Geology and Naturalism in Modern Literature


Geology and naturalism have long been intertwined in the world of literature. From the works of Charles Darwin to contemporary writers like Annie Proulx, the study of the earth and its processes has inspired and influenced many works of modern literature.

Geology, the scientific study of the earth’s physical structure and substance, provides a deep and fascinating understanding of our planet. It is a discipline that encourages observation and analysis of the natural world, and it is no surprise that many writers have found inspiration and material for their work in the study of geology.

One of the most well-known examples of geology in literature is Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. Published in 1859, this groundbreaking book changed the way we understand life and its evolution on our planet. Darwin’s theory of natural selection, which was heavily influenced by his observations of geological formations and fossils, challenged religious and scientific beliefs of the time and sparked a revolution in scientific thinking.

Geology’s influence on literature can also be seen in the work of authors like Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. In Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth, the main characters embark on a journey through a dormant volcano and explore the earth’s layers. Wells’ The Time Machine also features a protagonist who ventures deep underground and witnesses geological changes over the course of millions of years.

In the modern era, writers like John Steinbeck, Barbara Kingsolver, and Annie Proulx have incorporated themes of geology and naturalism into their works. Steinbeck’s epic novel East of Eden follows the intertwined lives of several families in California’s Salinas Valley, a region shaped by the San Andreas Fault and the forces of the Pacific Plate. Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer explores the delicate balance between humans and nature, with a particular focus on the Appalachian Mountains and the geological processes that have shaped them. And Proulx’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Shipping News, is heavily influenced by the magnificent and rugged landscape of Newfoundland, Canada, and the geological history that has shaped it.

At its core, naturalism in literature is about portraying life in a realistic and unvarnished manner. It aims to depict the fundamental nature of humans and their interactions with the world, often highlighting the struggle against environmental elements. Geology, with its emphasis on natural processes and the interconnectedness of the earth, is a perfect complement to this literary movement.

Geology also brings a sense of time and history to literature. Through the study of geological formations and fossils, we can understand the evolution and history of our planet, and this knowledge can be woven into stories to add depth and context. The geological features of a landscape tell a story of the forces that shaped it, and this can be reflected in the lives and experiences of the characters who inhabit it.

Additionally, geology allows for a broader perspective on the world. By studying the earth’s processes and formations, we are reminded of our place in the grand scheme of things. This sense of interconnectedness and the understanding that the earth is constantly changing can inspire feelings of humility and wonder, which can then be translated into literary works.

In conclusion, geology and naturalism in modern literature have a symbiotic relationship. Geology provides a deep understanding of our planet’s physical and historical makeup, and this knowledge provides a rich source of inspiration for writers. Through the incorporation of geological themes and settings, literature is able to connect with the natural world in a profound and meaningful way, giving readers a greater appreciation for their surroundings and their place in the world.