By Jemima Corcoran, 6.1
On Tuesday evening, a group of pupils ranging from Block 3 to Sixth Form had the opportunity to discuss eco-critical approaches to reading literature with Will Goldsmith as part of the 3i programme. Will was kind enough to host the chat at his house, giving an intimate atmosphere similar to what we might expect later in life at university tutorials. Having shared a tasty variety of Domino’s pizzas and wedges, we made ourselves comfortable on the sofas in Will’s living room – the walls lined with an impressive array of books and the lit fireplace keeping us warm – and began our discussion, with The Lost Words: Spell Sounds adding to the eco-centric ambiance of the evening.
Taking us right through from the idyllic Garden of Eden described in the Bible to Wordsworth’s romantic view of London in Composed Upon Westminster Bridge to Ursula Le Guin’s post-apocalyptic wasteland explored in The World for World is Forest. I was particularly impressed by the diversity of the literary extracts Will had selected, as we were able to hold an eco-critical lens up to poetry and prose written throughout time from a wide range of different ethnic, gender and sexuality-based frames of reference. Moreover, looking at how ecosystems and the natural world are presented and conveyed in different pieces of literature, and how this has evolved throughout time, provided me with a fascinating insight into an aspect I had never properly considered while reading.
Most interesting to me, however, was the point of our discussion where Will spoke to us about ecofeminist criticism, a way of reading natural imagery where aspects of the wilderness are given stereotypically feminine traits and categorised into a traditional gender binary system, with Armitage’s Chainsaw Versus the Pampas Grass (one of the poems in our A Level anthology) immediately springing to mind when this topic arose.
Overall, it was a real pleasure to be able to converse in such close proximity post-COVID – especially with pupils from other year groups who I would not usually have the opportunity to exchange intellectual thoughts with – and I left Will’s house with a greater appreciation for the world around me and a desire to look back with an eco-critical eye at some of my favourite pieces of literature. A huge thank you to Will for hosting, my peers for attending and contributing to such a fascinating discussion, and to Jess Warren for organising the 3i events.