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The Duplicity of nature (UNI work, please critique) (1 Viewer)


Senior Member
this is an essay on Stephen Daniels paper 'Culture and the Duplicity of Landscape' (1996). This is a bit of course work i had to doas part of my degree, currently in 2nd Year doing Geography
any help on grammer etc. would be very much appreciated


The aim of this essay is to outline and evaluate the main arguments within ‘Marxism and the Duplicity of Landscape’ (Daniels 1996), which contains the views of several other geographers, such as Williams and Berger, and compares them. Stephen Daniels is a Professor of Cultural Geography and the University of Nottingham. His project tries to bridge the gap between the arts, and geography e.g. using novels and paintings etc. as ways of looking at geographical landscapes. He is inspired by the humanistic geography that appeared in the 1960’s which dealt with Marxist thoughts on ideas such as social justice etc.

The main arguments of the text were that landscape can be seen as a dialectical image, and is therefore ambiguous, as there are many layers of description.

The idea that landscape is almost ‘two faced’, or the meaning has duplicity, and ulterior meanings are also present. The landscape may appear beautiful and tranquil, but it is a result of many years of work, and therefore hides any exploitation that may have gone on in creating it, as well as the poor conditions of the people etc.

Daniels also does not want to reduce the meaning of landscape to one person’s opinion or ideology, as the beauty of landscape will suppress things.


Daniels states that landscape can be seen as a ‘dialectical image’. In saying this, he means that the word is filled with ambiguity, it is a synthesis of conflicting ideas, e.g. it can mean an area that is part of the world, or it can have cultural meanings. But the tension created between opposing views will create a middle ground or compromise.

Elite and ordinary views (Daniels 1996), when looked at together form a landscape that is a composite and dynamic reality. From this argument, Daniels makes the point that therefore landscape cannot be reduced to a single person or group’s opinion, as it can only exist because of the tension caused between two synthesised view points.

Williams claims that ‘a working country is hardly ever a landscape’ (Williams 1973). This is because in order to see a landscape, one must first be separate from it so that it can be observed. He also states that there is a sentimental view on landscape as a ‘lost way of life’ (Williams 1973), and that landscape is an elevated sensibility which can be remade through landscape painting, writing etc.

On this note, out of the Victorian novels who wrote novels on the subject of representing land and society, Williams prefers Hardy rather than Eliot. This is because ‘while she restores the real inhabitants of rural England to their place in a socially selective landscape, she doesn’t get further than restoring them as a landscape’ (Williams 1973), whereas Hardy goes deeper than this. Basically what he is saying is that Eliot is still an observer, and therefore the books lack the reality of Victorian rural life, as the harsh realities and struggles are not known to her, as she was not a participant of the landscape.

Daniels notes that the landscape can be seen as a ‘materialization of history’; meaning that present landscapes are the result of years of social and cultural efforts, with origins in the deep past. This sense of the past incorporates all things that have shaped the social landscape, factors including the historical, pre-historical, and geological and the mythical. These factors may both enlarge and diminish the people of the present, depending on the views of the people, as landscape can be viewed in different ways, ‘landscape is the work of the mind’ (Schama 1995). Historical and Mythical factors, are very important socially as they develop a sense of national pride.

Another argument is that in Victorian Britain, the view that the most of the middle class had of the rural, was a view that could only have been seen from an urban environment. These middle class observers had a romanticised view, and saw the countryside as being an idyllic place, showing a simple way of life, but also as a backward place with no high culture. The landowners, mainly were upper and middle class, and cared little for the labourers on their estates, and had no idea of how they actually lived, they only cared for the social life of the city, and therefore created the idea of the absentee land owner. Hardy resisted this devaluation of the workers of the estates, by saying that urban middle class people had the view of seeing the rural as an ‘escape’, but in reality had no idea of the harsh struggle to survive that the rural dwellers had to live with day by day.

Daniels then goes on to talk about the phrase coined by William, ‘structure of feeling’. This is the tension that exists between understand the area, and just experiencing it (Daniels 1996). Being a part of the landscape, a contributor to it, and then stepping back to observe it, heightens the feelings towards it, and creates an emotional attachment as well as a feeling of heritage and sentimentality. This may be caused by the domination of the landscape by monuments e.g. building such as churches, houses etc.
Berger states that landscapes ‘can be deceptive’. This is one of the most important points within the text.

An example of this could be a landscape painting showing as idyllic country cottage by a river, with people ploughing the fields. On one hand this shows the idealised, and sentimental view of the countryside, with pleasant surroundings and working on the fields in good weather. Berger states that things like this act as a curtain, behind which the harsh realities exist. These paintings do not show the struggle for survival during harsh winters, the back breaking labour that goes into ploughing and planting the fields, illness etc.

Landscape painting can also show strategies of social and sexual appropriation and control. The painting of Mr and Mrs. Andrews is a good example of this. It shows the two; with him standing dressed for outdoors, as if he was going hunting, and portrays him as free to move around. Mrs. Andrews however is sitting, constrained by her skirts, giving the idea that women were not free to do as they will. It also shows nature to be feminine, meaning that it is passive, and as the views of the time went, also exploitable.

Painting also envisioned the landscape in ways mimicking the bourgeois visions of materialism, as most of the time, the perspective was linear, with figures in the foreground being bigger, and therefore emphasising them as being more important than the rest of the painting.


The arguments present in Daniels’ paper are very persuasive. The main points once again, are that landscape is ambiguous, with various meanings depending on cultural and social views, but at the same time cannot be reduced to just one view. It is created by the tension between two opposing views.

It also can be deceptive as it masks any social problems and hardships that may lie under the idyllic exterior.

Kimberly Bird

Senior Member
Hi Sephiroth, how are you. It has always bothered me when people would start off with stating it's an essay. I remember my one history teacher breaking the class of this habit. Maybe it was more of the creative writer coming out of her rather than any certain standards. To this day, when my daughters write essays, I still cringe when I read that first line, in this essay....

Why not start it off with talking about one of the geographer's on a personal level, then slowly talk in a more objective tone once you start comparing different takes on the subject. Also, get rid of the ect... they do nothing for essays but show the writer is too lazy to either write the ect... down or doesn't know what he/she is talking about.

Your grammer and writing structure are fine. I wish you the best of luck with this piece.



Senior Member
Greetings Sephiroth,

I am obviously out of my league here; a mental midget foolishly trying to see above the table top where the intellectuals dine. But since I read your essay, and am therefore seated at the metaphorical table, I might as well enjoy a bite and a bit to drink.

First, if I may offer my take on the overall flavor of your piece - it is too rich in taste for the palates of the uninitiated. It does very little to explain the 'Culture and the Duplicity of Landscape' to anyone who has not previously partaken of this morsel. By the time I have made it to the conclusion of your essay, I do have a general idea of the content and meaning of the paper you are fileting, but I feel that most would not make it through all of the courses to enjoy the dessert - it is too dry; a bit of flavorful drink would do much to enhance the meal.

My observations, as stated above, must be taken in the context that I personally believe that if I can't reduce a deep meaning to a parable that can be easily understood and related to, why bother.

Second, while I am not an expert in the area of grammar, there are a couple of spots that seem wrong to me:

The main arguments of the text were that landscape can be seen as a dialectical image, and is therefore ambiguous, as there are many layers of description.

The arguments of the text should not be past tense, especially since you have used "is" and "are" in the same sentence. (?)

This is the tension that exists between understand the area, and just experiencing it...

It seems that "understanding" would be a better word here than understand. (?)

Thanks for allowing me this opportunity to stretch my mental muscles a bit by exercising in a new arena. I hope you find my comments to be constructive.

Bill Dugan