"This is My Lake Country": Wordsworth, Thoreau, and the Making of Modern Watershed Consciousness Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • February 26, 2019
  • Eidson, Mandy
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • In the first chapter of this thesis, “The One Life of Watersheds,” I challenge Scott Hess’s recent claim that Wordsworth and Thoreau promoted their native regions to the exclusion of other places. Although Wordsworth and Thoreau strongly identified with their local environs, they occupied a wide “terrain of consciousness” and encouraged environmental stewardship at a global scale (Berg and Dasmann 232). Wordsworth’s watershed consciousness emerged alongside his belief that the entire planet is alive, sacred, and conversant with humans. In Guide to the Lakes, Wordsworth depicts his native watershed as a vital ecosystem and provides a model of living in harmony with nature. Inspired by Wordsworth, Thoreau designated Concord as his own “lake country” (Walden 480), and he emphasized the importance of re-inhabiting the natural world and the inner psyche. In turn, readers have embraced Wordsworth’s and Thoreau’s models of watershed stewardship in faraway places and the most urban locales. In the second and third chapters, I evaluate how Wordsworth and Thoreau defended their native watersheds against the incursion of railways and related industrial developments during the mid-1840s. In “Protest Against the Wrong,” I outline how Wordsworth campaigned against the Kendal and Windermere Railway in 1844-45 by corresponding with high-level officials and by publishing widely-circulated poetry and prose. In response to longstanding criticism of Wordsworth’s protest, I show that Wordsworth opposed this scheme in the interest of economics, the environment, and equity (i.e., the “three E’s” of sustainability) long before the development of frameworks like IWRM. Although Wordsworth did not succeed in preventing the Kendal and Windermere Railway, he nonetheless provided a rounded environmental defense that better prepared later advocates to protect the Lakes. While Wordsworth was campaigning against the Kendal and Windermere Railway, the Boston-to-Fitchburg Railroad was constructed in Massachusetts. This railway enabled industrialists to harvest ice at Walden Pond during the final winter of Thoreau’s residence there. In chapter three, “Too Pure to Have a Market Value,” I contextualize Thoreau’s reaction to this scheme with respect to his overarching sentiments about water extraction projects. In Walden, Thoreau expresses anxiety about the ice industry’s social and ecological impacts, and he concludes his remarks with a discussion of global interconnectedness. Like Wordsworth, Thoreau comments on the economic, environmental, and equity impacts of industrial developments, and he displays a far-reaching watershed consciousness – the very kind of mentality needed to confront modern environmental issues.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Funding: Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship; William W. and Ida W. Taylor Mentored Research Fellowship
  • Koelb, Janice
  • Bachelor of Arts
Honors level
  • Highest Honors
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • 82 p.

This work has no parents.