarterly

    '[This book] is ultimately an evocative study of how early modern culture lived, saw, and smelled greenly. Ecocritical and literary scholars will find her analyses lucid and convincing, and one of the strengths of this book is the ways in which it opens up new avenues for additional research into the animated and salubrious green world of early modern England.'
    British Society for Literature and Science