An Empire of Air and Water: Uncolonizable Space in the by Siobhan Carroll

By Siobhan Carroll

Planetary areas comparable to the poles, the oceans, the ambience, and subterranean areas captured the British imperial mind's eye. Intangible, inhospitable, or inaccessible, those clean spaces—what Siobhan Carroll calls "atopias"—existed past the limits of identified and inhabited locations. The eighteenth century conceived of those geographic outliers because the average limits of imperial enlargement, yet medical and naval advances within the 19th century created new probabilities to understand and keep an eye on them. This improvement preoccupied British authors, who have been acquainted with seeing atopic areas as otherworldly marvels in fantastical stories. areas that an empire couldn't colonize have been areas that literature may declare, as literary representations of atopias got here to mirror their authors' attitudes towards the expansion of the British Empire in addition to the half they observed literature taking part in in that expansion.

Siobhan Carroll interrogates the function those clean areas performed within the building of British id in the course of an period of unsettling international circulations. reading the poetry of Samuel T. Coleridge and George Gordon Byron and the prose of Sophia Lee, Mary Shelley, and Charles Dickens, in addition to newspaper debts and voyage narratives, she strains the methods Romantic and Victorian writers reconceptualized atopias as threatening or, from time to time, susceptible. those textual explorations of the earth's maximum reaches and mystery depths make clear chronic features of the British worldwide and environmental mind's eye that linger within the twenty-first century.

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Within the poem, attempts to “fix” meaning and bring stability to the signs and symbols of the polar landscape are doomed to failure. In greeting the albatross as if “it were a Christian Soul,”94 the sailors are, as Eric G. 95 The Mariner’s killing of the albatross serves, I suggest, as a lethal extension of this attempt at meaning making: By killing the bird with his crossbow, the Mariner appears to temporarily stabilize the sailors’ Christian interpretation of the bird by converting Brought to you by | provisional account Unauthenticated Download Date | 4/12/15 2:07 PM 40 C ha pt er 1 the avian visitor into its close symbolic equivalent (the pelican/Christ figure).

He must turn, in short, to polar space. The hapless Peter Wilkins thus finds himself shipwrecked by a magnetic rock near the South Pole. Here, in a land safely insulated from the market economy, he is finally able to put his new resolution into practice, building himself a kingdom that resembles Crusoe’s in all but its telling exclusion of money. Not only does the terra nullius of Terra Australis Incognita enable Wilkins to gain the “Estate”46 his stepfather denied him in Britain, but when fate introduces him to Youwarkee, a winged woman from a nearby kingdom who quickly becomes Wilkins’s new wife, he is also able to reconstitute his domestic sphere.

Holding himself to “vastly higher standards of precision than were common on most charts of his day,”65 Cook embodied one possible reaction to a world in which the standardization of technology enabled the verification of reported evidence and in which explorers were increasingly conscious of themselves as the vanguard of their nation rather than as advance scouts for commercial interests. Indeed, Cook’s journals insist on the accuracy of his work while criticizing that of privateers like William Dampier and practitioners of “speculative geography”66 such as Alexander Dalrymple, whose charts, Cook implies, seek to satisfy the desires of commercial speculators rather than to depict an empirical reality.

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