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Lisa Austin ACF Abstract FY13

"Awful Doubt or Faith so Mild: Skepticism and Environmental Morality in Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Mont Blanc"'

Midwest Modern Language Association

As he gazes over the landscape of the Chamonix Valley, Percy Bysshe Shelley explains how the vista engenders a sentiment of ecstatic wonder, not unallied to madness (Shelley, History of a Six Weeks Tour 151-2). Though he is captivated by Nature, and in awe of its power, Shelley does not regard it within a conventional or static mindset. For instance, Shelleys contemporary William Wordsworth describes Nature with language that imbues the landscape with divine significance. However, Shelley regards Nature skeptically, and is uncomfortable with the notion that it is a symbol of divinity. He is unconvinced of the idea that a deity created the earth for humanity. Thus in my paper, I argue that Shelley crafts "Mont Blanc" in response to the dominionist attitude toward Nature often associated with the Bible, and that "Mont Blanc" is in conversation with Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey," a poem that posits the human imagination as fundamentally in harmony with the natural world. I also examine Shelley's skepticism as potentially corrective to the dominionist mindset. In lieu of both conventionally religious and secular visions of humanitys transcendence with respect to the natural world, Shelleys Mont Blanc initiates a radically materialist understanding of our species role, status, and place within a world of indeterminacy, chance, and dynamic change.