World Environment Day 2021: Exploring the influence of environment on writers

The relationship between humans and their environment is very intimate and interesting. How close an individual could be with their surroundings is something no one can decide or put a pin on. In addition, how someone behaves in a particular environment, how comfortable they feel in it, and most importantly, how the environment affects a writer – all are extremely enrapturing to explore.

Many writers and poets have described their close affinity with nature and the environment through their works. Also, in the case of writers, the environment is not only restricted to scenic places with lots of greenery. It could also include dirty rooms, shabby pubs, and depressing workstations. How exactly these environments affect a writer – is something we will be delving into.

Writers and their respective environments
Diana Fuss, Professor of Literature at Princeton University, in her book “The Sense of an Interior: Four Writers and the Rooms That Shaped Them,” studied four well-known authors’ living and writing spaces. Fuss describes the smoky ambiance of Sigmund Freud’s consulting room, the view from Emily Dickinson’s bedroom window, the inhospitality of Helen Keller’s house, and the claustrophobic atmosphere of Marcel Proust’s bedroom. The purpose of the book was to understand how the writers experienced their writing spaces.

Giving the readers an insight into this, Fuss noted that Proust, who suffered from asthma, lived in a cork-lined room with heavy drapes to keep out natural light and air. The author of “Remembrance of Things Past,” a work permeated in sensory experience, “found it necessary to suspend the senses to write about them,” Fuss wrote.
On the other hand, Dickinson’s corner bedroom had the best light and the best views of any in the house. The view helped her with a telescopic power, which led to her producing diverse pieces of literature. Thus, going by Fuss’s observations, the environment does affect writers and their works.

How did environment and nature influence literary geniuses?
By the middle of the 19th century, Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson began to reinterpret the significance of nature and our relationship to it. These writers laid the groundwork for an evolution in environmental thought and ethics in which the environment was seen as more than just a natural resource. For example, in ‘Walden’ and some other writings, Thoreau pointed out that our natural environment had far more to offer than material resources to be exploited. Rather, Thoreau noted that nature and the environment were sources of spiritual truth and support.

If we consider Tagore, nature is a consistent motif of his literary oeuvre. His poems, particularly some verses from ‘Gitanjali’ depict his intense affection for nature and its beauty. In fact, he wrote poems, plays, short stories, and also a separate group of lyrics in the form of poems for songs under the name of “Prakriti Parjaay”, focusing on the need to protect nature as well as our Mother Earth. In addition, at Santiniketan, Tagore started the festival of the Earth through ‘brikkharopan’ (planting of trees) in 1927, at which the students would sing and read his poems.

Even William Wordsworth, the pioneer of Romanticism, repeatedly emphasizes the importance of nature to an individual’s intellectual and spiritual development. A good relationship with nature helps individuals connect to both the spiritual and the social worlds. As Wordsworth explains in ‘The Prelude’, a love of nature can lead to a love of humankind.

Therefore, nature and the environment are the driving forces behind several renowned writers and poets. To summarize its importance in their lives, the following lines by the English poet and politician Lord Byron are the aptest.

There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.

By: Kartikeya Shankar

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