The Genres of Thomson’s The Seasons

Happy new year! I’m kicking things off for 2019 with a short post about a book that came out at the end of 2018: The Genres of Thomson’s The Seasons, edited by Sandro Jung and Kwinten Van De Walle (Lehigh UP, 2018).

The book is an edited collected of essays about James Thomson’s poem The Seasons. I wanted to feature it on this blog because there’s a whole section on ‘Revisiting the Georgic’, which includes a chapter that I contributed.

Earlier chapters cover many of The Seasons’ other generic identities, including lyric, ode, and the elusive category of the ‘long poem’. Then in the georgic section of the book there are three chapters. Each takes a different approach to understanding the poem’s relationship with georgic, but they are all interested in how georgic poetry carries out its various work, and to an extent defines itself, through intertextual allusion and adaptation of sources.

My chapter, ‘The Golden Age and Iron Times: Pastoral and Georgic in “Spring”’, takes a close look at a particular passage – Thomson’s story of the fall from the Golden Age. I’ve analysed how Thomson modulates between pastoral and georgic, mainly through allusion to various classical and neoclassical georgic poems, in order to confound the temporal movement and causal logic of his narrative.

John D. Morillo has a beautiful chapter called ‘Fervent Bees, Dreaming Dogs, Human Insects, and Animal Fellowship in The Seasons: Thomson’s Revisionist Georgic Fauna and the Works of Peace’. He argues that Thomson ‘revitaliz[es] georgic by revising the role of nonhuman animals within it’ (p.166), showing how Thomson reworks Virgil’s depictions of animals to invest them with greater independence from humans, and with their own harmonious ecology of interspecies fellowship.

In the final chapter, ‘The European Georgic and the Politics of Genre: Johan Gabriel Oxenstierna and The Seasons in Sweden’, Alfred Sjödin provides an essential study of the European reception, and generic classification, of Thomson’s poem. In his 1796 poem The Harvests, Swedish poet Oxenstierna not only adapted The Seasons, partly via French translation-adaptations, but presented his poem as part of an established genre tradition that went back through Thomson to Virgil.

As well as the three chapters in the ‘Revisiting the Georgic’ section, Juan Christian Pellicer (an authoritative scholar of eighteenth-century georgic) contributes a chapter on ‘The Articulation of Genre in The Seasons’, which also examines Thomson’s variations on Virgilian passages as well as other generic sources. Pellicer argues, convincingly and delightfully, that Thomson’s generic modulation ‘extends an invitation to read The Seasons with a… hedonistic freedom in travelling easily across generic boundaries even as they are registered.’ (p.131)

I won’t go through the other, earlier chapters in the book, which don’t focus on georgic, but every one is worth reading for anyone interested in Thomson. It’s great to see a new book on The Seasons come out, and I was very happy to be able to write a chapter for it. On top of that, with four of its ten chapters discussing georgic at length (and several of the earlier chapters mentioning georgic too), The Genres of Thomson’s The Seasons shows that critical interest in eighteenth-century georgic is flourishing.

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