End of Eden
Agrarian Spaces and the Rise of the California Social Novel

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Author: Terry Beers

Format: Cloth
Pages: 252
ISBN: 9781943859566
Published Date: 2018

The story of the Joad family’s journey from their ravaged farm in dustbowl Oklahoma to the storied paradise of California helped inform a nation about the brutality, poverty, and vicious competition among fellow immigrants desperate for work. But Steinbeck is only one successor to a rich and esteemed literary tradition in California. 

Drawing on history and cultural theory, The End of Eden traces the rise of the California social novel, its embrace of the agrarian dream, and its ambivalence about technology and the development it enables. It relies on various cultural conceptions of space, among them, the American Public Land Survey (the source of the “grid” allotments shaping homestead claims), Mexican-era diseños, and Native American traditions that defined a fluid relationship between human beings and the land.
This animation of four California social novels of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries demonstrates how conflicts over space and place signify cultural conflict. It is deeply informed by the author’s understanding of historical land issues. The works include Joaquin Miller’s Unwritten History: Life Amongst the Modocs, Helen Hunt Jackson’s Ramona, Frank Norris’ The Octopus, and Mary Austin’s The Ford.

Miller’s Unwritten History: Life Amongst the Modocs and Jackson’s Ramona examine the tragic but inevitable consequences for native people of making space—inhabited already by Native American and Hispanic populations—safe for Americans who pursue the agrarian dream without regard to its effects upon those who claim prior tenure on the land. Norris’ The Octopus and Austin’s The Ford examine the murkier story of trying to preserve or to reclaim the agrarian dream when confronted by the unchecked materialist interests of American capitalism.

A wide-reaching interdisciplinary approach to various cultural conceptions of space, The End of Eden provides a crucial understanding of the conflicts depicted in social novels that lament the ways in which land is allocated and developed, the ways in which American agrarianism—and its promise of local, sustainable land use—is undermined, and how it applies to contemporary California. In an era where California confronts, yet again, the complicated patterns of land use: fracking, water use and water rights, coastal regulation and management, and agribusiness, this groundbreaking work provides an ever-relevant context.

Author Bio
Terry Beers is professor of English at Santa Clara University, where he has taught since 1986. He is the author or editor of five previous books on California literature. He lives in north Monterey County, California.

The End of Eden is a wide reaching interdisciplinary approach focused on the time of the American conquest into the early Progressive era. Offering in-depth readings of four California social novels that address conflicts over space and power, the book is an original way to understand social protest and cultural upheaval during a time of rapid change in California.” 
Jan Goggans, University of California, Merced

Beers persuasively reveals how the agrarian heroes of the four social novels are more fully invested in the magical dimensions of spatial experience than their conquest-driven counterparts, an investment that compels them to maintain sustainable land-use practices. In tracing these dialogics across the four social novels, Beers makes a convincing case for how they collectively make an “argument about how important is the goal of finding a rightful working relationship of human beings with a sacred natural world, mainly by pointing out the sad consequences of forsaking that goal” (204). In this manner, the four novels he examines weave together issues of social and environmental justice and thereby infuse an ecocentric perspective into the foundation of the California social novel. Beers’s book is therefore a valuable study for those interested in the environmental history of California, the development of the social novel, the agrarian roots of American national identity, or the tradition of American literary ecology.
Studies in American Naturalism