“Sin-Sheltering Grove”: The Implication of Nature and Female Sexuality in Rochester’s Poetry

Summer 2018

Ariel Renner : English

Donor: Anselm A&H Fund
Mentor: James Grantham Turner

Nature has so often been used as a vehicle to express femininity, sexuality, and eroticism throughout literary history. However, when we speak of “nature,” there is often an overlooked ambiguity to the term that necessitates further explanation as to the sort of nature a given work focuses on. My research pays close attention to this ambiguity, as I will use a selection of Rochester’s poetry, placing particular emphasis on “A Ramble in St. James Park,” to look at the way that Rochester both furthers this literary tradition and subverts it. I aim to explore the way that he implicates the natural landscape of this poem within the crude eroticism of its subject matter, where it serves to both reflect and challenge standing ideas of the link between the nature of human sexuality and the nature of the material world. Further, I will study “A Ramble in St. James Park” as a microcosmic reflection of Restoration England, questioning to what degree Rochester’s poetic possession of the woman in this particular poem reflects the forced repression and degradation of women’s sexuality that so characterizes this time. 

I would like to extend my sincerest thanks, appreciation, and gratitude to the Anselm Fund for making my research possible. This was a truly formative experience for me; taking on a summer of independent research challenged me in ways I have never been before, and at the same time further excited the passion I have for my field. As a result of their generosity, I was able to travel to London for the first time and work in the British Library and British Museum, which is not something I would have ever expected to be able to do as an undergraduate. This experience has shown me how rewarding it is to watch as your project develops and evolves, from the initial proposal to the present day, and how gratifying it is to see how you've grown as a scholar during that time. My desire to continue on to graduate school and hopefully earn my PhD in English has been reaffirmed and even further encouraged because of this. I will forever be thankful for this unique and invaluable opportunity to enter into the world of independent research, that will no doubt have a lasting impact on my future as a scholar.