The US marine biologist Rachel Carson (1903-64) is regarded by many scientists and activists as the mother of the modern environmental movement. Silent Spring, her seminal written non-fiction work of 1963 has been acknowledged as one of the landmark books of the Twentieth century and Carson’s impact on how we perceive the natural world, and our place in it, is as relevant today as it was when she was alive. However, Carson – while known primarily for her scientific career and science writing – regarded herself as a creative writer first and scientist second. Personal circumstances and familial duty, pre-cursored by an inspirational zoology class while an English major and a long-held passion for nature and the ocean, meant Carson abandoned her childhood ambitions to be a writer for the rigour and discipline of zoology and later, marine biology.
Carson, were she alive today, would be shocked by her fame and notoriety. Hers was a reluctant environmental activism, compelled as she was by her moral duty as a scientist and citizen of the earth. What Carson started to discover when she began to examine the data around widespread pesticide use jolted her into writing the campaigning book that became Silent Spring. She did approach several colleagues with the task, but when all refused Carson took on the responsibility – she felt she had no choice.
While in the States Silent Spring is a set text in the schools curriculum, many people in the UK have not even heard her name. And most people, if they have heard of Rachel Carson at all, are familiar with Carson’s name because of the furore that surrounded Silent Spring. To find out more view the following short documentary, directed by Shelby Hougui, with Madison Deming & Jacob Kuhn.
What is less well known is that Carson authored three other books: Under The Sea-Wind, The Sea Around Us and A Sense of Wonder – all of which focus on her main passion, the marine environment. Carson’s writing is poetic, elegiac and written in an intense and but highly accessible literary style; Carson’s books explore science with the sensibility of an artist. Of her own writing she humbly said:
If there is poetry in my writing about the sea it is not because I put it there, but because one cannot write about the sea and leave the poetry out.
Carson’s scientific legacy has been minutely chronicled and acknowledged by a number of biographers and environmentalists including Linda Lear, William Souder and Paul Brooks. However, understanding of Carson’s significance as a creative writer is still in its infancy. What is lesser known are Carson’s other published works and it is these publications, rather than Silent Spring, that will provide focus for all our activities in Beadnell and beyond.