PhD Thesis Researched the Role of Nature in British and Estonian Literature


On 12 May, Maris Sõrmus from the Tallinn University Institute of Humanities defended her doctoral thesis, in which she researched the relationship between nature and culture in contemporary British Caribbean and Estonian literature. Her thesis is based on the fact that nature is no longer in real life, nor in literature, a passive scenery or surroundings, but an actor that influences human culture, as well.

For her research, Sõrmus used two books by the British Caribbean nature writer Monique Roffey, and the book “The Man Who Spoke Snakish” by Estonian author Andrus Kivirähk, which has been called the first eco-fiction novel of Estonia. Kivirähk’s work strongly emphasises the notion of Estonians as a forest people. The natural surroundings are an integral part in both texts, as both depict a post-human world, in which people and nature influence each other and the line between the two has blurred. Nature becomes a separate character with its voice and agency.

The theoretical framework of the thesis is a new branch of literary ecology called material eco-criticism, which emphasises the importance of the environment and nature in literary texts, and is used to research nature and culture from a new perspective. Sõrmus’ thesis contributes to the development of environmental humanities by applying a “green” approach to modern literary and culture research. Environmental  humanities have an important role is acknowledging environmental issues and introducing nature and culture ethics.

Maris Sõrmus’ Doctoral Thesis is titled “Nature and Culture in Contemporary British and Estonian Literature: A Material Ecocritical Reading of Monique Roffey and Andrus Kivirähk”. The thesis was supervised by professor Suliko Liiv and research professor Julia Tofantšuk, both from Tallinn University.

The thesis can be accessed via the Tallinn University Academic Library e-repository ETERA.