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Abstract

This dissertation tells a relatively recent story about an ancient literary idea: the pastoral. I focus on pastoral less as a settled genre or set of conventions than a dynamic mode of inquiry in order to reorganize and reinvigorate our sense of its work in mid-twentieth century Anglo-American and global culture. Pastoral as I pursue it here funds styles of imagining, thinking, and writing about social, spatial, and environmental change in decades of disturbance and disruption. While the historical moments and cultural debates this dissertation touches on—world war, urban and regional planning, the counterculture—have long been understood as sites of pastoral “revival,” I suggest we need a more nuanced understanding of the cultural work of modes to account for the complex transmissions, usages, and horizons of reception constituting midcentury pastorals. Through readings of writers including Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, Rex Warner, Sylvia Townsend Warner, E.M. Forster, Paul Goodman, Richard Brautigan, William Empson, and others, I attempt to reinscribe pastoral as productively pliable and vague—an alternative to utopian fantasies that would remake the world through fiat or decree. Instead, I suggest the pastoral mode enabled a diverse cast of mid-century writers to imagine partial or provisional responses to upheaval in registers that privilege the co-existence of opposite and contradictory forces: past and present, near and far, self and community, dream and reality. This dissertation seeks to expand pastoral’s technical repertoires—the ways in which the mode appeared as well as where and how it took on urgency or responded to, rather than simply escaped from, real-world pressures—and thus to develop a richer and more nuanced account of its cultural work and significance at midcentury.

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