Wreaths of Reclamation

Tintern Abbey, J. M. W. Turner, 1794 / W. W. Norton

Interior of Tintern Abbey, a watercolor painting completed by the romantic painter J. M. W. Turner in 1794, depicts the ruins of the glorious Tintern Abbey now weathered and covered in plants and trees that adorn the abbey’s many arches. A pair of sightseers can be seen on the lower left side of the painting, surveying nature’s work on the remains of the magnificent abbey, a symbol of religion and the marvelous work of man. Upon seeing the once almighty abbey reduced to such a state, Turner must have felt moved to capture nature’s process of reclaiming her land. 

A man of the times, Turner was not the only Romantic artist to depict themes of the forces of nature in his work. The author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley also raised questions about the relationship between man and nature in her novel, Frankenstein. The protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, experiences the repercussions associated with attempting to experiment with the laws of nature by recreating life from the dead. Only after realizing the consequences does Frankenstein remark: “many things …  appear possible in these wild and mysterious regions which … provoke nature” (Shelley 25). A statement Turner would agree with after also witnessing the wondrous powers of nature that reclaimed the arches of Tintern Abbey.

Works Cited

Shelley, Mary. Frankenstein. 1818, 1831. Introduction and Notes by Karen Karbiener. Barnes and Noble, 2003.

Turner, J. M. W. Tintern Abbey. The Norton Anthology of British Literature: The Romantic Period. 10th ed. Stephen Greenblatt, General Editor. W. W. Norton, 2017. p. C5.


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