Shipwreck and Island Motifs in Literature and the Arts [1 ed.] 9789004298750, 9789004298743

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Shipwreck and Island Motifs in Literature and the Arts [1 ed.]
 9789004298750, 9789004298743

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Shipwreck and Island Motifs in Literature and the Arts

DQR Studies in Literature Edited by C.C. Barfoot A.J. Hoenselaars W.M. Verhoeven


The titles published in this series are listed at

Shipwreck and Island Motifs in Literature and the Arts Edited by

Brigitte Le Juez Olga Springer


Cover illustration: Irish Trader shipwrecked off the coast of Drogheda in 1974, Baltray, Co. Louth, Ireland, 2013. Photographer, Brigitte Le Juez. Library of Congress Control Number: 2015938975

ISSN 0921-2507 ISBN 978-90-04-29874-3 (hardback) ISBN 978-90-04-29875-0 (e-book) Copyright 2015 by Koninklijke Brill nv, Leiden, The Netherlands. Koninklijke Brill nv incorporates the imprints Brill, Brill Hes & De Graaf, Brill Nijhoff, Brill Rodopi and Hotei Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission from the publisher. Authorization to photocopy items for internal or personal use is granted by Koninklijke Brill nv provided that the appropriate fees are paid directly to The Copyright Clearance Center, 222 Rosewood Drive, Suite 910, Danvers, ma 01923, usa. Fees are subject to change. This book is printed on acid-free paper. This book is printed on acid-free paper.

For Jacinta Wright


Acknowledgements Epigraph Brigitte Le Juez and Olga Springer Introduction: Shipwrecks and Islands as Multilayered, Timeless Metaphors of Human Existence

xi xiii


I: Shipwrecks, Islands and Subjectivity Volkmar Billig “I-lands”: The Construction and Shipwreck of an Insular Subject in Modern Discourse


Yulia Pushkarevskaya Naughton, Gerald Naughton, and Samiah Haque The Island as Chora


Phillip Stevenson “Mine Was a Peculiar Kind of Wreck”: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Deconstruction of Treasure Island in The Wrecker


Michael Hinds Robinson in Headphones: The Desert Island as Pop Fetish


II: The Island as Aesthetic Concept Heather H. Yeung Adventures in Form: The Hebrides and the Romantic Imaginary


Patricia García “The Lighthouse” (Edgar Allan Poe, 1849; Cristina Fernández Cubas, 1997): From the “Egocentred” to a “Geocentred” Analysis


David Garrett Izzo Fifty Years On: Aldous Huxley’s Island (1962) Reconsidered


III: Weathering the Tempest – Images of Shipwrecks and Islands from Ancient to Modern Times Barbara Freitag The Gaelicization of Brasil Island: From Cartographic Error to Celtic Elysium


Robert J. Vrtis The Tempest Toss’d Ship: Twelfth Night and Emotional Communities in Early Modern London


Dyani Johns Taff A Shipwreck of Faith: Hazardous Voyages and Contested Representations in Milton’s Samson Agonistes


Barra Ó Seaghdha Islands and Irelands: Journeys, Mappings and Re-Mappings


IV: The Island as Feminine Space Sara K. Day “Maybe Girls Need an Island”: Desert Islands and Gender Troubles in Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens


Amy Hicks Recreating Home for the New Girl: Domesticity and Adventure in L.T. Meade’s Four on an Island


Shawn Thomson Lady Castaways in the Gilded Age in Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth


Sandra Vlasta Islands to Get Away From: Postcolonial Islands and Emancipation in Novels by Monica Ali, Andrea Levy and Caryl Phillips


V: Experimental Shipwrecks and Island as Laboratory Shiela Pardee Drifting and Foundering: Evolutionary Theory in Kurt Vonnegut’s Galápagos


Maria Błaszkiewicz “You Turn Worlds Upside Down”: The Politics of Reversal in Terry Pratchett’s Nation


Pat Brereton Shipwrecks and Desert Islands: Ecology and Nature – A Case Study of How Reality TV and Fictional Films Frame Representations of Islands


Beatrice Ferrara The Figuration of the Shipwreck as Political Commentary in Hydra Decapita, an Essay-Film by The Otolith Group


Notes on Contributors







The editors would like to thank the following people for their support in the process of preparing this publication: Jennifer Bruen, Gabrielle Carty, Brian Duffy, Fiona Gallagher, Maria Loftus, Áine McGillicuddy, Patricia O’Byrne, Martin Toal and Mark Wallace from the School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies at Dublin City University, and Francesca Counihan, from the School of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures at Maynooth University, Ireland. We also warmly thank Nina Shiel for her sterling work in the organization of the Summer School which provided the foundation for this book. We are especially grateful to Cedric Barfoot, for his thorough and fruitful readings of the manuscript.


We are prepared: we build our houses squat, Sink walls in rock and roof them with good slate. This wizened earth has never troubled us With hay, so, as you see, there are no stacks Or stooks that can be lost. Nor are there trees Which might prove company when it blows full Blast: you know what I mean – leaves and branches Can raise a tragic chorus in a gale So that you listen to the thing you fear Forgetting that it pummels your house too. But there are no trees, no natural shelter. You might think that the sea is company, Exploding comfortably down on the cliffs But no: when it begins, the flung spray hits The very windows, spits like a tame cat Turned savage. We just sit tight while wind dives And strafes invisibly. Space is a salvo, We are bombarded with the empty air. Strange, it is a huge nothing that we fear.1


Seamus Heaney, Death of a Naturalist, London: Faber and Faber, 1966, 51.


As with holidaymakers, islands remain an enticing destination for writers and artists. However, in contrast to holidaymakers (at least most holidaymakers), fictional characters tend to end up on islands for different reasons, essentially variations on voluntary and involuntary isolation. Either they seek a retreat from civilization or they will do all in their power to regain their familiar social and cultural identities. In each case, shipwrecks may be at the heart of reasons for departure and/or arrival, with either the escape from actual wreckage due to bad seas, or a metaphorical near-drowning experience (personal, material or existential) at their core. The shipwreck, as an image and symbol, is intimately connected to the symbolic potential of the ship and of life as a ship voyage. The most established types of symbolic ships in European literature are the ships of life, logos, political community, humanity, as well as the ship of the soul, the ship as the symbol of civilization or of intellectual endeavour, the frigate as woman, the ship of fools, and the drunken ship.1 Intimately associated with ships and shipwrecks, and similarly to them, islands occupy a significant space in fiction, art, music and film. They can represent scenic locations (more often than not deceptively enchanting) but, particularly when associated with shipwreck imagery, they are essentially literary devices that shape narratives. Imaginary islands exist as temporary paradises where contemplation and selfreinvention may happen, or as false havens where conventional laws 1

As Eckart Schäfer put it: “After man has created the ship as an instrument for the exploitation and domination of the elements, he discovers it as a symbol of his own existence in time” (“Das Staatsschiff: Zur Präzision eines Topos”, in Toposforschung: Eine Dokumentation, ed. Peter Jehn, Frankfurt am Main: Athenäum, 1972, 259; our translation).


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and moral codes are put to the test – as in Golding’s The Lord of the Flies, Shakespeare’s The Tempest and its rewriting Une tempête by Aimé Césaire, Kurt Vonnegut’s Galápagos, or Michel Tournier’s Vendredi, ou les limbes du Pacifique. Storms on Islands: Shipwreck and Island Motifs in Literature and the Arts presents interdisciplinary essays bringing together, among other fields, literature, philosophy, art history, film, gender, and music, thus producing fresh and complementary insights and perspectives into motifs which can be found in world literature since ancient times. The shipwreck and island motifs are indeed atemporal and universal, and naturally lend themselves to a comparative outlook. The protagonist, either shipwrecked or about to become so metaphorically, arrives in a space, either empty or inhabited, and has to revisit her/his sense of self in relation to the new environment and possibly to others on the island. This premise invites multiple critical approaches, from the classical to the postmodern, in the analysis of a wide variety of texts, through the lenses of feminist, identity, spatial and postcolonial theories, amongst many. The artistic fascination that shipwrecks and islands inspire has been matched by scholarly research, although generally treating the two themes separately. Recently, several academic publications have appeared: A Sea of Misadventures: Shipwreck and Survival in Early America – Studies in Maritime History, by Amy Mitchell-Cook (University of South Carolina Press, 2014), Shipwreck in Art and Literature: Images and Interpretations from Antiquity to the Present Day, edited by Carl Thompson (Routledge), and Ainsi Soit-Île: Littérature et anthropologie dans les contes des mers du sud de Robert Louis Stevenson, by Sylvie Largeaud-Ortega (Honoré Champion), both in 2013; The Shipwrecked Sailor in Arabic and Western literature: Ibn Tufayl and his Influence on European literature, by Mahmud Baroud (Macmillan) and Crusoe: Daniel Defoe, Robert Knox, and the Creation of a Myth, by Katherine Frank (Pegasus), both in 2012; and Seaing through the Past: Postmodern Histories and the Maritime Metaphor in Contemporary Anglophone Fiction by Joanna Rostek, and Islanded Identities: Constructions of Postcolonial Cultural Insularity, edited by Maeve McCusker and Anthony Soares, both published by Rodopi in 2011, significantly in two different collections, respectively in “Postmodern Studies” and in



“Cross/Cultures – Readings in the Post/Colonial Literatures in English”. Furthermore, literary journals regularly publish studies focussing on islands through various approaches, such as geocritical, ecocritical and landscape studies; and also about shipwrecks from philosophical, archaeological or myth-critical perspectives (see the latest issues of the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology, for example). In 2011, a double special issue of the literature journal New Literatures Review (NLR) was dedicated to Island Studies. All these publications confirm the continuing, current and global interest in the two topics, although they persist in examining them separately, and by and large from a mono-cultural perspective. The idea for this book, and the combination of its two themes, was born on the island of Ireland, as alluded to in the epigraph to this volume. It is the fruit of different encounters starting, in July 2011, with a Summer School on “Interdisciplinary and Comparative Perspectives on Motifs in Literature and the Arts: the Shipwreck and the Island” held by the School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies at Dublin City University. It brought together scholars from different fields and explored the many forms in which shipwrecks and islands appear in various domains. The discussions which started on that occasion not only offered fascinating insights into the representations and possible interpretations of the two motifs, but also begged for a world-wide development of the related debates. This collection of essays is the result of this project, offering analyses of shipwrecks and islands from different scholarly angles, examining works of Anglophone, Francophone, Gaelic, Germanic and Hispanic origins. It also includes a tribute to Aldous Huxley, as well as Irish memoirs. There are five thematic sections: I: Shipwrecks, Islands and Subjectivity The geographical features of islands seem to link them to the condition of the individual and a solitary exploration of the self. Removed from the company and distractions of the mainland, they have often been the setting of an individual’s search for selfknowledge or spiritual enlightenment. The shipwreck, in the other hand, has traditionally been connected to the experience of failure and the hand of fate in taking a traveller off his or her course. A famous


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example is Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which Gonzalo provides the following résumé of the characters’ experiences: … in one voyage Did Claribel her husband find at Tunis, And Ferdinand her brother found a wife Where he himself was lost; and Prospero his dukedom In a poor isle; and all of us ourselves, When no man was his own.2

The island is the ideal setting for such a play which begins with the experience of being lost and proceeds by way of a gradual and painful recognition of one’s own self and past, to the ambivalent pleasure of recognition and restoration of order. Exploring the synergies and the tensions between the motifs of shipwreck and island and the subjective, this section spans a range of epochs and sources, from the seventeenth century to the twentieth, from Shakespeare’s The Tempest to José Saramago’s The Tale of the Unknown Island and The Beach Boys’ album, Pet Sounds. Beginning with the observation that an analogy between the solitary self and the isolated island suggests itself seemingly naturally, Volkmar Billig argues that the island as a type of symbolic landscape, a place of inspiration and possible contact with an imaginary other, did not emerge until the second half of the eighteenth century and is a product of the subjectivist discourse of European modernity. In “‘Ilands’: The Construction and Shipwreck of an Insular Subject in Modern Discourse”, Billig traces the origins of the modern idea of an “insular subject” through texts and meeting points of myth and reality – for example, Leonardo da Vinci’s architectonic plans of constructing an insular castle. The essay analyses Tommaso Campanella’s dialogue, The City of the Sun (1602/23), and Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1610/11). It moreover provides a cultural-historical overview of the permutations of the I-land. “The Island as Chora” by Yulia Pushkarevskaya Naughton, Gerald Naughton and Samiah Haque continues and complements Volkmar Billig’s considerations, but uses a different theoretical approach to 2 William Shakespeare, The Tempest, 5.1.211-216, in The Complete Works, gen. eds Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986, 1338.



explore the relationship between the subject and the island, demonstrating that the Kristevian-Derridean notion of the Chora is “an illuminating model for understanding the multiple and manifold interactions” between the two. They argue that the island produces an insular self by allowing a disassociation from the real world, concomitantly bringing about a transformation and multiplication of the self. Positing these psychoanalytic and postmodern theories as a background to their interdisciplinary study, the authors offer close readings of José Saramago’s The Tale of the Unknown Island, Michel Tournier’s Friday, Marguerite Duras’ India Song, Frida Kahlo’s What the Water Gave Me, and Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. In these readings, they uncover the particular articulations of the island as a choric site in which a restructuring of desire takes place, which in its most radical form results in death. In “‘Mine was a peculiar kind of wreck’: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Deconstruction of Treasure Island in The Wrecker”, Phillip Stevenson investigates the exploratory rewriting by R.L. Stevenson of his earlier novel, Treasure Island, in his later work, The Wrecker. Phillip Stevenson first analyses Treasure Island in terms of its debt to Romance stories, in order to later question the author’s allegiance to the genre. R.L. Stevenson’s reconsideration of his own work, in collaboration with his stepson Lloyd Osbourne, leads Phillip Stevenson to probe the topic of identity, highlighting the authors’ rejection of simple binaries and the consequent doubling of their characters’ identities. Islands here serve as sites of both material and psychological exploration, especially of moral insights. Phillip Stevenson argues that the thwarted mutiny on the Hispaniola is rewritten in The Wrecker, with re-figurings of Hawkins and Israel Hands appearing in the later novel and playing out a course of events different from that found in Treasure Island. The re-incarnation of certain characters, Phillip Stevenson suggests, enables the author to make a metafictional statement about his earlier work, literally and metaphorically killing the representatives of the conventional Romance story of Treasure Island. Michael Hinds takes the subjective I-lands in a different direction and explores the myth of the Robinsonade in pop culture and its significance for the identity of the consumer of pop culture in “Robinson in Headphones: The Desert Island as Pop Fetish”. Hinds


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sees the desert island in popular culture as “a perfect pop marriage of setting and protagonist”, and links it to the individual island mentality of the ideal consumer of pop who participates in the solipsism created by Walkman and iPod, thinking of music as personal possession. Hinds mostly focusses on the BBC Radio programme Desert Island Discs and on pop music, considering how “desert island life” may turn quickly from an innocent imagining of asocial liberation into a much more reactionary phenomenon. He examines examples of desert island songs picked by the show’s guests, and compiles and analyses eight desert island discs as they might be chosen by “self-obsessed Robinsons”, among them the aforementioned Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys. II: The Island as Aesthetic Concept The heading of this section might be applied to almost every article in this volume. After all, the islands assembled here are all aesthetic concepts insofar as they are artistic representations, enriched with meanings beyond their function as settings of fictional events, often taking on symbolical or metaphorical qualities. Islands not only capture the imagination as subject matter, but they provide a playground and an open space for it – Heinrich Böll’s stay on Achill Island and Paul Gauguin’s fascination with Tahiti being two of the most prominent examples. Artistic representations of islands provide a space for reflecting on the nature of the creative act itself. The island which, by its very nature, parts from the norms and rules of continents, defines itself in conjunction with and in opposition to the mainland. The premise of Heather H. Yeung’s essay on “Adventures in Form: The Hebrides and the Romantic Imaginary” is that artistic expression of the island epitomizes liminality, which consequently allows it to become a laboratory for ideas and formal experimentation. Juxtaposing and comparing literary, musical and artistic expressions inspired by and created in reaction to the Hebrides, Yeung looks at Sir Walter Scott (The Lord of the Isles), Wordsworth (“Poems Composed or Suggested During a Tour of Scotland in 1833”), Mendelssohn (overture, The Hebrides), Keats and Turner (both giving their rendering of Staffa and Fingal’s Cave). In the course of her analysis, Yeung poses a central question regarding the Romantic productions



inspired by the Hebrides: “How indeed is it possible to find a form appropriate to the experience of this island, or of islands in general, in all their shifting multiplicity?” Yeung focuses this formal search on different media involved in the works she considers, but the question resonates in all contributions to this volume. In “‘The Lighthouse’ (Edgar Allan Poe, 1849; Cristina Fernández Cubas, 1997): From the ‘Egocentred’ to a ‘Geocentred’ Analysis”, Patricia García examines Poe’s unfinished tale and Cristina Fernandez Cubas’ completion of it. Both texts are set in the eponymous lighthouse and on the island where it is located. Going beyond an analysis of the correlation between inner self and physical space in the contemporary paradigm of the sublime, García foregrounds space as character and its function as “an active agent to generate the plot”. Referring to the spatial and narrative theories of Bertrand Westphal, Felix Guattari, Gilles Deleuze and Lubomír Doležel, among others, García provides an analysis of the roles of lighthouse, island and sea, and their interaction with other elements in Fernández Cubas’ story. She also relates the possibly supernatural occurrences in the story to the act of writing and the space of the island. A different kind of exploration of the spatial and psychological qualities of the island is provided in David Garrett Izzo’s “Fifty Years On: Aldous Huxley’s Island (1962) Reconsidered”, in which the author explores the meaning of the island setting in Huxley’s Utopian novel as “the aesthetic frame for an exploration of love as a basic and indispensable element of life”. Interpreting Huxley’s mystical philosophy as “an island in the mind”, Izzo examines the interplay of the notions of an inner and a physical island in the novel. He reads Huxley’s Island as a counterpoint to the capitalist society the visitor comes from, in terms of religion, education and economy. III: Weathering the Tempest: Images of Shipwrecks and Islands from Ancient to Modern Times This section begins with an island of the imagination, which nevertheless made its way onto the maps of the cartographers and remained there for around 550 years, not to mention its effect on the minds of many seafarers and writers whose imaginations were captured by the elusive island, known as Brasil Island or Hy Brasil. In “The Gaelicization of Brasil Island: From Cartographic Error to Celtic


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Elysium”, Barbara Freitag traces the island’s path from its first appearance to the west of Ireland on a map, in the fourteenth century, to becoming “the epitome of all things Celtic”, an “Irish Elysium”, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The article illustrates how the imaginary island and its literary embodiments serve as a projection surface for the auto- and hetero-images and general views of the world of varying cultures and epochs. In “Twelfth Night and Emotional Communities in Early Modern London”, Robert J. Vrtis takes us back to the seventeenth century and the imagery associated with the shipwreck in Shakespeare’s play. Beginning with the initial loss of the ship and Viola’s transformation into Cesario, he argues that tempest and shipwreck create a background of emotional uproar and instability in the play. Public theatres in seventeenth-century London are here represented as spaces of contrasting emotive experience and expression – where emotions can be likened to waves and the stage to a floating island. Using contemporary emblematic representations as a foil, Vrtis places the Shakespearean shipwreck in the context of a conflict between “emotional communities”, between resistance to and loss of control of emotions. He connects this conflict to audiences’ search for a “communal emotional experience” in Elizabethan drama, showing Twelfth Night to be exemplary in the way it embraces emotional wreckage as a positively transformative process. Dyani Johns Taff, in “A Shipwreck of Faith: Hazardous Voyages and Contested Representations in Milton’s Samson Agonistes”, explores the symbolism of the vessel regarding religious devotion and practice, and of the shipwreck as failure to follow God’s guidance. This is particularly characterized by Samson’s experience, and in the role attributed to Dalila’s personal conflict of interest. Their emotions are compared to ships in a storm. Johns Taff also highlights the layers of meanings surrounding the shipwreck image in the context of religious debates of the time. But she also perceives in the image of the shipwreck another ambivalent relationship, that between textual source and interpretation. This reading is supported by the fact that the play withholds a final, unified version of events through its multiplicity of voices and versions. The essay thus illuminates the “quality of unknowability” central to Milton’s text.



Barra Ó Seaghdha directs our attention to the west of Ireland in “Islands and Irelands: Journeys, Mappings and Re-Mappings”. Taking personal memories as the starting point and axis of his essay, he focusses on the islands of West Kerry as seen through the eyes of Irish and English writers and artists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – among them Arthur Symons, Arnold Bax, John Millington Synge and Paul Henry. Through the course of his observations, Ó Seaghdha traces how “either the whole island of Ireland or its western edge is set up in order to propose (or save) a way of life or a set of values threatened by, but superior to, the island to the East and indeed to the whole modern world”. He drafts an “experiential map” of Dún Chaoin and the islands beyond, rich with the knowledge of Ireland’s cultural-historical development, and strongly linked to its position as an island at the edge of Europe, between Great Britain and North America. IV: The Island as Feminine Space This section is concerned with shipwrecks and islands ideally forming fluid platforms where questions of identity, specifically related to gender, can be revisited. All four essays contained in this section feature works with female protagonists. The re-evaluation of identity and gender, however, is not without ambivalence: some of the texts discussed here ironically subvert the potential of the island as an open space for negotiation of traditional social and political notions of behaviour and propriety, as well as the concomitant process of gaining self-knowledge and agency. In “‘Maybe Girls Need an Island’: Desert Islands and Gender Troubles in Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens”, Sara K. Day discusses the 2011 novel Beauty Queens and positions the satire in the context of young adult novels set on islands. Using the theories of Michel Foucault and Judith Butler, she explores the meaning of the island as a space of surveillance (in the case of Beauty Queens, it is full of hidden cameras) and performance of femininity. Day shows how the island creates a space in which stereotypes of both beauty pageant participants and feminists can be challenged. The island has a decidedly less satirical function as the space of exploration and of unfamiliarity in late-Victorian adventure novels for young women, as demonstrated in “Recreating Home for the New


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Girl: Domesticity and Adventure in L.T. Meade’s Four on an Island”, Amy Hicks demonstrates the merging of the domestic and the adventurous in the text and relates it to the emergence of the concept of the New Girl, a correlative of the New Woman in late nineteenthcentury Britain. The fraught concept of home and associated expectations of gender roles always remain present as a foil, Hicks argues, even, or possibly especially, in the setting of a desert island where the confinement of a brave girl can be fatal. Remaining close to this theme, Shawn Thomson analyses the significance of a woman’s symbolic and personal shipwreck in “Lady Castaways in the Gilded Age in Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth”. Thomson here explores the notion of heroic individualism in the context of the literary and societal model of the castaway as selfmade man (as epitomized in Robinson Crusoe), and the tragically unsurmountable obstacle it represents for the careers of female characters in Wharton’s novel. Thomson brings new depth to the image of the social castaway and illustrates how it justifies bourgeois cruelty in the face of the protagonist’s fall from grace, ultimately causing her death. Sandra Vlasta considers the island in its spatial, but also its symbolic characteristics in three relatively recent postcolonial novels – Caryl Phillips’ The Final Passage (1985), Monica Ali’s Brick Lane (2003) and Andrea Levy’s Small Island (2004) – portraying women’s migratory experience to Great Britain, sometimes ironically called the “mother country”. Vlasta focusses on the significance of real and metaphorical islands in the representations of contrasting yet related cultures. She moreover situates the island both as geographical location and as interpretative figure in the context of the respective protagonists’ emancipation, a process which she links to the movement away from their literal and figurative home islands. V: Experimental Shipwrecks and Island as Laboratory The final section is concerned with the island as a space of experimentation and the shipwreck as a sometimes necessary (and even productive) failure on the way to new developments, whether of a scientific, political or personal nature. Both motifs carry within them an alternative potential, one which authors and artists as diverse as



Kurt Vonnegut, Terry Pratchett, Robert Zemeckis, and The Otolith Group have explored in their works. Shiela Pardee traces Kurt Vonnegut’s fascination with the Galápagos throughout his work and especially in his eponymous science-fiction novel. In “Drifting and Foundering: Evolutionary Theory in Kurt Vonnegut’s Galápagos”, Pardee positions Vonnegut’s narrative in the context of evolutionary theory by referring to Darwin’s visit to the same island in 1835, and shows how the novel ironically subverts the rule of “survival of the fittest” as opposed to a natural selection based on randomness and contingency. Within the confined island setting, the novel stages a fictional evolutionary experiment, a speculation about the development of a shipwrecked group of people over a million years after World War III has erased all extant forms of humanity. Introducing a contemporary frame of reference in addition to the historical allusion to Darwinism, Pardee links Vonnegut’s portrayal of an apocalyptic scenario to the Latin American economic crisis which was actually taking place at the time he was writing the novel, as well as to contemporary evolutionary theories, such as the phenomena of genetic drift and the founder effect, whose names interestingly derive from nautical terminology. Terry Pratchett’s alternative history novel, Nation, provides an equally ironic take on characters finding themselves, in the Pacific, on an isolated island (whose name provides the book’s title) after a shipwreck. In “‘You Turn Worlds Upside Down’: The Politics of Reversal in Terry Pratchett’s Nation” Maria Błaszkiewicz analyses the pattern of reversal as a structural principle for the novel. Ermintrude, later named Daphne, is shipwrecked on her way from Great Britain and reaches the shores of Nation to experience a total change in her world view, until then dominated by a belief in the hegemony of the British Empire, when she encounters an indigenous islander, Mau. Błaszkiewicz outlines the roles of literal and metaphorical shipwreck and island experiences in the process of reversal and revaluation. One of the reversed instances she analyses is the ambiguity of the maps accompanying the text, which cancels all forms of hegemony. Changing media, Pat Brereton analyses the representations of shipwrecks and islands in reality TV programmes and films, with an emphasis on The Beach, Cast Away and The Truman Show, as well as the television series Treasure Island. He explores the relevance of


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these formats to the perception of the relationship between man and nature, and shows the often flawed interaction between them. Brereton links these representations to Robinson Crusoe with its classical narrative of the life journey during which a shipwreck forces the castaway not only to new shores but also to new morals. In the context of interpreting the literal or metaphorical shipwreck and island portrayals in the films The Beach and Cast Away, Brereton suggests a positive reading of mainstream productions as fruitfully offering “an openness to Hollywood’s heterotopic possibilities”. He goes on to consider how human adaptability to an insular environment, as in Cast Away, can be compared to constestants’ responses to bogus tribulations in the reality TV series Treasure Island. When considering The Truman Show, Brereton explores further allegorical notions about islands and reconsiders the films in question as possible cautionary ecological tales. In her essay “The Figuration of the Shipwreck as Political Commentary in Hydra Decapita, an Essay-Film by The Otolith Group”, Beatrice Ferrara analyses the British art collaborative Otolith Group’s usage of the shipwreck as an allegory of crisis (specifically, the current financial crisis) in their essay-film Hydra Decapita. The artists’ aesthetic principles include the notion of the art work as a “constellation” which can be looked at from all sides, allowing for the existence of ambiguity and opacity. Ferrara draws attention to Turner’s painting of the infamous Zong ship, entitled “The Slave Ship” (1840), as it occurs in the essay-film as a symbol of dehumanized exploitation of man for financial gain. Ferrara analyses the nautical images of the essay-film in the context of the current economic crisis and their intentional obscurity in comparison to other, more conventional representations of hardship, as they translate the inexpressibility of injustices currently taking place without any dogmatism, yet emphasizing the treatment of human beings as commodities – another type of wreckage. The comparative approach of this volume allows specialists from different literary and other intellectual and artistic domains to gather creatively around the motifs of shipwrecks and islands. Together they offer original and complementary viewpoints which construct a clear and multifaceted image of shipwrecks and islands as metaphors of



human existence, from both individual and collective perspectives, illuminating the recurring dreams and crises which this image has reflected over centuries, from antiquity until the present.


“I-LANDS”: THE CONSTRUCTION AND SHIPWRECK OF AN INSULAR SUBJECT IN MODERN DISCOURSE VOLKMAR BILLIG Starting with the observation that an analogy between the solitary self and the isolated island seems to come naturally (and in English is reinforced by the homophony), this essay argues that the island as a type of symbolic landscape, a place of inspiration and possible point of contact with an imaginary “other” did not emerge until the second half of the eighteenth century and is a product of the subjectivist discourse of European modernity. The essay traces the origins of the modern idea of an “insular subject” by way of texts and meeting points of myth and reality – among others, Shakespeare’s play The Tempest (1610/11) and Campanella’s dialogue The City of the Sun (1602/23). It provides analyses of these texts as examples of a new type of island narrative emerging at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Moreover, the essay follows the continuations, permutations and transformations of the “I-land” in the discourse of modernity.

The association between a solitary I and a lonely island (the “I-land” of our title), signifying the symbolic reading of islands as an image of the human ego, seems to come naturally to the human imagination and, significantly, the homophony found in the English language reinforces it. However, the evidence of this metaphorical relation is deceptive, and a historical view clearly shows that it is much more a product of the subjectivist discourse of European modernity. Indeed, it would be difficult to find the sole-ruler-on-his-island type of figure (as paradigmatically embodied by Defoe’s Robinson) in antique, medieval or early modern literature. The modern nostalgia for islands, which amalgamates poetic fantasy and touristic desire, is also far from being a self-evident phenomenon. The island, as both a kind of symbolic landscape and an accessible place of inspiration which puts one in contact with an imaginary other, does not emerge until the second half of the eighteenth century (in the times of the discovery of Tahiti and the simultaneous island rêveries of Rousseau). Though islands from their antique beginnings have been a frequent literary motif, no pre-modern writer, artist or philosopher obviously thought


Volkmar Billig

about travelling to an island and looking for inspiration there (as Rousseau, Goethe, Stevenson, Chamisso, Nietzsche, Gauguin and many others have done in the last two-hundred-and-fifty years). This observation suggests a structural and historical coherence between the figure of an insular I and the figure of the island as fascinating landscape and as object of individual desire. Moreover, it poses the question of a reference between the emergence of these ideas and simultaneous discourses about the human being. The concern of this research is to look for such possible relations and the circumstances of their emergence. The first examples of any clear comparison between the shape of an island and the state of the individual date back to the beginning of the seventeenth century – the best known being Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1610-11) and The City of the Sun by Tommaso Campanella (1602, edited 1623). While the traditional plot of literary island narrations (from their outset in antique Egypt, Oriental, Greek and Indian literature up to early modern times) dealt with a travelling hero who after his return describes his fabulous adventures, the new type of island narrative presented by Shakespeare or Campanella marks a crucial difference: though the classical travel or shipwreck motif is still used to initiate the story, it is no longer the fight against incalculable mythical forces, but much more the ability to dominate the island that demonstrates the power of the hero. In the same way as Descartes a few years later based his ontology on an undoubting Cogito, it is the Ego of new island characters that defines the territory of an “I-land” that belongs to them. When Shakespeare’s contemporary, the poet John Donne, articulated the insight that “no man is an Iland, intire of it selfe”1 he responded to such new dialogues about island heroes who actually seemed to be “entire”. The I-land and its ancestors The modern concept of an insular individual reminds one – much more than of the classical adventurer – of a mythic motif found in common creation myths almost all over the world: the identification of a primeval world – thought of as an island, which had emerged from the sea or created within it – with a godlike architect shaping it. 1

John Donne, Selected Prose, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1967, 101.



This type of narration combines cosmogonic and anthropogenic elements, an idea which played a significant role, especially in ancient Egypt where a primeval island was identified as emerging from the Nun (the sea of nothingness), with a lotus flower from whose bud the young god of the sun appeared. The big cities of ancient Egypt fought for the right to be situated on this first island where the sun had risen from the void at this primeval moment. We find similar narrations in Babylonian and Indian texts, in the orphic rhapsodies of the Greeks and elsewhere.2 A lasting literary variation on this mythic archetype is the antique notion of a Solis insula, a “sun island” in the far East or South of the Oikumene. This particular antique discourse was rediscovered in the seventeenth century and became part of the modern islands literature in diverse ways.3 An additional element in antique literature which suggests an equation between I and island is the widespread identification of the author with his travelling hero, beginning with the figure of Odysseus, presented by Homer as the protagonist of his epic poem, as well as its narrator and only attester of the story. Based on this very ancient literary code, later writers, especially Roman authors like Horace and Virgil, liked to present themselves as governors of the fantastic landscapes created by the power of their imagination.4 Thus the island, 2

The Babylonian creator Ea started his work of creation with an island too. After he watered it with his phallus it transformed into the idyllic Dilmun, one of the earliest paradisiacal islands of the mythical tradition. In the orphic rhapsodies of the Greeks, it is Chronos who created an egg in the airwaves from which the world and the ancestral androgynous god Phanes were born (the famous speech of Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium about the orbicular primal human is a derivate of it). The Indian Shatapatha Brahmana and Chandogya-Upanishad tell similar stories. 3 The most explicit of those “Sun islands” can be found in the homonymous fragment by Iambulos, passed on by Diodorus Siculus (“Bibliotheca Historica” II: 55 – see Diodorus of Sicily, ed. Charles H. Oldfather, London: Heinemann, 1979, II, 65 ff.). But already in the first lines of the Odyssey Homer writes about the Island of Helios (where Odysseus has lost his last companions) and combines its evocation with that of old sun myths (1: 6 ff. and 22 ff.). We know similar narrations from early Egyptian literature, and later on the topic is widely used by classical Greek and Indian writers. Even the Roman historian and geographer, Pliny the Elder, has incorporated the Solis Insula in his well-known cosmography published in the 1st century A D (Naturalis Historia XXIV, 82/86). For more details (as well as modern variants), see Volkmar Billig, Inseln: Geschichte einer Faszination, Berlin: Matthes & Seitz, 2010, 29 ff. and 97 ff. 4 See for example Horace, Ode I, 1: 29 ff.


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as both the place of creation and the stage for the creative fantasy belonging to its author (as a kind of creator too), represents what we could address as the antique heritage of this topic. We find further examples for certain island-and-I relations in the beginning of the modern era, the age of great discoveries, with the new figure of the global mariner emerging: not a literary hero and not a man travelling for adventure, but much more of a conqueror who takes possession of the discovered islands in the name of the monarch who has sent him. This new type of insular hero is sometimes combined with the island cartographer, the representative of another cultural phenomenon of the same epoch – the rapid spread of an interest in geography. With him the symbolic reproduction of legendary islands, formerly situated on the edge of the known world, is about to change to the delineation of colonial territories. Around the same time that Thomas More published his Utopia and Ferdinand Magellan started his trip around the world, there also appeared the first (not yet realized) plan of an insular castle in Western architecture designed by Leonardo da Vinci (1516-1519).5 The first insular castles to be actually built were found in France (Fontainebleau and Chantilly) in the 1520s and 30s. The design and the use of these artificial islands and their castles were connected with another typical aspect of baroque culture: the island was one of the most favoured themes of theatrical performances, courtly festivities and ballets (based on the Odyssey, the medieval Arthurian legends and their transformations by early modern Italian and Spanish writers),6 and the new island-castles provided the perfect stage to enact these. In many cases the sovereign himself participated in the performances and appeared as a legendary conquistador and subjugator of the archaic, mostly female, power of the islands.7 The formerly mythic or literary islands were thus shown to be predestined to demonstrate princely claims to power in the increasingly globalized world. It is no coincidence that the programme of giant fiestas with insular themes 5

For Leonardo’s project, see Billig, Inseln, 90. The most popular dramatic models of those baroque island festivities were the “Isle of Alcina” from Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, the “Isle of Armida” from Tasso’s La Gerusalemme Liberata and the adaptations of the Circe topic by Lope de Vega (La Circe) and Calderón (El Mayor Encanto, Amor). 7 For instance, Louis XIV played the role of Ruggiero in the adaption of Orlando Furioso on the occasion of the Plaisirs de l’Île Enchantée (1668) in Versailles. 6



first culminated at the royal court in Madrid, before they were copied in Versailles and elsewhere.8 The message of these festivities was that the loss of Eden and earthly paradisiacal islands was compensated by the existence of powerful European courts as new places for a “Golden Age” or a “Saturnia Regna”. Tommaso Campanella, who also wrote the Civitas solis (The City of the Sun), in 1638 composed a tribute to Louis XIV on the occasion of his birth, assigning this future “Sun King” to realize the “Sun state” of his imagination. However, it would be a misconception to say that the hero of the baroque insular festivities would have been a kind of Cartesian subject. For the main part, the parallel manoeuvres of global conquest and courtly representation served to demonstrate the power of the princely sovereign. Sol metaphysicus In this context it is worth having a closer look at Campanella’s Civitas solis, written in 1602 during his long imprisonment and published more than twenty years later. The text uses the literary form of scholarly dialogue, as initiated by Plato. Here, the participants are a mariner from Genoa (Columbus’ hometown) who discovered the “City of the Sun” during his travels, and an interrogator and commentator of his reports. On first reading, Campanella’s text shows similarities with the fluctuating style of text of Utopia. His descriptions of the ideal Sun state are clearly inspired by Plato’s Politeia and More’s Utopia. Campanella localizes the City of the Sun on Taprobane island (Sri Lanka), a site regarded as the place for the garden of Paradise during the Middle Ages. The name of the City of the Sun is obviously inspired by the antique topos of the Sun Island. In particular it reminds us of a fragment by the Greek writer Iambulos, which has been reproduced by Diodorus in his “Library”. More to the point, this choice is justified by contemporary reasons: it allows the 8

The fiestas of Philipp IV, stage-managed by the Florentine engineer Cosimo Lotti, presented a nearly omnipotent theatrical machinery in the same period. The castle theatre of Buen Retiro was constructed by Lotti for just this purpose: the back wall of the stage could be removed to reveal the park behind it as part of the stage design. On the occasion of the fiesta in St John’s Night in 1640 the palace of Circe ascended out of the bottom of a pond and disappeared again at the end of the play. The illuminated island-stage was decorated with big cascades and the pond was adorned with artificial whales and dolphins.


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author to refer both to an emerging heliocentric world view and to an enlightened human intellect. There is one more aspect of the ideal Sun state which is notable in this context: Campanella’s Sun islanders know every language and, with the aid of clandestine scouts all over the world, organize their activities according to a deep-rooted and complete human knowledge. Their ideal state indeed represents a kind of encyclopaedia. This new idea occurs in three different manifestations in Campanella’s text: 1) in the construction of the city itself, because it includes a system of walls with inscriptions and illustrations which provide a kind of openair museum comprising all areas of knowledge; 2) as a “book of books” which also contains the complete results of human science; and 3) in the figure of “Sol metaphysicus”, the all-knowing political and intellectual leader of the state.9 This means that Campanella’s City of the Sun, regardless of all its references to utopian prototypes, first and foremost presents an allegory of human knowledge: it is a kind of mirror image of an all-knowing enlightened subject – who may well be the author. Indeed, it is clear that the walls of the city reflect the walls of Campanella’s prison cell, and that it is Campanella himself who is acting in the role of his Sol metaphysicus.10 It was around the same time, at the beginning of the seventeenth century, that two authors from the British Isles published books with a similar subject: the dramatist William Shakespeare and the theorist Sir Francis Bacon. In the later work of Bacon, whose unfinished book Nova Atlantis was posthumously published in 1626, the idea of an “island of knowledge” is transformed into a metaphorical illustration of Bacon’s project of a modern “Scholarly Academy”. The aspect of an insular individual here is of secondary importance in comparison to that of a society of scholars. Conversely, the dramatic adaptation of the topic in The Tempest by Shakespeare continues to make use of a pre-modern Cabalistic and alchemical setting, but reinforces precisely the flashing idea of an omnipotent human individual – in Donne’s words, “entire of itself”.


See Tommaso Campanella, The City of the Sun, Project Gutenberg, 2009, 4 ff.: 10 According to contemporary witnesses, Campanella had a phenomenal memory and a comprehensive knowledge of Antique, Arabic, Hermetic and Cabalistic writings.



It seems certain that Shakespeare could not have known Campanella’s dialogue when he wrote his possibly most enigmatic play in 1610-11 because the text of The City of the Sun, although finished, was not published until 1623. Despite the differences in content, mode and style between the two texts, there are many reasons however for keeping the City of the Sun and its all-knowing Sol metaphysics in mind when reading The Tempest, beginning with the main figure of Prospero who seems to be a kind of double of the author managing all the other acting figures like puppets on the stage of his island. The plot of Shakespeare’s play, beginning with a shipwreck caused by Prospero’s magic power, may be seen as just a lesson in five Acts, which the almighty Prospero gives to his dumbfounded counterparts. The entertainment effect does not result from dramatic development so much as from a series of clownish insertions, as well as manifold allusions to the island topic with evident and cryptic literary citations. The messages of Shakespeare’s play and Campanella’s dialogue meet in the idea of an omnipotent and well-read subject and of an island as mirror of the subject’s individual capabilities and knowledge. Regardless of the baroque-theatrical decorations, both authors seem to be aware of a coming modernity where (as in the aphorism attributed to Bacon) “knowledge is power”. Moreover, they attest a clear political reference with respect to their heroes: just as Campanella delegates the mission of his fictional Sol metaphysicus to Louis XIV as future Sun King, so Prospero at the end of the play takes off his magic cloak and dismisses his serviceable “airy spirit”. He finally goes back to Milan to reclaim his position as exemplary political leader and humanist.11 The most extensive attempt to connect the emerging equation between an enlightened I and his exemplary “I-land” with Descartes’ new philosophy of subjectivity is owed to the Spanish Jesuit and moralist Baltasar Gracián. The three volumes of his allegorical novel El Criticón appeared between 1651 and 1657, less than twenty years after the publication of Descartes’ Discourse on the Method (1637). It is impossible to ignore the parallels between Gracián’s and Descartes’ search for a certitude which is above all possible doubts. It begins 11

See William Shakespeare, The Tempest, 5.1, in The Complete Works, gen. eds Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986, 1336-40.


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with the title (inspired by Petron’s Satiricon): the book is marked as “critical”, and Gracián plays with the word in various ways – one of the two heroes and dialogue partners is called Critilo and the chapters are named as “crisi”. Gracián’s Criticón is a prototypical Bildungsroman. The two heroes are a naïve and innocent young man, called “Andrenio” (“The Human”), and the educated, experienced, and well-versed “Critilo”. The novel starts with a scene on the island of St Helena where the shipwrecked Critilo is stranded, having been saved by the wild aboriginal Andrenio who is living there alone. The first chapters seem to be a proper illustration of the self-reflecting human individual in Descartes’ terms: without knowing anything, not even a language, Andrenio has constituted himself reflecting his individual insularity – thinking thus being. Besides the cave analogy given by Plato, once more it is the traditional topic of the mythic Sun island which allows the author to link the island sayings of his epoch with Descartes’ philosophy. When Andrenio steps outside the cave, where he has spent his childhood, he discovers his own “I” by looking at the only sun which illuminates his island. To explain this act of self-construction, Gracián (through his mouthpiece Critilo) creates an artificial etymological derivation of the Spanish adjective solo (“only, alone”) from sol (“the sun”), linking it with the idea of the island as something “isolated”.12 Adding the three images, he receives precisely the same result as Descartes in his discourse: an unquestionable I as the starting point for thinking about the human being. In the course of the novel the two heroes travel around the world with the aim of critically observing and discussing the representations of human desire. After Critilo has recognized Andrenio as his own lost son, the plot finally reaches its climax in a reconstruction of the initial situation: the decision between the “cave of nothing” and “the island of immortality” as an analogy for a failed or successful existence.13


Baltasar Gracián, El Criticón, ed. Santos Alonso, Madrid: Ediciones Cátedra, 1984, 78 ff. 13 Ibid., 701 ff. and 786 ff.



Islands of truth We could say that Daniel Defoe created a popular summary of Gracián’s allegory when he wrote Robinson Crusoe, planned – in his own words – as a “historical” and “allegorical” example of a correct civic lifestyle. The dialogue between an original I and a critical observer is merged by Defoe in the monologue of one capable islander – Robinson’s wild pupil Friday is effectively what remains of Gracián’s Andrenio. Defoe translates Gracián’s allegory into a simple story which demonstrates how to transform the personal island of a civic individual into a civilized Garden of Eden. His hero – equipped with the intellectual and technical know-how of European culture – handles the island where he has been stranded, as if it were no different to a plain house and garden. This is possibly the best illustration of how the images of the island and the I merge in the figure of a private “I-land” as a consequence of the discourses of enlightenment and humanism. The later readings of Defoe’s novel, especially the romantic interpretations beginning with Rousseau, often forget one important detail: it is not only Robinson’s civic knowledge but also the technical equipment which he has saved from the shipwreck that enable him to survive and to present himself as sovereign of the island on which he has been stranded.14 It is not so far away from the function of Prospero’s magic robes: a kind of deus ex machina which ensures that the lonely I will be able to dominate his own island. Similarly to Gracián, Defoe presents human nature as complex: while representing a certain childish state, that of Andrenio or Friday, which serves as a contrast, he underlines the human ability to reflect as necessary, as much as skill and permanent labour, in the process of becoming a complete individual and deserving owner of a private island. This is precisely what the classical discourse of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century means with the equation of I with island. We could say that the mythical islands of the creation, including their godlike residents, recur in the shape of the inner territory of the individual subject. So the Robinson-myth of an almighty individual could be regarded as the modern heir of the earlier 14

Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, in The Shakespeare Head Edition of the Novels and Selected Writings of Daniel Defoe, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, and Stratford-uponAvon: Shakespeare Head Press, 1927, I, 54 ff.


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tales about remote paradises and their divine inhabitants. To the same degree as the mythical islands fall victim to geographic knowledge, the “I-lands” of their conquerors acquire their mythic power. Though the German philosopher Immanuel Kant more than once complained about the “empty longing” of his contemporaries inspired by current stories about “Robinsons and travels to South Sea islands”,15 we owe him one of the most pointed examples of an analogy between island and philosophical subject. In his Critique of Pure Reason, he uses the notion of an island to explain the general difference between Phenomena and Noumena, completely abandoning the often stated “prohibition of images” in his manner of speaking. The land of pure reason, he maintains “is an island, and enclosed by nature herself within unchangeable limits …, surrounded by a wide and stormy ocean, the region of illusion, where many a fog-bank, many an iceberg, [it] seems to the mariner, on his voyage of discovery, a new country ….”16 In Kant’s thinking, the world as such disappears just as Plato’s Atlantis once did, and what comes into the field of vision in its place are the principles of order which organize pure reason as an “island of truth” in the ocean of delusion. We can mark Kant’s “island of truth” therefore as an attempt to save what can be saved of the Cartesian certitude: not the being itself but at least the manner of reflecting it. In search of the island of unification: the modern Odyssey of the intellect However, Kant’s philosophical followers did not share his Robinsonlike ambition to content oneself with a scanty island of reason. In fact they took the trouble to construct new bridges between the subjective “I-land” and the nature of objects as well as human beings, and they found support in the emerging historical sciences. In Germany first of all Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling proclaimed a new “Odyssey of the intellect” and a glittering “island of fantasy” where the mystery of nature would be unveiled.17 Consequently, the project of an insular “I15

Immanuel Kant, “Muthmaßlicher Anfang der Menschengeschichte”, in Gesammelte Schriften, Berlin: Reimer, 1912, I/8, 122 ff. 16 Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason, Project Gutenberg, 2003, A 235 / B 294 ff.: 17 Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, System des Transzendentalen Idealismus, in



land”, cut off from nature and secluded in its own existence, was displaced by the longing for a space where the I would be freed from his isolated state. And it seems that just at this moment the islands themselves shifted into the field of vision as fragments of an original world and possible places for any unification with the lost and desired human nature. The intense fascination with Tahiti reached its apogee around 1770 with the travel logs of Bougainville and Cook (damned by Kant). This enthrallment could be considered as the first symptom of a completely new – and essentially modern – type of island fascination. The unanimous evocations of the paradise state on this South Sea island appear today as a revival of the literary traditions of “fortunate” and “utopian” islands but there is an important difference: because these reports talk about a demonstrably extant and accessible island, the fascination it attracts is not a literary one, but it results first of all from the possibility of actually going and staying there – as though the occidental I abruptly had lost all self-assurance of his personal “Iland” and had started to look for his lost state of nature on the other side of the geographical world and in the pretended origin of his own history. But the longing for Tahiti, with all its actual and fictional embarkations and disappointments, was not a separate phenomenon: it was in fact the beginning of an overflowing nostalgia. A few decades after it started, nearly every island seemed to promise to all romantics a similar encounter with their aboriginal humanness. First of all, the novels and confessions by Jean-Jacques Rousseau attest to the completely new character of the island imaginary in the upcoming Romantic discourse about humanity. Rousseau’s narratives about islands, and especially the descriptions of his own island stays, were enthusiastically reflected at the end of the eighteenth century. Not least we owe him two of the most symbolic places of pilgrimage of the Romantic epoch: the Île de St-Pierre (St Peter’s Island) in the Lake Biel, where Rousseau spent some months in 1765 – and which he romanticizes in his Confessions – and the grave island in the garden at Ermenonville. Rousseau more than once referred to Defoe’s novel in his works and liked to see himself as “another Robinson”.18 At first, two Schellings Werke, ed. Manfred Schröter, Munich: Beck, 1927, II, 628. 18 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Les Confessions, in Œuvres Complètes de Jean-Jacques


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exemplary Robinson-islands appear in his novel Julie, or the New Heloise from 1761: the hero of the novel, Saint-Preux, journeys around the world and arrives at two desert islands in the Pacific, Tinian and Juan Fernandez.19 But, unlike Defoe’s Robinson, Rousseau’s hero does not have to stay there; rather, he toys with the tempting idea to do so because of a disappointing love affair. What he has been yearning for in vain is a “feeling heart” and the nearness of his lover. What he finds instead is a desert island and the desire to be banished there for the rest of his life. The island becomes his compensation for an impossible pleasure. Some years later Rousseau himself actually moved to St Peter’s island with his wife and said that he wished “they would allot him this island as a durable prison instead of only tolerating his being there”.20 Rousseau once more expressly takes the figure of Robinson for the very start of his novel Émile, or On Education, published in 1762, in which he tries to explain his notions of a “natural education”. In his own words, Defoe’s novel should be regarded as “the best guide of a natural education”.21 But, indeed, it needed some significant corrections before Robinson could serve as a pattern for Rousseau’s own ideas. Robinson, according to Rousseau, explicitly acts “without any instrument” and his only available tool is “nature”.22 While Defoe had intended an allegory of the civilized man, Rousseau proposes to read the novel differently: as a successful escape from the civilized world and as a return to the original nature of humanity. The verification of a self-confident individual’s potential is thus replaced by a merging of that individual with the lost other of human nature, and the island is revealed as a kind of prehistorical place where our original environment has been preserved. Robinson’s misery transmutes into a way out and the only alternative to the civilized way of life. The paradigm of the human being is shifted from the skilled Rousseau, eds Bernard Gagnebin and Marcel Raymond, Paris: Librairie Gallimard, 1959, I, 644. 19 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, La Nouvelle Héloïse, in Œuvres Complètes, 1964, II, 413. These islands were known from the travel log of the globetrotter Lord Anson. 20 Rousseau, Confessions, 646. 21 Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Émile ou de l’Éducation, in Œuvres Complètes, 1969, IV, 454. 22 Rousseau explicitly says that it would be necessary “to clear out” Defoe’s text “of all its junk” in order to use it as an actual example of a natural education (ibid., 455).



Critilo to a naturally ingenious Andrenio, from the measure of “artifice” to that of pure “nature”. Reading Rousseau’s and similar texts published around 1765, it is worth noting that this shift in notions does not completely ignore the “I-island” relation offered by Gracián or Defoe and supported by Descartes’ philosophy. In a way it is even reinforced because the human subject does not need anything other than the island’s nature for its constitution.23 But what Rousseau and his contemporaries do is substitute the classical meaning of human “artifice” for the highly charged term of “nature”. And what happens as a result of this substitution is that the subject shifts from the Cartesian cogito to the island. It is the figure of the natural island that now creates the human individual. Rousseau’s autobiographical reflections in particular – the Confessions and the Reveries of a Solitary Walker – reveal an I which doubts and despairs of his own intellect and the island for which he is looking serves as the projection screen of his fruitless desire. The notion of the island as a compensation for impossible enjoyment, missed homeland, childhood, mother, lover, etc. is only one aspect. The other, and maybe more important aspect, is that as a consequence Rousseau discovers the landscape of the island as a place of communication with his own imagination, even as a place where his fantasies in a way may become real. The mechanism of this projection is related to what happened with the mariners arriving in Tahiti at the same time – among them various avowed Rousseauists – in verifying the same “natural state” of the human being there. The turn of the island-I relation initiated by Rousseau is not only about the shifting of the subject from a self-reliant Ego to an original nature, it is also about the medium for communication between these two aspects. As an ingenious fragment of the original nature, the island is speaking to man about his own origins through “reveries”. It was exactly this aspect of Rousseau’s island fascination which would not only inspire the beginning of island tourism and innumerable literary illustrations, but also provide a key argument for Romantic opinions about nature, the creative act and an autonomous art – and infect them with a flood of island metaphors. The “reverie” as a kind 23

For a detailed literary illustration of Rousseau’s project of an insular natural education, see Gaspard Guillard de Beaurieu, L’Élève de la Nature, Amsterdam: Panckoucke, 1764.


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of new communication medium – discovered by Rousseau during his stay on St Peter’s island – perfectly corresponds to the idealistic art philosophy of Schelling with its concept of the creative act as an encounter between a sensitive spirit and a speaking nature. Even the essays about the theory and practice of gardening published around 1800 repeat Rousseau’s comparison between the original island nature and the ideal construction of an English garden, illustrated with manifold examples from travel logs about Pacific, Atlantic or Mediterranean islands24 – and they do not stop at this: When the soul of the walker and the landscape of the garden start to play with each other, there arises the Reverie. The walker in the garden should become a poet without taking notice of it. 25

So, while seventeenth-century authors had been proud to create islands by the power of their own insular imagination, the modern poets conceive of their creations whilst deep in reverie, and that means particularly as solitary walkers in gardens or on islands. Just as the term “landscape” was delegated from an aesthetic category – an artwork representing a natural motif – to real nature at the end of the eighteenth century, the subjective reflection of insularity was referred to the island itself. And it was not until then that both essential features of the modern island fascination were possible: the metaphorical dialogues about islands of poetry, fantasy, humanity, etc., and, at the same time, the overflowing island tourism with its nostalgia. We could go so far as to say that, until the end of the eighteenth century, many fascinating, mythical or literary, tales about islands existed but not the “island” itself, as a landscape which establishes a symbolic connection between its own nature and human nature and, as such, allows human visitors to experience themselves there.

24 Cay Lorenz Hirschfeld in his ground-breaking Theorie der Gartenkunst points to the “curiosity” that the plantings of uncultivated nations on Pacific islands in some parts approximate the “English manner” (113). Christian Cay Lorenz Hirschfeld, Theorie der Gartenkunst (Leipzig 1779/85), Hildesheim: Olms, reprint, 1996. 25 Christian August Semler, Ideen zu einer Gartenlogik oder Versuch über die Kunst in Englischen Gartenanlagen Alles Unverständliche und Widersinnige zu Vermeiden, Leipzig: Schäfer, 1803, 40.



In 1787, when Kant published the extended second edition of his Critique of Pure Reason, there appeared an epistolary novel by the avowed anti-Kantian German writer Wilhelm Heinse, entitled Ardinghello und die glückseligen Inseln (Ardinghello and the Fortunate Islands).26 The novel is set in Italy as well as on some Mediterranean islands during the Renaissance. The text is presented as a decidedly anti-classical mix of shocker and philosophical reflection, decorated with historical references, the author’s own travel experiences, pornographic scenes, political agitation (showing an anarchist tendency) and much more. It also contains (as promised in the title) a kind of insular utopia, with a new variation on the theme: the island as a kind of Dionysian orgiastic unification of the solitary human being with himself and all of nature, as place or moment of a plenitude, where all is one and one is all – the opposite of what happens on Kant’s isolated island of pure reason. It is exactly this “Island of unification”27 that the modern “Odyssey of the intellect” has in mind and which provides the code for that much-evoked “unappeasable desire” which the modern tourist and media industries exploit today. The mirror image, used before to describe how the mythical potential of faraway islands reflects onto the inner territory of an individual subject, thus continues to apply with respect to the Romantic interpretation: the nostalgia for and about islands, just as the characteristically modern manifestation of island fascination results from a mirroring of the obsolete individual “I-land” in its natural prototype.


Wilhelm Heinse, Ardinghello und die Glückseligen Inseln, Stuttgart: Reclam, 1975. To borrow a term from an author writing around 1800, Jean Paul, who used the island image in innumerable variations in his novels. The “Insel der Vereinigung” (“island of unification”) is a central motif of his novel Hesperus (1795): Jean Paul, Werke, Munich: Carl Hanser Verlag, 1965, I, 471 ff., 655 ff. 27

THE ISLAND AS CHORA YULIA PUSHKAREVSKAYA NAUGHTON, GERALD NAUGHTON, AND SAMIAH HAQUE This essay positions the island as a chora, in Kristevian terms. The paradigm of the choric island is established through readings of texts from different mediums: José Saramago’s The Tale of the Unknown Island, Michel Tournier’s Friday, Marguerite Duras’ India Song, Frida Kahlo’s What the Water Gave Me, and Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. In each of these island narratives, it is argued, the chora suggests itself as an illuminating model for understanding the multiple and manifold interactions between the subject and the island. By combining insights from psychoanalytic and postmodern theories with close readings of selected texts, the essay explores the paradigm of the self-island as a chora of “multiplicity” and “infinite renewal”.

Why the chora? The island is often conceived of as a place that kindles the subject’s imagination and desire. As an imaginary space full of promise, the island functions as that which is directly opposed to the real: “the romantic dream is still the individualized form of Utopia, … >and because] the dissociation from the real world is maximized, the island of Utopia stands opposed to the continent of the real”.1 In this sense, the island also enables the subject to fulfil alternative desires and explore other selves that are not “permitted” in the “real world”. In psychoanalytic terms, this “disassociation from the real world” prompts the subject’s return to the Real, within the Lacanian/Žižekian model, or to the chora,2 within the Kristevian/Derridean model. Žižek defines the Real as that “which threatens to draw us into its vortex of


Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994, 122. 2 We use the generic spelling of “chora” throughout the article, but retain the original spelling (“Khōra”, “chōra”) when quoting from Plato’s and Derrida’s writings on the concept.


Yulia P. Naughton, Gerald Naughton, Samiah Haque

jouissance”; Kristeva similarly describes the chora as a “movement towards jouissance” and … a multiplicity of expulsions ensuring its infinite renewal. Expulsion rejects the discordance between the signifier and signified to the extent of the dissolution of the subject as signifying subject. But it also rejects the partitions in which the subject must shelter in order to constitute itself.

The island provides precisely this jouissance and “multiplicity of expulsions”, ensuring the subject’s “infinite renewal”. In every island narrative or image explored in this paper, the island disrupts the “subject as signifying subject” and positions it as an “insular” self. In the absence of physical and symbolic shelter or partition, the subject becomes exposed to its own multiple possibilities. In this sense, the island becomes a temporary shelter without partitions, a “mobilereceptacle site of the process”3 – a chora, in geographical, symbolic, and psychic terms. In Michel Tournier’s Friday, for example, the narrator describes the “shedding of context” that takes place on his desert island, Speranza, where “there is only one viewpoint, [his] own, deprived of all context”.4 Though initially “charted by a network of interpellations and extrapolations”, the island – and hence, the subject – “expels” its partitions and becomes simply what is sensually perceived. “My vision of the island”, he concludes, “is reduced to that of my own eyes, and what I do not see of it is to me a total unknown. Everywhere I am not, total darkness reigns.”5 Thus, a correlation is established between the subject’s sensual experience, the body, and the island. The subject and the island produce each other through choric (ex)pulsion. It is on these terms that this comparative study will explore the island in selected texts from different mediums: José Saramago’s O Conto da Ilha Desconhecida (1997; The Tale of the Unknown Island), Michel Tournier’s Vendredi ou les Limbes du Pacifique (1967; 3

Julia Kristeva, “The Subject in Process”, in The Tel Quel Reader, eds Patrick French and Roland-François Lack, London: Routledge, 1998, 134. 4 Michel Tournier, Friday, trans. Norman Denny, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997, 54. 5 Ibid., 55.

The Island as Chora


Friday, or, The Other Island), Marguerite Duras’ India Song (1975), Frida Kahlo’s Lo Que el Agua Me Dio (1938; What the Water Gave Me), and Alexandre Dumas’ Le Comte de Monte-Cristo (1844; The Count of Monte Cristo). By combining insights from psychoanalytical and postmodern theories with close readings of proposed texts, this essay will explore the paradigm of the self-island as a chora of “multiplicity” and “infinite renewal”. Toward the island as chora Kristeva takes her concept of the chora from Plato, who in Timaeus, proposed it as a “receptacle” – a space of becoming. Timaeus, we may recall, is the dialogue that takes place on the day directly following that of Plato’s Republic. It is a text that is intimately concerned with the task of moving from the abstract perfectionism of the Republic to something more active and material. Thus, Plato’s chōra is an “inbetween” space, or, as he himself termed it, a “third kind”: neither matter nor form. Thomas Rickert has attempted to express this sense of chōra in another way: Put differently, we could say that the choric city [as opposed to the Republic] is where invention comes to life. The chōra thereby provides Plato with a means to explain the movement from Idea to Becoming as a form of vital, robust actuality.6

Indeed, the archaic term, chōra, precedes Plato, and had already appeared in Homer, who saw it as a particular way of conceptualizing space, characterized by a “continual remaking or reweaving of its encompassing surface”.7 It is the choric space in this “vital”, regenerative, excessive, and transitive sense that is most expressive of our treatment of the island narratives in this article. In The Tale of the Unknown Island, a novella by José Saramago, we find a fable that perfectly encapsulates the transitive sense of the chora. Saramago here tells the story of a man who goes to an avaricious king to request a boat with which to discover an “unknown


Thomas Rickert, “Toward the Chora: Kristeva, Derrida, and Ulmer on Emplaced Invention”, Philosophy and Rhetoric, XL/3 (2007), 258. 7 Quoted in ibid., 254.


Yulia P. Naughton, Gerald Naughton, Samiah Haque

island”.8 In negotiation, the king and the sailor quickly become embroiled in semiotic and cartographic intricacies. When the king boasts that all ships are his, the man replies: “You belong to them far more than they belong to you … without them you’re nothing, whereas, without you, they can still set sail.”9 Though the king’s first reaction is to insist that all islands are already known, the man responds resolutely: “Only the known islands are on the maps.”10 The ontological condition of Saramago’s unknown island is solely derived from the fact that “there can’t possibly not be an unknown island”.11 Thus, “The unknown island doesn’t exist”, we are reminded, “except as an idea in your head”.12 The very substance of island space is, in the Platonic sense, both absolutely necessary and merely theoretical. At this early stage of the narrative, the idea of the unknown island, like Plato’s Republic itself, “lacks eros, which is to say, it lacks becoming in a generative sense”.13 The rest of Saramago’s short text will bring the spectral island into the realm of Eros, taking our understanding of that island space from the “formal” to the choric. And the island itself will become not only the subject, but the very locus of this transformation. Eventually, the man receives his ship, but not a crew. He is left only with the cleaning lady of the palace who has been irresistibly drawn to his project of discovery. In dialogue, they attempt to understand the attraction of this hypothetical island. The man begins: I want to find the unknown island, I want to find out who I am when I’m there on that island, Don’t you know, If you don’t step outside yourself, you’ll never discover who you are, The king’s philosopher, … used to say that each man is an island, but since that had nothing to do with me, being a woman, I paid no attention to him, what do you think, That you have to leave the island in order to see the island, that


José Saramago, The Tale of the Unknown Island, trans. Margaret Jull Costa, Orlando, FL: Harcourt, 1998, 11. 9 Ibid., 12. 10 Ibid., 11. 11 Ibid., 12. 12 Ibid., 47. 13 Rickert, “Toward the Chora”, 257.

The Island as Chora


we can’t see ourselves unless we become free of ourselves, Unless we escape from ourselves, you mean, No, that’s not the same thing ... 14

The exchange is pure Saramago. The characteristic absence of conventional punctuation, paragraph division, or inverted commas creates a pulsating, choric, soliloqual texture to his use of dialogue. What we are presented with is an “account which shifts without signals from one focal point to another while one character’s speech merges with another’s and with the narrator’s own voice”.15 Saramago playfully produces an intersubjective treatment of the novella’s central topic. Given that this topic itself is the island and subjectivity, we can see several layers of paradox at work here. It is almost as if the man and the woman are searching – in dialogue – for precisely that “third way” or third space, beyond both social context and individual insularity. The final comment – “no, that’s not the same thing” – indicates, perhaps, the impossibility of capturing this third space in language. Tellingly, Saramago chooses to map this impossibility onto the idea of an island. The man is primarily interested in the island’s capacity for removal from personality (becoming “free [of] ourselves”) and context (“leave the island in order to see the island”). The enabling potentiality of the island is thus located in its “distance from”. For Jacques Derrida, the chora itself is located in similar conceptual territory, as the site of “absolute exteriority”.16 “Khōra marks a place apart”, he writes; it relies on a “relation of independence, [a] nonrelation, [which] looks ... like the relation of the interval or the spacing to what is lodged in it to be received in it”.17 In The Tale of the Unknown Island, the island-as-chora is stretched still further – into the open-ended interval between mainland and island. The novella concludes, paradoxically, at the beginning of its journey. In the text’s final passage, we find the man waking up on his ship for the first time: 14

Saramago, Tale of the Unknown Island, 31-32. Richard A. Preto-Rodas, “A View of Eighteenth-Century Portugal: José Saramago’s Memorial do convento (Baltsar and Blimunda)”, in José Saramago, ed. Harold Bloom, Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2005, 2. 16 Catherine Malabou and Jacques Derrida, Counterpath: Travelling with Jacques Derrida, trans. David Wills, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2004, 147. 17 Ibid., 146. 15


Yulia P. Naughton, Gerald Naughton, Samiah Haque He woke up with his arms about the cleaning woman, and her arms about him, their bodies and their bunks fused into one so that no one can tell any more if this is port or starboard. Then as soon as the sun had risen, the man and the woman went to paint in white letters on both sides of the prow the name that the caravel still lacked. Around midday, with the tide, The Unknown Island finally set to sea, in search of itself.18

Ending his island narrative, thus, at the beginning of his protagonists’ journey to the island, Saramago positions his narrative very firmly in the transitive realm of choric space. It is paradoxically fitting that the ship should stand as “receptacle” of the name “Unknown Island”. Kristeva speaks of a chora which “denote[s] an essentially mobile and extremely provisional articulation constituted by movements and their ephemeral stases”.19 The ship is a particularly apt carrier of the island’s choric meaning in this sense. It is a locus of potentiality and not a signifiable entity. Furthermore, Derrida’s conception of the chora may again be applicable here. In On the Name, he follows Plato in denoting the chora either as a “receptacle” or “place”, two terms which, Derrida reminds us, “do not designate an essence”.20 Indeed, the chora itself is always unnameable: We would never claim to propose the exact word, the mot juste, for Khôra, nor to name it, itself .... Its name is not an exact word, not a mot juste. It is promised to the ineffaceable even if what it names, Khôra, is not reduced to its name .... Not having an essence, how could Khōra stand beyond its name?21

The irreducibility, ineffaceability, and unnameability of chora is precisely what Saramago captures in his tale of the ship-becomeisland, island-become-ship. The impossibility of defining (or naming) choric space is the very reason why an “unknown island” can never be 18

Saramago, Tale of the Unknown Island, 51. Julia Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language, trans. Marguerite Waller, New York: Columbia University Press, 1984, 25. 20 Jacques Derrida, On the Name, ed. Thomas Dutoit, trans. David Wood, John P. Leavey. Jr., and Ian McLeod, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1995, 95. 21 Malabou and Derrida, Counterpath, 146. 19

The Island as Chora


mapped, and why an unnamed ship may be named “island”. In the Kristevian interpretation, chora is a “drive-determined and determining locus of what is itself unrepresentable to and by language”.22 It is appropriate, in this sense, that the ship should be named and (perhaps necessarily) misnamed as “island”. Desire and self in the beyond of what the island had promised As the subject arrives to the island, a transformation and multiplication of the self occurs in its choric space. If chora requires Eros to enable becoming in a “generative sense”, then the multiple becoming of the subject is intimately connected to the erotic potential of the island as a choric space. For Kristeva, this space is “formed” and “regulated” by the drives23 – it is a “receptacle” for both life drives (Eros) and death drives (Thanatos).24 The key question here is: how does the island/chora, where both pleasure and fear proliferate, restructure the subject and its desire? Kristeva’s chora is connected with notions of “lack” and “plenitude”: “[the] chora is a modality of signifiance in which the linguistic sign is not yet articulated as the absence of an object and as the distinction between real and symbolic.”25 This “absence of an object” and “sign [which] is not yet articulated” are suggestive of Žižek’s interpretation of the Lacanian “Real” and desire in terms of “fundamental loss” and “irreducible failure”.26 Kristeva’s description of the chora is also reminiscent of the image of the island, which is an exposed and independent “body” of land: “the drives that extract the body from its homogeneous shell and turn it into a space linked to the outside, they are the forces which mark out the chora in process.”27 As a space half-submerged in water but “linked to the outside”, the island is a perfect choric space which exposes the subject’s drives. The

22 Megan Becker-Leckrone, Julia Kristeva and Literary Theory, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, 154. 23 Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language, 25. 24 Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror, trans. Leon S. Roudiez, New York: Columbia University Press, 1982, 14. 25 Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language, 26. 26 Slavoj Žižek, “Troubles with the Real”, in How to Read Lacan, 2007: 27 Kristeva, “The Subject in Process”, 143.


Yulia P. Naughton, Gerald Naughton, Samiah Haque

chora/the island is thus a place where the subject confronts its desire directly and without mediation. In Michel Tournier’s island narrative, Friday, it is the confrontation with death on the desert island which makes Crusoe explore the nature of his own desire and which makes him “understand the deep, positive, and seemingly ineluctable relationship between sex and death”: “Being closer to death than any other man”, he claims, “I am by the same token closer to the very springs of sexuality”.28 Crusoe gradually develops a cosmological desire positioned beyond human terms and directed towards the island itself, which he names Speranza. He describes his subjectivity as “elemental”, insisting that “it was not a matter of turning [his] back to human loves, but, while leaving [him] still an elemental, of causing [him] to change [his] element”. Crusoe reinvents his desire, so that it is not limited to or by his humanity. In his unlimited sense of self, he extends his relationship with the island, or the element of the earth, to the relationship with other elements: My sky-love floods me with a vital energy which endows me with strength during an entire day and night. If this is to be translated into human language, I must consider myself feminine and the bride of the sky. But that kind of anthropomorphism is meaningless. The truth is that at the height to which Friday and I have soared, difference of sex is left behind.29

As he transforms his desire, he also transforms his self and positions himself as part of the elements. It is thus through Eros that the proper “becoming” in the choric space occurs. Paradoxically, in the process of such elemental becoming, Crusoe goes beyond his gender or even his humanity: he is fully constituted by drives and elemental energies – a combination which makes him a posthuman subject. As Gilles Deleuze puts it: “The end, that is, Robinson’s final goal, is ‘dehumanization’, the coming together of the libido and of the free elements, the discovery of a cosmic energy or of a great elemental Health which can surge only on the isle – and only to the extent that

28 29

Tournier, Friday, 123. Ibid., 212.

The Island as Chora


the isle has become aerial or solar.”30 The correlation between the posthuman, elemental subject and the “aerial” island here points to the interdependency of the subject and the island in the process of choric (ex)pulsion. Kristeva’s articulation of the choric space resonantly echoes with the Eros of Crusoe’s libidinal island. In Revolution in Poetic Language, the chora is put forward as the site in which the drives are “ordered”: Discrete quantities of energy move through the body of the subject who is not yet constituted as such and, in the course of his development, they are arranged according to the various constraints imposed on this body – always already involved in a semiotic process – by family and social structures. In this way the drives, which are “energy” charges as well as “psychical” marks, articulate what we call a chora: a non-expressive totality formed by the drives and their stases in a motility that is as full of movement as it is regulated.31

Kristeva’s articulation of the choric “subject who is not yet constituted as such” highlights the liminality of choric space and of the subject generated by that space. There is a simultaneous “stasis” and “process” at work here which points to a subject that is both “regulated” and excessive, constituted by both lack and plenitude. And yet, Crusoe’s account of his desire for the island exceeds the (semi) “regulated” model of chora put forward by Kristeva. While in her account, the subject at least partly concedes to the “social” and “familial” constraints which are placed on it, Crusoe will not submit to such models of control. Eventually, after Friday leaves the island, Crusoe refuses to do so and thus to return to social/familial structures. Instead, he extends his rapturous being into eternity: Drawn up to his full height, he was confronting the solar ecstasy with a joy that was almost painful. Speranza was shedding her veil of mist, to emerge unsullied and intact. Eternity [was] reasserting its hold on him.32 30 Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, trans. Mark Lester and Charles Stivale, London and New York: Continuum, 2004, 342. 31 Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language, 25. 32 Tournier, Friday, 234.


Yulia P. Naughton, Gerald Naughton, Samiah Haque

His newfound desire and energy are explicitly linked with being outside language and therefore also beyond social structures which make desire “embodied”, or directed towards an object. Robinson can speak, but the “Words have lost their power; they are sounds, no more”, and because language no longer constitutes him, his desire has become “objectless”. In the text’s imaginary dimension, Robinson obliterates the symbolic order (language) in order to come into direct contact with the Real: “Instead of flowing submissively along the course set for it by society, [desire] floods out in all directions like the rays of a star.”33 Within Tournier’s islandic paradigm, therefore, the subject’s desire is no longer grounded in the sense of lack that comes with the mediation of language. It comes, paradoxically, from the plenitude of existence, which Speranza embodies. Upon this reading, the island is an excessive choric space – one in which self and desire are experienced as boundless and plentiful, and in which the subject can experience the pulsation of existence. Like Tournier’s novel, Marguerite Duras’ film India Song also uses the choric space of the island to explore the connection between desire and death. Kristeva describes the exploration of desire in Duras as a “conniving, voluptuous, bewitching contemplation of death”.34 In India Song, this desire (for death) is fulfilled only when the protagonist walks off the island, into the ocean. The film explores the unearthly potential of desire-as-death, which is explored through slow-moving, frozen, frigid, as it were, images of Anne-Marie Stretter and her lovers. Significantly, Duras’ characters do not speak to each other, and it is the voice-overs which control their narrative: the characters themselves do not use language at all, which, by definition, positions them outside the symbolic realm and within the semiotic realm. When their sensual desire comes to a halt, they come to the choric space of the island in search of another desire. The still shots of the film contain the Hegelian paradox of “self-negation relation”, whereby, as Žižek notes, “frigidity” can “designate [its] opposite” or the “renunciation of desire” can signify its “fulfilment”.35 In the 33

Ibid., 113. Julia Kristeva, Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia, trans. Leon S. Roudiez, New York: Columbia University Press, 1989, 236. 35 Slavoj Žižek, “Grimaces of the Real, or When the Phallus Appears”, Rendering the Real XLVIII (Autumn 1991), 59. 34

The Island as Chora


Durassian universe, such a paradox is necessary for understanding the subject’s desire, and Anne-Marie Stretter’s final act of walking into the ocean points to the insurmountable potential of desire-as-death-aseternity, explored in the space of the island. Here, the death drive and the halting life drive intermingle. In both Duras’ and Tournier’s island narratives, the transposition of desire into a higher realm is driven by both aestheticism and asceticism. Crusoe’s final decision to stay on his desert island is a fulfilment of his desire for a sensually plentiful, cosmologically ordained existence; Anne-Marie Stretter’s walking into the ocean is a similar impulse towards transcendence of finite, human desire. Her suicide is not depicted in tragic terms, but is represented in terms of erotic, aesthetic, and transcendental fulfilment. The beyond of the subject and its desire in the choric space of the island is explored as a leap into eternity and an elemental subjectivity. It is not that Duras’ and Tournier’s protagonists have obliterated their human desire and their previous selves – it is that they seek to expand themselves and their desire into other realms. The desire for the beyond is thus an expression of the self beyond a singular self and a singular human form. Both Crusoe and Anne-Marie Stretter achieve this by blending in with the elements, even at the price of the subject’s death. Tournier’s and Duras’ embracement of multiple selves and elemental possibilities gains its visual representation in Frida Kahlo’s painting What the Water Gave Me,36 in which, as the female subject bathes, her body is multiplied into a series of islands and bodies in the water.37 Like Tournier and Duras, Kahlo expands the self and fuses it with different elements through the narcissistic multiplication of the body. The fact that these various selves emerge as autonomous islands in the water signifies both multiplied potential, and the independence of various selves and modes of desire. The painting represents, as Liza Bakewell suggests, a “highly sexualized landscape … of upheaval, excess, disorder, and rupture”.38 At the same time, it is the cool 36 Image available at the website of The Frida Kahlo Foundation: 37 Our thanks to Jean-Philippe Imbert for suggesting this painting in a very insightful observation, which he shared with us at The Shipwreck and the Island: Interdisciplinary and Comparative Summer School, 6-8 July 2011, organized by the School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies at Dublin City University. 38 Liza Bakewell, “Frida Kahlo: A Contemporary Feminist Reading”, Frontiers: A


Yulia P. Naughton, Gerald Naughton, Samiah Haque

perspective of the voyeur – the female self sitting in the bath and contemplating its own manifold possibilities – that dominates the painting. As Linda Nochlin suggests, “Kahlo’s is a ... view from above, but in the absence of the subject’s head we read the image as the body seen by the subject-artist herself”. Nochlin reads the bathtub in the painting as a “site of self-knowledge … emphasized by a host of surreal toylike references to Kahlo’s life and experiences”.39 The subject’s gaze, framing the territory of the imaginary bodies-islandspleasures, brings in a certain sense of detachment into the Foucauldian proliferation of bodies and pleasures, offered by the landscape of “upheaval” and “excess”. To return to Kristeva’s definition of chora, the choric space here is both “excessive” and “regulated”40 – in this case, by the subject itself. Through the paradigm of the choric island, Tournier’s Robinson leaps into an elemental ecstasy, an exit out of the self and the body, to explore the bigger expanses of desire and selfhood; Duras explores the edge of desire as a practice of the death wish and a morbid experience of eternity; Kahlo experiments dispassionately with elemental desire and multiple selves. In all three works, multiplied desire and subjectivity are taken into the beyond of what the island had promised. But it is nevertheless the choric space of the island that allows for such a transformation and multiplication to take place. Beyond the island: the post-choric subject If the choric island is necessary for the (re)production of the subject and of desire, what happens to the subject upon its departure from the island? Is this restructured desire sustainable? In Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, we have a significant reworking of the choric paradigm of the island: by leaving the island, the subject also obliterates its desire. Kristeva describes chora as a process invested with “fragments [which are] linked to sounds, words, and significations”.41 In The Count of Monte Cristo, this choric space is realized in the island of If, Journal of Women Studies, XIII/3 (1993), 179. 39 Linda Nochlin, Bathers, Bodies, Beauty: The Visceral Eye, London: Harvard University Press, 2006, 114. 40 Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language, 25. 41 Ibid., 102.

The Island as Chora


where Edmond Dantès is imprisoned: as Daniel Punday suggests, the dungeon is “constructed spatially” out of the fragments of sounds and words.42 In this choric space, Dantès himself emerges as a choric subject, shattered into fragments of his former self in the “destructive process” of becoming.43 Here, having “lost all that bound [him] to life”, he succumbs to the death drive. In death, he finds a “sort of consolation [which] points to the yawning abyss, at the bottom of which is darkness and obscurity”.44 Dantès eventually escapes from the island into the sea in the disguise of another prisoner’s dead body. This leap into the sea – a sea referred to as the “Cemetery of Château d’If”45 in the novel – symbolizes the death of a singular self. Because for Kristeva the chora is a space “where the subject is both generated and negated”,46 the island not only “negates” Dantès, but also gives birth to his multiple alternate selves. Later, Dantès embraces the numerous possibilities of the Count of Monte Cristo, Sinbad the Sailor, and Abbé Busoni – identities which he slips into and out of in the course of the novel. Dantès’ leap from the Château d’If in the guise of a corpse prominently signals the eminence of Thanatos over Eros in his narrative. If the death drive manifests itself as “negativity, destruction”,47 then Dantès’ presence on the island is a constant practice of the death wish. As Dumas’ protagonist admits, the sole desire that the island induces in him is “vengeance”.48 On leaving the island, however, he is gradually stripped of not only Eros, but Thanatos as well. By the end of the novel, and at the “summit of his vengeance”, he finds only the “abyss of doubt”.49 Peter Sloterdijk has noted that the novel’s scenes of vengeance “have been painted with pleasure”, and that this “demand for rage crosses a threshold” in the


Daniel Punday, Narrative Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Narratology, Gordonsville, VA: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003, 131. 43 Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language, 102. 44 Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo, trans. David Coward, New York: Oxford University Press, 2008, 110. 45 Ibid., 170. 46 Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language, 28. 47 Ibid., 163. 48 Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo, 142. 49 Ibid., 1042.


Yulia P. Naughton, Gerald Naughton, Samiah Haque

end. “Beyond this threshold there is no hope for further increase”:50 the excess of pleasure taken in revenge leads to its own exhaustion. Emptied of desire, Dumas’ protagonist has to return to the choric prison island to renew his impulse towards destruction; paradoxically, it is the death drive that sustains his existence. At the end of the novel, as the Count of Monte Cristo stands by the shore from where he had first glimpsed Château d’If, he is finally able to feel again the “stirrings in his bosom of the old bitterness which all those years ago had filled the heart of Edmond Dantès to overflowing”.51 Dumas’ narrative illustrates the vacuity of identity emptied of desire – even when the self is multiplied – and signals the necessity of a return to the island for the renewal of the subject and its desire. Not only is the subject’s desire (re)constituted in the choric space of the island, but desire also becomes dependent on that choric space. The subject as the island: “in search of itself” In each of the island narratives discussed in this essay, the chora suggests itself as an illuminating model for understanding the multiple and manifold interactions between the subject and the island. The semiotic chora – as a space, as a “receptacle”, and as a “third way” – unravels, at once, unnameable omnipotentiality (Saramago), the intermingling excess of death and life drives (Tournier and Duras), narcissistic reinvention (Kahlo), or the (re)generation of desire (Tournier and Dumas). In moving towards the island, the subject approaches the infinite and unnameable. In encountering the island, the subject confronts, orders, negates, and exceeds its desire. In leaving the island, the subject experiences a death of desire – a desire that can only be renewed and regenerated through a return to the island. In the island narrative, the subject is never truly able to leave its choric space behind. The transformative experience of the choric island never ends. Like the ship in Saramago’s tale, the subject becomes the island – “setting to sea, in search of itself”.


Peter Sloterdijk, Rage and Time: A Psychopolitical Investigation, trans. Mario Wenning, New York: Columbia University Press, 2010, 179. 51 Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo, 1044.

“MINE WAS A PECULIAR KIND OF WRECK”: ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON’S DECONSTRUCTION OF TREASURE ISLAND IN THE WRECKER PHILLIP STEVENSON Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island is a seminal text in the Romance Revival in late-Victorian literature. This essay proposes that Stevenson undertook a metafictional reconsidering of both Treasure Island and the Romance genre in his later novel The Wrecker, written in collaboration with his stepson Lloyd Osbourne. In The Wrecker Stevenson revisits, unsettles, and interrogates the themes and tropes of his previous writing. The characters Jim Hawkins and Israel Hands, and their roles in the failed mutiny on the Hispaniola, are re-imagined, with Stevenson allowing a course of events to play out that raises moral questions about the violence inherent in the conventional Romance. By re-incarnating previous characters Stevenson is able to make a metafictional statement about his previous work, with the result that he can be metaphorically understood to be the “wrecker” of the title, dismantling the very Romance genre he promoted with Treasure Island.

Robert Louis Stevenson had his first major success with the novel Treasure Island (1883), a tale built around the armature of a maritime quest to an exotic island in search of a hidden treasure that (while never spelled out as such) one might implicitly assume to have been the fruit of imperial exploitation by Europe’s seagoing nations. Treasure Island has gone on to become a classic of children’s literature and adventure writing, as well as a rich source of the pirate tropes in contemporary popular culture, but it was not to be the last time Stevenson would write of a maritime quest to a far-off island in search of a treasure of dubious moral provenance. In this essay I will examine Stevenson’s Treasure Island alongside The Wrecker (1892), a collaborative novel written with his stepson Lloyd Osborne and one of the least known and most intriguing novels in his body of work. One early reviewer noted that “the skeleton of the story is a tale of the sea, full of shipwreck, murder, and sudden


Phillip Stevenson

death”,1 and one might assume the novel resides firmly within the “Romance Revival” genre engendered by the earlier Treasure Island. I will argue, however, that this is not the case, as Stevenson asserted to Charles Baxter that The Wrecker is “certainly well nourished with facts, no realist can touch me there, for by this time I do begin to know something of life in the XIXth century”.2 My proposition is that, by writing about shipwreck, murder, and sudden death on a far away island in a “realist” manner, Stevenson was deliberately deconstructing his own Treasure Island. By a detailed intertextual analysis of the two novels I intend to show how Stevenson problematizes the tropes he established in the earlier work, how he uses the shipwreck of The Wrecker as a metaphor for his own art, and how he himself is “the wrecker” of the title: the artist wrecking his own creation. An obvious reading of Treasure Island is to view the protagonist Jim Hawkins’ central quest as a negotiated journey into manhood, punctuated and advanced by a series of incidents that conform to the tropes of the Romance genre. In “A Humble Remonstrance” (1884) Stevenson identifies Treasure Island as a novel of adventure, a class of writing that eschews “moral or intellectual interest” and portrays characters “only so far as they realise the sense of danger and provoke the sensation of fear”.3 The suggestion here is that Romance is essentially amoral, existing as it does to create incident and evoke a visceral response in the reader; but Romance also serves as a motivating force within the tale itself, and this does have moral repercussions in the fictional world. Jim Hawkins’ journey is catalysed by a desire for adventure, but each incident of adventure carries with it moral choices that shape the man Hawkins will become. Character does not solely exist in the service of Romance in either Treasure Island or The Wrecker. Rather, character is affected by moral responses to Romantic incident, and integrity of identity challenged in moments of stress.


Joe St Loe Strachey, Unsigned Review, The Spectator, 23 July 1892, 132-33. Robert Louis Stevenson, The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, eds Bradford Booth and Ernest Mehew, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994/1995, VII, 192. 3 Robert Louis Stevenson, “A Humble Remonstrance”, in The Lantern Bearers and Other Essays, ed. Jeremy Treglown, London: Chatto and Windus, 1988, 197. 2

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Hawkins initially comes into contact with the animating force of Romance in the shabby dissipated person of Billy Bones. The aged pirate functions as a plot device to precipitate the adventure, but he also serves as an avatar of Romance inspiring a certain reinvigoration in Hawkins’ stultified community. From the outset Hawkins is faced with the lure of a Romance that is seductively amoral because it carries with it the prospect of becoming a pirate. “By his own account he [Bones] must have lived his life among some of the wickedest men that God ever allowed upon the sea”, but his very ability to offer an oral account of his deeds and experiences is presented in glowing terms: I really believe his presence did us good. People were frightened at the time, but on looking back they rather liked it; it was a fine excitement in a quiet country life; and there was even a party of the young men who pretended to admire him, calling him a “true sea-dog” and a “real old-salt”, the sort of man that made England terrible at sea. 4

Hawkins might feel sympathy for Bones, but to embark on his quest requires a more socially sanctioned patronage: that of Squire Trelawney and the magistrate Dr Livesey, a pairing that explicitly illustrates the close and familiar connection between the gentry and the purported arbiters of justice within British society. Both men – on the surface – appear to be ready role models for Jim Hawkins, yet their fundamental inability to achieve a meaningful communication with the subalterns of the text will ultimately lead to their impotence and marginalization. As a representative of the judiciary, Livesey’s communication with the lower orders does not extend far beyond his threat to Billy Bones: “I promise, upon my honour, you shall hang at next assizes.”5 Trelawney believes himself a judge of character, yet the majority of the men he hand-picks for his crew are Silver’s pirates, indeed, Silver himself occupies the highest position in his estimations. It is precisely Silver’s own ability to flow between his many roles – “an old sailor [who] has lost a leg … in his country’s service”,6 4 Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island, London, Victoria and Auckland: Penguin, 1994, 4-5. 5 Ibid., 7. 6 Ibid., 44.


Phillip Stevenson

publican, ship’s cook, and buccaneer – that allows his control of the balance of power over the ostensible shipborne authorities that will identify him as the true role model for Jim Hawkins upon the quest. Part of what makes Long John Silver such an attractive character to the reader is that he not only disrupts the binaries of the text, he moves with facility between roles: trustworthy sea-cook to infamous pirate; cripple to dexterous killer; bitter adversary to smooth peace-broker. Multiplicity of character and the observation of identity in sudden transition is a recurring trope within Stevenson’s work, most obviously in Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), and one might look to Stevenson’s Calvinist upbringing for an insight into his fascination with characters in flux. By his own admission Stevenson was brought up to believe that: “there were but two camps in the world; one of the perfectly pious and respectable, one of the perfectly profane, mundane, and vicious; one mostly on its knees and singing hymns, the other on the highroad to the gallows and the bottomless pit.”7 Throughout his oeuvre Stevenson explores characters who either move between these two camps or who dwell in the interstices. His play Deacon Brodie, or the Double Life (1878) presents a protagonist whose ostensible public respectability and piety belie his private belief that the essential nature of man is evil and that any benign or honest action is a disguise. While Brodie, with his cry of “Every man for himself, and the devil for all”, is a clear Satan masquerading as one of the Calvinist Elect, Silver is possessed of a complex ambiguity of identity.8 In the early chapters Jim attaches himself to Silver much as he had to Billy Bones, and the one-legged sea cook evidences all the attributes of a bluff and paternal oral historian of maritime adventure: “‘Come away, Hawkins,” [Silver] would say; “come and have a yarn with John. Nobody more welcome than yourself, my son.’”9 It is this Silver that manages with such adroitness to impress both the shipborne authorities in the person of Doctor Livesey – “Trelawney … I believe you have managed to get two honest men on 7

Robert Louis Stevenson, “The Adventures of Henry Shovel”, in The Works of Robert Louis Stevenson, London: W. Heinemann in association with Chatto and Windus, Cassell and Longmans, Green, 1923, XXV, 317. 8 E.M. Eigner, Robert Louis Stevenson and Romantic Tradition, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1966, 123. 9 Stevenson, Treasure Island, 62.

Deconstruction of Treasure Island


board … [Captain Smollett] and John Silver”10 – and such honest sailors as Tom Morgan: “‘Silver,’ says he, ‘you’re old, and you’re honest, or has the name for it; and you’ve money, too, which lots of poor sailors hasn’t; and you’re brave, or I’m mistook.’”11 Silver seems all things to all men: an honest seaman who lost a leg in service of his nation and the sailor who made good, yet he also combines the attributes of a malign cripple with almost superhuman strength (as was previously personified by Blind Pew); a maimed villain whose perceived physical impairment belies his dexterous abilities. Nowhere is this more evident than in Silver’s murder of Tom Morgan: “Silver, agile as a monkey, even without leg or crutch, was on the top of [Tom] next moment, and had twice buried his knife up to the hilt in that defenceless body.”12 It is Jim Hawkins’ growing cognizance that man does not belong to one of two camps that marks perhaps his most profound personal growth within the novel. Hawkins learns of the duplicity of human nature, yet most importantly the action is advanced through his own duplicity and quick transitions between the dichotomies of insider/outsider and defender/mutineer. When Jim Hawkins jumps ship he is metaphorically entering into an environment free from socially imposed morals and strictures. Skeleton Island (like those islands of Robinson Crusoe, 1719, and The Coral Island, 1857) is a veritable tabula rasa for adventure in that it is a large, habitable environment with an abundance of natural resources. One might say that it is a child’s ideal of the island venue, with its log fort, caves, and forests, and that it encompasses all the hopes and wide-open prospects of youthful fantasy. Skeleton Island is a perfect isle for exploration, but the most interesting explorations in which Jim Hawkins engages are of a moral and psychological nature. Jim’s actions in running away from the stockade, that small bastion of British social order under siege, is an act of desertion anathema to Dr Livesey, yet it is tactically decisive in routing the pirate attack. It is only through removing himself from the translated hierarchical confines of the stockade that Jim is able to perform the task that marks his most crucial of the many


Ibid., 58. Ibid., 87. 12 Ibid., 88. 11


Phillip Stevenson

rites of passage within the novel: taking control of the Hispaniola and killing Israel Hands. The ship drifting without a helmsman at the wheel is an obvious symbol in Stevenson’s maritime narratives, but with his first novel the abiding influence of the Romance form was still influential enough to allow Jim Hawkins to tread the well-worn path of taking command of a ship drifting in the metaphorical currents of moral and existential uncertainty. By doing so, however, Jim has to face the most overt of the novel’s blackguards, Israel Hands. Named after the real buccaneer and crewmate of Edward Teach, Hands embodies all the negative qualities of Silver with none of the redeeming aspects. Jim had previously overheard Hands plotting murder with Silver; now on reboarding the Hispaniola he is able to observe the wounded Hands as he lies bleeding at the scene of one of his killings. Hawkins’ childish fascinations are here laid bare: this is the reality of murder at sea, the terrible truth that lurks behind the patina of Romance displayed by Billy Bones and Long John Silver. Hawkins, however, is no longer an eavesdropper or voyeur and is able to put into effect the lessons he has learned: he knows with what facility a seemingly crippled man can suddenly switch into a dexterous murderer and second-guesses Hands’ intent. Hawkins’ own playful translation between identities that began with his apprenticeship to Billy Bones has allowed him a cognizance of Israel Hands’ nature unavailable to Dr Livesey or Captain Smollett and is here put to grimly ironic use with his warning delivered at pistol point: “‘One more step, Mr. Hands,’ said I, ‘and I’ll blow your brains out! Dead men don’t bite, you know,’ I added, with a chuckle.”13 Dead men may not bite, yet here Stevenson allows us a first, brief glimpse into the guilt that accompanies homicide in his maritime quest narratives. Jim kills Hands, yet even in the disposal of the corpse still feels himself under silent censure from this corrupted father-figure. The “quivering” of the water above Israel Hands’ body makes him appear “as if he were trying to rise” despite the fact that he has been “both shot and drowned”, and Jim’s last view of the body “wavering with the tremulous movement of the water”14 has all the subconscious symbolic intensity of a haunted dream.

13 14

Ibid., 165. Ibid., 167-68.

Deconstruction of Treasure Island


While it might appear easy to identify the vestigial traces of Stevenson’s Calvinist upbringing in the demise of Israel Hands, Long John Silver’s fate presents us with a much more ambiguous insight into Stevenson’s treatments of human nature. Silver’s consistent treachery and duplicity are his very strength and, paradoxically, mark his capacity for carrying through with any suggestion he might make: he is prepared to sacrifice everything at any given moment. Almost as soon as he puts the offer to Jim to join his band – “‘you can’t go back to your own lot for they won’t have you; and without you start a whole ship’s company all by yourself, which might be lonely, you’ll have to jine with Cap’n Silver’”15 – we learn that he is planning to betray his own men to secure his safe passage from the island: “Understand me, Jim …. I’ve a head on my shoulders, I have. I’m on squire’s side now. I know that you’ve got that ship safe somewheres …. I know when a game’s up, I do; and I know a lad that’s staunch. Ah, you that’s so young – you and me might have done a power of good together!”16

This offer and abrupt about-face mark the limits and ossification of Hawkins’ progress. Hawkins has shifted through a variety of identities, many of which were contrary to the established social order of his society, and in doing so has saved the loyal crew of the Hispaniola, yet he must stop short of the terrible existential plight of being a whole ship’s company all by himself. Hawkins’ fluidity can only take him so far and even then he does not escape the distrust of the established representatives of English hierarchy such as Captain Smollett: “you’re a good boy in your line, Jim; but I don’t think you and me’ll go to sea again.”17 Long John Silver is himself, alone, a crew of one; and it is fitting that the sea cook makes his sea escape alone with a quantity of the treasure, for all his maritime travails have been of a fundamentally selfish nature. Not so Jim Hawkins, who despite his growth and successes has learnt the limits and shortfalls of his identity, and it is a foreshadowing of Stevenson’s work to come in


Ibid., 176. Ibid., 181. 17 Ibid., 217. 16


Phillip Stevenson

The Wrecker that Hawkins admits that “‘the worst dreams that ever I have’” are those of his experiences on “‘that accursed island’”.18 Treasure Island opens with a dedication to Stevenson’s stepson Lloyd Osbourne, so it is oddly fitting that the child who inspired Stevenson to write that novel should be credited as co-author of The Wrecker. The extent of Osborne’s contribution to The Wrecker is unknown, although most critics proceed from the assumption that the novel is largely the work of Stevenson. Despite this, one of the most prevalent comments made about The Wrecker is that it is a novel of two very distinct, some might even say opposite, halves. Certainly, Stevenson remarked upon this characteristic to Sydney Colvin, calling the first portion a “novel of manners” and the second “a violent, dark yarn with interesting, plain turns of human nature”.19 I have made the suggestion that Stevenson rewrites the quest narrative engendered within Treasure Island; what makes The Wrecker of such particular interest is that Stevenson rewrites that quest narrative twice within the novel. The first half, “the novel of manners”, has as its protagonist Loudon Dodd, a failed artist who enters into a succession of get-richquick schemes with his irrepressible entrepreneur friend, Jim Pinkerton, culminating in a voyage to the island of Midway to salvage the wreck of a ship they believe contains a fortune in opium. What they salvage instead are the traces of a terrible crime, and it is this crime that forms the second half of The Wrecker, a “violent, dark yarn”, acted out by a completely different set of principal characters. The protagonist of the “dark yarn” is Norris Carthew, another of Stevenson’s failed artists. Carthew and Dodd have mirrored each other throughout their careers: the former’s attempts at pursuing an aestheticized artistic life for which his talents are sadly inadequate eventually bring him to Australia as a shilling-a-day remittance man, just as Dodd’s artistic ambitions had reduced him to begging in Paris. It is in Australia that Carthew meets Tommy Haddon; like Dodd and Pinkerton they strike up a friendship marked by contrasting attributes of aestheticism and entrepreneurship, and like Dodd and Pinkerton they seek to make their fortune at sea. Carthew and Haddon’s maritime journey is one of trade, a lucrative capitalist venture among the Pacific islands that suffers an abrupt change of luck when their 18 19

Ibid., 224. Stevenson, Letters, VII, 277.

Deconstruction of Treasure Island


schooner the Currency Lass loses its mast mid-ocean, forcing the crew to seek refuge on Midway Island. Here, Stevenson presents us one of the intrinsic perversities of his maritime adventures: the shipwrecked crew find themselves upon a desert island with a considerable fortune, but like Ben Gunn before them the treasure is of no use. The maroon’s classic quandary of whether one would swap riches to ensure safe passage from one’s island is presented to the party with the arrival of The Flying Scud, captained by the wizened former banker-cum-pawnbroker, Trent. With a clear antecedent in that other Stevensonian captain who sought to betray Alan Breck in Kidnapped’s “The Siege of the Round-House” (1886), Trent demands that the group hand over their fortune in return for safe passage to San Francisco. The ensuing bloodshed is one of the most harrowing in Stevenson’s oeuvre and is dense with foreshadowed and intertextual tropes. The initial explosion of violence occurs with horrid inevitability when Carthew’s shipmate, Mac, one of Stevenson’s many proud and volatile Celts, suddenly kills the venal Trent. The Ulsterman Mac, who had often related with some degree of pride that “I’m rather a violent man”,20 is the expected catalyst for mayhem, but what happens next is both surprising and yet deeply indicative of the nature of identity within Stevenson’s maritime tales. Trent’s mate Goddedaal, a “blond giant” of “elemental innocence”21 suddenly springs to frenzied action upon the murder of his captain. Goddedaal incapacitates Mac and smashes the skull of another member of the crew of the Currency Lass: … Goddedaal had leaped to his feet, caught up the stool on which he had been sitting, and swung it high in air, a man transfigured, roaring (as he stood) so that men’s ears were stunned with it. There was no thought of battle in the Currency Lasses; none drew his weapon; all huddled helplessly from before the face of the baresark Scandinavian. His first blow sent Mac to ground with a broken arm. His second dashed out the brains of Hemstead. He turned from one to another, menacing and trumpeting like a wounded elephant, exulting in his rage. But there was no counsel, no light of reason, in that ecstasy of


Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne, The Wrecker, London: William Heinemann, 1928, 352. 21 Ibid., 367.


Phillip Stevenson battle; and he shied from the pursuit of victory to hail fresh blows upon the supine Hemstead, so that the stool was shattered ….22

The repercussions of identity flux form a consistent trope in Stevenson’s maritime quest narratives. The “strong, sober, industrious, musical, and sentimental”23 Goddedaal becomes, in the moment of crisis, a Viking berserker; with the mutiny of the Hispaniola Jim Hawkins faces down the choice of living out his romantic dalliances and becoming one of the pirate band; and Norris Carthew finds his own initiation into the life of instinct in this moment of crisis. Carthew shoots and kills Goddedaal and, suddenly, the remittance man has crossed some great psychic boundary from which he will be unable to return. The Currency Lasses are now Silver’s gang, deconstructed. Now that murder has been committed the slaying of the Flying Scud’s crew must be carried through to its brutal conclusion. The initial impulse came from a desire to protect one’s spoils from a usurious authority; the question that hovers unspoken is: “Did Silver and the survivors of Flint’s crew not feel the same sense of possession over their treasure?” One might argue that where the Treasure Island mutineers were concerned it was their treasure that was going to be taken by Trelawney: was this how the crew of the Hispaniola would have been murdered had Silver’s plan been successful? Lorded over by a representative of the English gentry, working their passage for the possibility of regaining gold they had killed and bled for, the rudely democratized pirates onboard the Hispaniola are the ancestors of the Currency Lasses, recreated in The Wrecker to fit the pattern of “a long, tough yarn with some pictures of the manners of today in the greater world – not the shoddy, sham world of cities, clubs and colleges, but the world where men still live a man’s life”.24 Venture capitalism replaces pirate articles, bankers replace the gentry, and the romance of mutiny is stripped away so that the pirates are given a voice; we are shown the terrible reality of murder at sea and the dreadful consequences of living with that upon one’s conscience.


Ibid., 374. Ibid., 367. 24 Stevenson, Letters, VII, 277. 23

Deconstruction of Treasure Island


The terrible business of slaughter upon the Flying Scud’s crew is one of the most distasteful exercises engaged in within Stevenson’s fiction. The romance of battle upon Skeleton Island is here reduced to a brutal toil and labour that must be carried out to its bitter, inexorable conclusion: A fierce composure settled upon Wicks and Carhew …. The poor devils aloft bleated aloud for mercy. But the hour of any mercy was gone by; the cup was brewed and must be drunken to the dregs; since so many had fallen, all must fall .… the screaming wretches were swift to flatten themselves against the masts and yards or find a momentary refuge in the hanging sails. The fell business took long, but it was done at last.

By rewriting the thwarted mutiny on the Hispaniola Stevenson presents us with a horrific representation of the mutineer ascendant; but it is not a simple inversion of the Treasure Island archetype. Stevenson extends the “doubling” conceit within The Wrecker further, and in so doing marks what is perhaps the most important breakthrough to that point in his maritime quest narrative. Carthew is the “double” of Dodd: both of them are older, sadder representations of Jim Hawkins, and the revolt of the Currency Lasses shows how the mutinous murders of the maritime quest narrative are not dependent upon the machinations of a Long John Silver but can spring from events which in themselves are merely mundane, mendacious, and mediocre. But, perhaps most interestingly, Stevenson gives us a binocular perspective on those murders: we are able to witness Jim Hawkins as murderer, the Jim Hawkins who might have accepted Silver’s invitation to join him, and at the same time witness the various brutal fates that other young, loyal Jim Hawkins might have been dealt. This multiplicity of character shows us Hawkins’ struggle against Israel Hands rewritten in such a manner that Carthew is Israel Hands killing the same Jim Hawkins who scrambled for safety on the mainmast. With Carthew assuming the role of the pirate there will be no room for the heroic manoeuvres so inherent within the Romance genre: Hardy the Londoner was shot on the fore-royal yard, and hung horribly suspended in the brails. Wallen, the other, had his jaw broken


Phillip Stevenson on the maintop-gallant cross-trees, and exposed himself, shrieking till a second shot dropped him on the deck.

The most disturbing aspect of Stevenson’s multi-viewed set piece, however, occurs with the murder of the Flying Scud’s young crewman Brown. The saddest and most obvious refiguring of that Jim Hawkins who was cabin-boy of the Hispaniola, Brown is the worst-case scenario retelling of Hawkins’ quest. Hawkins had been offered the opportunity to join with Silver, what if that had been – as suspected – a mere ploy to lure the cabin-boy to his death? Stevenson shows us the mutiny carried out to its bitter end on the Hispaniola through the fate of Brown: Tommy, with a sudden clamour of weeping, begged for his life. “One man can’t hurt us,” he sobbed. “We can’t go on with this. I spoke to him at dinner. He’s an awful decent little cad. It can’t be done. Nobody can go into that place and murder him. It’s too damned wicked.”

Here is the reality of Billy Bones’s axiom “dead men don’t bite” and that truth is self-evident to the Currency Lasses: “One left and we all hang,” said Wicks “Brown must go the same road.”25 The inexorable forward movement towards Brown’s murder is redolent of Treasure Island’s Captain Smollett of the Hispaniola offering Abraham Gray the opportunity to redeem himself and leave the band of mutineers. The appeal is couched in the language of maritime hierarchy and charges Gray with the responsibility not to inconvenience “gentlemen”: “It’s to you, Abraham Gray – it’s to you I am speaking.” Still no reply. “Gray,” resumed Mr Smollett, a little louder, “I am leaving this ship and I order you to follow your captain. I know you are a good man at bottom, and I daresay not one of the lot of you’s as bad as he makes out. I have my watch here in my hand; I give you thirty seconds to join me in.” There was a pause.


Stevenson and Osbourne, The Wrecker, 375.

Deconstruction of Treasure Island


“Come my fine fellow,” continued the captain, “don’t hang so long in stays, I’m risking my life, and the lives of these good gentlemen, every second.”

Gray’s response to the call of duty sees the “good man” return to his socially sanctioned role: There was a sudden scuffle, a sound of blows, and out burst Abraham Gray with a knife-cut on the side of his cheek, and came running to the captain, like a dog to the whistle. “I’m with you, sir,” said he.26

Stevenson’s tropes of unstable maritime identity in conjunction with the clichés of the masculine adventure narrative here allow Gray the possibility of redemption. What is of particular note, however, is Smollett’s statement that “not one of the lot of you’s as bad as he makes out”, for this would seem to be intrinsic to Stevenson’s inversion of the Hispaniola mutiny through the murders on the Flying Scud. None of the Currency Lasses, even Mac the “violent man”, are motivated by malice, yet all are guilty of dreadful acts. The climax occurs with the murder of Brown and, in it, we can see the tightly entwined references to the cabin boy Hawkins and the dutiful sailor Gray: “Brown!” cried Carthew, “Brown, where are you?” …. “Here, sir,” answered a shaking voice; and the poor invisible caitiff called on him by name, and poured forth out of the darkness an endless, garrulous appeal for mercy. A sense of danger, of daring, had alone nerved Carthew to enter the forecastle; and here was the enemy crying and pleading like a frightened child. His obsequious “Here, sir,” his horrid fluency of obtestation, made the murder tenfold more revolting.27

It is this scene that provides the central metaphor for Stevenson as deconstructionist. The older Stevenson is “killing” his younger self, not only Treasure Island, the novel which secured his fame, but also the very Romance genre to which it belongs. He is “killing” them, yet 26 27

Ibid., 102-103. Ibid., 376.


Phillip Stevenson

at the same time showing us the psychological turmoil associated with that very process of literary and metafictional deconstruction. It is a bravely autobiographical activity and puts paid to the charge often levelled against The Wrecker of being a failed experiment lacking in artistic unity. Stevenson has, instead, given us a bifurcated exploration of the maritime quest’s protagonist that sees the doubled hero in each version travel to the middle of nowhere, jettisoning the ballast of Romance along the way. He has “wrecked” his own Treasure Island in order to explore the interactions of temperament and sensibility and to question the moral ramifications of human actions, but in doing so has suffered the sense of guilt of one who has killed Jim Hawkins. The result is a tremendous sense of loss, and the ambiguities of how an artist should progress after “wrecking” his own art are implicit in Dodd’s fate: the maritime quest protagonist cannot fully return from whence he came, nor can he make a life upon Midway, that symbol of an absolute remove from his previous existence. Instead Dodd’s fate is to be an eternal wanderer, a maritime traveller surrounded by objets d’art: those traces of European culture which he can never jettison from his own artistic makeup. His is an ambivalent fate, and it is with a certain amount of metafictional candour that Stevenson allows us an evaluation of both Loudon Dodd and The Wrecker’s success: “Well, then,” suggested some one, “did you ever smuggle opium?” “Yes, I did,” said Loudon …. “And perhaps you bought a wreck?” asked another. “Yes, sir,” said Loudon. “How did that pan out?” pursued the questioner. “Well, mine was a peculiar kind of wreck,” replied Loudon. “I don’t know, on the whole, that I can recommend that branch of industry.” 28


Ibid., 12.

ROBINSON IN HEADPHONES: THE DESERT ISLAND AS POP FETISH MICHAEL HINDS This essay explores the myth of the Robinsonade in pop culture and its significance for the identity of the consumer of pop music. The desert island in popular culture is seen here as the perfect marriage of setting and protagonist, and it is linked to the individual “island mentality” of the ideal consumer of pop who participates in the solipsism created by Walkman and iPod, thinking of music as personal possession. The BBC radio programme Desert Island Discs is the main illustration of the ways in which desert island life may turn from an innocent imagining of asocial liberation into a much more reactionary phenomenon. Eight desert island songs among those picked by the show’s guests, from The Magnetic Fields’ “Desert Island” and The Pixies’ “Isla de Encanta” to the album Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys, are analysed here as representative of “self-obsessed Robinsons”.

Cultural Studies sometimes feels like a parlour game entitled “What would Adorno say?”, in which you play the faithful bloodhound by offering up crapulous examples of cultural roadkill to his disapproving analysis (he would have something to say about parlour games for a start). In this guise, I present what might be the lowest of the low, the third manifestation of the Alvin and the Chipmunks franchise, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked (2011), an example of kitsch at its most refined.1 In it, the rodent boy band find themselves marooned on a desert island, a perfect pop marriage of setting and protagonist, and one that is the source of my exploration here. Primarily, the aura of the desert island in cultural representations is one of desirability because there is nothing on it, and that therefore a person (or even an anthropomorphized tree-rat) might discover the true meaning of life by going back-to-basics there. Furthermore, popular music (at least if you follow Adorno’s stringencies) is the art form with absolutely 1

Alvin and the Chipmunks 3: Chipwrecked, film, directed by Mike Mitchell, Fox Pictures, 2011.


Michael Hinds

nothing in it, and the content of the pop sung by the Chipmunks is remarkable for how it entirely dehumanizes the human voice, synthesizing human voices into machine-music even as the pathetic fallacy does its doggedly routine work. A void space is soundtracked with an inhuman din. Me, myself and I: pop’s ideal listener The chipmunks are not the only exemplars of this phenomenon, however; this essay wagers that nothing better demonstrates the thorough marooning of the consumerist self than the inexorable privatization of music, with the hegemony of once-Walkmanistic and now iPod solipsism. This tendency has been evident since hit parades started to be calculated on the sales of records rather than sheet music, but it has become particularly definitive of the experience of music in the twenty-first century, where the concept of “My Music” has come to override the idea of music as belonging to those who perform it, a cultural shift already identified in the 1970s by Jacques Attali’s Noise: “The love of music, a desire increasingly trapped in the consumption of music for listening, cannot find in performance what the phonograph record provides: the possibility of saving, of stockpiling at home, and destroying at pleasure.”2 This is also a product of a poststructuralist moment when the listener is given as much agency as the performer, confirmed in the twenty-first-century trend where bands now perform live with a guarantee that they will play a classic album in proper order on stage, simulating their own recording, and selling tickets on the basis that all surprise will be eliminated. Such a promotion has a double function: it invests in the very notion of the classic, but it also asserts that the recorded experience has a priority over the live, that the discs which the fan stacks in his or her bedroom (or the files on his or her hard drive) are where value really lies, where in fact everything happens. It also suggests that, for all our insistence on live authenticity, we would rather our musicians mimed (or sang like chipmunks), so odious is the thought of deviation from what we know.3 2

Jacques Attali, Noise, trans. Brian Massumi, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985, 84. 3 Theodor W. Adorno, “Commodity Music Analysed”, in Quasi una Fantasia: Essays on Modern Music, trans. Rodney Livingstone, London: Verso, 1998, 37-52, and “On

Robinson in Headphones


This obsession with music as personal possession is further reflected in the music itself, and notably in pop’s fetishization of becoming a castaway. In this context, I want to look at the phenomenon of both the BBC Radio programme Desert Island Discs (as a format that actively reports on the islanding of music by a colonizing self)4 and at pop music that imagines an island life, in order to see how the trope of the desert island turns quickly from an innocent imagining of asocial liberation into a much more radically reactionary phenomenon, ultimately an expression of violence that is at once anti-social and ecstatic. If we adopt Adorno’s analysis that the real terror of popular music is in its refusal of dialectic, the symbiosis of it with the desert island (where nothing happens either) becomes very evident.5 Popular music’s nothingness, however, the apparent voiding of content beyond the buck it is trying to make, nevertheless exists in a context, just as the desert island cannot be reached without an arrival from somewhere else (if a desert island has natives then it is not a desert island). Adorno may have identified the absence of dialectic in pop as its malaise; yet as Perry Meisel shows in The Myth of Popular Culture (2010), that is a misdiagnosis. Even pop songs with no inherent argument participate in one outside of their own confines, just as The Police’s “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” simultaneously proves it is a smart pop song by saying it is a dumb pop song, there is never nothing to say. Meisel tends to argue for pop’s productively energetic argument with pre-existing vernacular traditions, an important reminder of its Dantean vibrancy, something Adorno just would not hear in Chuck Berry. On the other hand, when we get to Alvin and the the Fetish Character in Music and the Regression of Listening”, in The Culture Industry: Selected Essays on Mass Culture, London: Routledge, 1991, 29-60. 4 Desert Island Discs, BBC Radio 4 programme: features/desert-island-discs. 5 “The higher music’s relation to its historical form is dialectical. It catches fire on those forms, melts them down, makes them vanish and returns in vanishing. Popular music, on the other hand, uses the types as empty cans into which the material is pressed without interacting with the forms. Unrelated to the forms, the substance withers and at the same time belies the forms, which no longer serve for compositional organization” (Theodor W. Adorno, Introduction to the Sociology of Music, trans. E.B. Ashton, New York: Seabury Press, 1976, 26, quoted in Perry Meisel, The Myth of Popular Culture: From Dante to Dylan, Oxford: WileyBlackwell, 2010, 50).


Michael Hinds

Chipmunks on their island, not even Meisel could contend that something more sinister is not happening in the name of the popular. Not only music in itself, but the way in which we think about music, or are asked to receive music, has become more and more shipwrecked, monadically unaccountable to anything outside of the self; so the desert island is where the pop-engine is always headed. It does not matter there if “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” is smart or stupid, it only matters because it has an affective relationship with you, as if your own love-hate relationship to things was the only struggle in town. Ching, ching: the sound of the Robinsonade Marx makes it clear in Das Kapital that just as it was capitalism that landed Crusoe on his island, so it is capitalism that has led to the fetishization of desert spaces where the deprived person can really learn the pleasures of plenitude: Since Robinson Crusoe’s experiences are a favourite theme with political economists, let us take a look at him on his island. Moderate though he be, yet some few wants he has to satisfy, and must therefore do a little useful work of various sorts, such as making tools and furniture, taming goats, fishing and hunting. Of his prayers and the like we take no account, since they are a source of pleasure to him, and he looks upon them as so much recreation. In spite of the variety of his work, he knows that his labour, whatever its form, is but the activity of one and the same Robinson, and consequently, that it consists of nothing but different modes of human labour .… having rescued a watch, ledger, and pen and ink from the wreck, [he] commences, like a true-born Briton, to keep a set of books. His stockbook contains a list of the objects of utility that belong to him, of the operations necessary for their production; and lastly, of the labour time that definite quantities of those objects have, on an average, cost him. All the relations between Robinson and the objects that form this wealth of his own creation, are here so simple and clear as to be intelligible without exertion, even to Mr. Sedley Taylor. And yet those relations contain all that is essential to the determination of value.6


Karl Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume I, Book One: “The Process of Production of Capital”, 49: download/pdf/Capital-Volume-I.pdf.

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In this passage, Marx is satirically inveighing against the tendency of both English liberal economists and European romantic thinkers to pretend that a man can indeed be an island, living primarily for himself in a form of pacific isolation. For Marx, the desirability of Robinson’s state was also its ridiculousness, the fantasy of functional solitude that it suggests. Having said that, he does not dismiss the analysis that there is something valuable in the lesson in a decommodified reality that Robinson learns. Nothing can be bought, and nothing is for sale, as long as Robinson is alone on the island. Crusoe is not illusioned by the mystique of commodities, however, only because he is undistracted by the social domain and can pretend he is not a social animal.7 The challenge for Marx – and all of us – is how that sound understanding of things according to real need could be translated into an ideal society; but not even Robinson can remain Robinson. As Marx points out, left long enough to himself, he turns into a bookkeeper and rediscovers the lure of the commodity (a telling indictment of the corrupting influence of writing), a readiness to sell. Capitalism presents a world where you must pay to eat, sleep and defecate: the desert island apparently removes such a tariff on basic functions. In a limited sense, therefore, the desert island is where use triumphs over exchange value, a place where your money is no good – in the same way, however, as the legendary (entirely, I suspect) “comping” of free drinks, meals and bedrooms to high-rolling gamblers in Vegas shows, nothing does not really come from nothing, at least until the House has cleaned you out. The fantasy of freedom (and a free meal) is in fact rooted in the real economy of loans and bills, and Crusoe’s island is only imaginable because no such free zone exists outside of the fantastic real.


Adorno and Horkheimer in The Dialectic of Enlightenment perform a similar analysis, but also indicate the fundamental alienation that is generated between the castaways and the world they have been marooned from: “Both Odysseus and Crusoe … realize totality only in complete alienation from other men, who meet the two protagonists only in an alienated form – as enemies or as points of support, but always as tools, as things” (Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, The Dialectic of Enlightenment, London: Verso Classics, 1997, 61-62).


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Surviving in the twenty-first century Larry David’s “Survivor” episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm provides a typically astute and disgusting analysis of the recklessness that dwells within the myth of the Robinsonade: a blue-eyed veteran of the desert-island reality TV show Survivor (named Colby) is confronted at a dinner party with Solly, a survivor of the Holocaust. Solly the homo sacer is overwhelmed and ultimately banished by the same society that hails the TV survivor. The latter’s mythic return from nothingness on the island screen-stage is unembarrassedly asserted by himself as the greater achievement: Colby: So here we are, in a region of Australia where out of the world’s ten most deadly snakes, nine of them inhabit this region. It was harrowing. You come across a Taipan on the trail and you get bit: dead. Thirty minutes flat. Solly: Let me tell you, that’s a very interesting story. I was in a concentration camp! You never even suffered one minute in your life compared to what I went through! Colby: Look, I’m saying we spent 42 days trying to survive. We had very little rations, no snacks – Solly: Snacks? What are you talking snacks? We didn’t eat, sometimes for a week, for a month! Colby: I couldn’t even work out. They certainly didn’t have a gym. Solly: What? What are you – Colby: I mean, I wore my sneakers out and the next thing you know, I’ve got a pair of flip-flops! Solly: Flip-flops?! Colby: I slept on the ground, on the dirt, ok? 118 degrees during the day, 98 at night with 98% humidity. Solly: 45 degrees below zero! Colby: Did you guys have a bathroom? Solly: A bathroom?! Colby: We didn’t have one. Solly: We had twelve people at a time, would go and shit on each other! Colby: Well, I’m sure you guys had toilet paper. Solly: We had newspaper. Colby: We had mosquitoes. Solly: Mosquitoes. You see this glass eye? Eh? Eh? Colby: Have you even seen the show?

Robinson in Headphones Solly:


Did you ever see our show? It was called the Holocaust! 8

Deprivation is a matter of relativism, evidently: the managed spectacle of Survivor provides a much more useful myth of suffering in our culture of uselessness because it fetishizes the things that are necessary to the enjoyment of life, rather than the endurance of it. So snacks and the gym are what you really miss, rather than humanity (the implication being that there is nothing left of that anyway). David’s Los Angeles has no room for Solly’s real suffering, at least once it becomes socially awkward to contemplate. Colby’s narcissan island is a place envisaged without accountability to anything other than the snacking and pastiming of the self; and that is a reality that Los Angeles can recognize. From the island of shopkeepers Colby’s island is therefore the manifestation of what Margaret Thatcher had dreamed of for Britain when she famously banished the very concept of society in the 1980s. This suggests the fundamental rightness of Marx’s analysis that Anglo-Saxonism has a particular affinity with the desert island fantasy because it also has a particular affinity with banal capitalism. If Britain is a nation of shopkeepers, however, it is also one that dreams of shipwreck and abandon. Only Britain could have come up with a radio programme like Desert Island Discs, therefore, and the format has remained unique to the island that dreamed it into being (others may have personal top tens, but nowhere else are they dressed as Robinsonades). Music (or our musical taste) tends to be represented as definitive of our identities, an external proof of who we really are, whatever our immediate circumstances. According to this logic, whether waiting on a bus or on death-row, your favourite songs will reliably play at some level of your consciousness. Desert Island Discs promotes this ruthless logic with a further twist, demanding that its guests indicate some hierarchy of preference. There is an obvious difficulty with this, in that picking your favourite song is an impossible task for all but the supernaturally self-disciplined – whatever the choice, its inadequacy will surely haunt the selector for ever. An even greater problem lies in the 8

Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm, season 4, episode 9, HBO, screened 7 March 2004.


Michael Hinds

programme’s assumption that the music which we retain in consciousness must always have meaning (or a supporting narrative) and, even more so, that it must have merit. Musical memory is less selective than we might care to admit; however, our ears are not snobbish and will happily programme a McJingle as readily as they will the opening bars of Beethoven’s Große Fuge. Naturally I am missing the point: Desert Island Discs is a narrative show, not really a musical map of the soul, yet this is the very point at which we might productively intervene to perceive how the narrative trope of the desert island as socio-economic refuge finds a ready echo in how music is narrativized as a place apart from conventional discourse. However, this very perception is what allows for the extreme intensification of socio-economic significance that we might discover there, even in these apparent isolation zones. The very paradox of pop music as something characteristically enjoyed in either the isolation of headphones or the confines of the car proves the point – that pop music makes everyone into an isolator, a little mad Ahab. Desert Island Discs is also a pseudo-elaborate system of manners, in which the guests often adhere to a certain tact and decorum, something that manifests itself particularly clearly in the use of a spectrum of musical styles to indicate one’s roundedness. So, the rounded DJ John Peel selected six pieces of “Peel” music, the postpunk, punk, reggae and world music artists he had championed on his show, but also selected two pieces of classical music, not on purely musical grounds, but rather because of their association with specific occurrences in his affective life-text (the Rachmaninoff 2nd Piano Concerto was on the radio when his first child was born).9 Such selffashionings are what passes for normality in Desert Island Discs, effectively when castaways display time-honoured anxieties about class, and this is manifest primarily through upwardly and downwardly mobile selections, indicating how thoroughly the language of high and low culture is imbricated in the class system. Peel was from a very comfortable middle-class background, but his entire cultural persona was based on a familiar assumption of a 9 George Frederic Handel, Zadok the Priest; Roy Orbison, “It’s Over”; Jimmy Reed, “Too Much”; Misty in Roots, “Man Kind”; The Undertones, “Teenage Kicks”; Sergei Vasilievich Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor; The Fall, “Eat Y’self Fitter”; The Four Brothers, “Pasi Pano Pane Zviedzo”.

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sensitive blokeishness that came from his romanticized image of working-class life. Such a bloke could only access classical music through blokeish means, such as the experience of fatherhood by way of Rachmaninoff. On the other hand, Lady Mosley, the widow of the leader of the Blackshirts, proved her street credibility by adding Procul Harum’s “A Whiter Shade of Pale” to seven pieces of classical music. Despite their evident differences, there is nevertheless a conformity at work here, one adhering to the notion of the sane hybrid, the proving of a certain normality (the classical music chosen tends to be Beethoven, Bizet and Wagner, rather than Cage or Boulez). A famous exception to this was when Elizabeth Schwarzkopf elected seven recordings of her own;10 the other piece, the Prelude to Richard Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, was in fact an orchestral sequence that ushers in an aria by the character that Schwarzkopf commandeered, Die Marschallin. Schwarzkopf’s thorough narcissism is a perfect statement of social unaccountability, the fixated self-mappings of a perfectly isolated self, offending against the tact which conventionally upholds the programme, but it is at least certain that her series of choices is not cynical or opportunistic. The sense lingers (and has been allowed to linger) that Schwarzkopf did not get the point of the show; that in her mad, Nietzschean responsibility to her own genius she offended against decency. It is doubtful, however, that her rudeness is any more terrifying than the designs of General Norman Schwarzkopf, whose selections barely concealed his then-presidential ambitions in November 1992, despite their attempted normality of blend: Bob Dylan, “The Times They Are A Changin”; Giacomo Puccini, “Nessun dorma!”; Claude-Michel Schönberg, “I Dreamed A Dream” (from Les Misérables); “Battle Hymn of The Republic”; Peter O’Toole, “The Impossible Dream”; Johannes Brahms, Symphony No. 2 Academic Festival Overture; Billy Joel, “The Piano Man”; Aaron Copland, “Lincoln Portrait”. 10

Johannes Brahms, “Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit” (from German Requiem); Johann Strauss II, “Vienna Blood Waltz”; Richard Wagner, “Selig wie die Sonne” (from Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg); Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, An Chloe (K. 524); Hugo Wolf, “Elfenlied” (from Mörike Lieder); Giuseppe Verdi, “Tutto nel mondo è burla” (from Falstaff); Engelbert Humperdinck, Hansel and Gretel; Richard Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier.


Michael Hinds

The general’s eye is still clearly on the presentation of his isolate self in a socio-political space, and nearly every selection appears to have a transparently political explanation. The only bum note might be Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”, but even that might just be a bit of contrived common-mannerism, as with “Dave” Cameron’s downwith-the-students selections of Radiohead and Morrissey. Nobody does “normality” on Desert Island Discs quite like a politician. In fact, so many of them appear on the programme that it might be more aptly designated as a form of political broadcasting. The pleasure business: Crusoe’s playlist Not the format of this programme, nor the individual pieces selected, can ever be read as innocent; and therefore nothing in it is ever undialectical. In refuting Adorno, however, we also need him more than ever. Once we have cast off his outright dismissal of pop, we can begin to identify the very tensions within it that Adorno found so precisely elsewhere. So, in the style of “Minima Moralia”, here are minute analyses of eight Desert Island Discs, chosen by a selfobsessed Robinson, which offer us a narrowing gaze into the repressive perversity of pop isolation: 8. Tiffany, “I Think We’re Alone Now”11 Just as the mall queen of 1987 barbarically yawped, nothing feeds fantasies of isolation quite like popular music, with its drive towards self-satisfaction. Being alone, whether as a trysting couple or a teenage sulk, is an erotic achievement in itself, the only experience worth having. 7. “By the Sleepy Lagoon”12 Comparably, the commonplace fantasy is to perceive of the desert island not as a desert space at all, but rather a mildly decadent site of (often orientalist) otherness. The exemplar of this is “By the Sleepy Lagoon” (Eric Coates, 1930), the theme music to Desert Island Discs, a lushly orchestrated journey to Schmaltz Island. The lush is the very 11

Tiffany, “I Think We’re Alone Now”, written by Ritchie Cordell, Tiffany, MCA, 1987. 12 Eric Coates, “By the Sleepy Lagoon”, music composed in 1930, lyrics by Jack Lawrence, 1940.

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sound of the bourgeois fantasy of the Robinsonade, dragging us to an imagined domain of soporific luxury, where it is always lotus-eating time. If one is alone here, it is in a state of hyper-idleness, popping grapes in the shade; yet just as Latin opposes the terms otium (leisure/pleasure) and negotium (business), indolence is never imaginable in isolation, and your pleasure is always somebody else’s work. If someone is popping grapes, then there is a servant bearing a plate of them; what the Desert Island Discs fantasy really offers is mastery, not independence, a place where invisible (but real, all the same) slaves bend to your will and velvety terror. The beauty, however, of Desert Island Discs – and the horror – is that few of its guests can maintain the illusion of languor. What they stress is the work they have put into their choice, the sheer effort of choosing “Hey Jude” over “Yesterday”: the one thing that unifies all of these people is the impossibility of leisure, rather someone or something is always demanding somebody’s labour. 6. Tight Fit, “Fantasy Island”13 “Nothing survives in [today’s mass music] more steadfastly than the illusion, nothing is more illusory than its reality”:14 Adorno’s diagnosis brings us to the pop confection, “Fantasy Island,” which strings together words like dream and fantasy in a banal soup that nearly becomes abstract, so neutral and sexless is its pastellized vision. Originally conceived as a Dutch Eurovision entry in 1981 (it failed to secure enough votes in the national plebiscite), the song was re-recorded in 1982 by Tight Fit, a group that had originally consisted of session musicians who were then replaced by three models, one man and two women, with the aim of introducing some much-needed sexual tension to performances. What is ultimately so remarkable about something so utterly disposable is its sheer earnestness both of conception and performance, the precision of its marketing and the ruthlessness of its execution. The fantasy of power is what is realized most vividly, the Hitchcockian dream of creating an art where everybody feels the same emotion at the same time, all at the press of a button. 13

Tight Fit, “Fantasy Island”, written by Martin Duiser and Pete Souer, Jive Records, 1982. 14 Adorno, “On the Fetish Character in Music”, 57.


Michael Hinds

5. The Magnetic Fields, “Desert Island”15 Is irony the real refuge from this, to signify that you know that the island myth is vapid, a dream you are being literally and subliminally sold? Is it any better to sing of such islands ironically, as The Magnetic Fields do, or does it just add to the sense of self-enclosure? Or is writing, its effortful cleverness and courage, in fact a big part of the problem? As we saw with Marx’ Robinson, picking up the pen means re-inscribing yourself back into the world of exchange and volatility, whether you are witty or not.16 This island is the familiar place of luxury and erotic possibility, but it is also clearly a collection of clichés about the body beautiful, a place where images are drawn directly from advertising hoardings. The dream of a better place that the song sustains is one of building an economy out of waste, turning “sand into silicon”. There is no real way to write yourself out of cliché, you can only capitalize upon it. 4. The Pixies, “Isla de Encanta”17 The Anglo-Saxon dream of the desert island as a great place to be alone so you can begin to make money has a counterpart, the equally vivid fiction of the Rebel Island where, instead, a cashless community might be discovered. You could say, turning all sorts of blind eyes to bitter truths, that the name of this place in reality is Cuba, but it might be more apt to describe it the state of un-Anglo-Saxony: The Pixies sing of this in a pidgin Spanish that is singular mostly for not being English. The revolutionary impulse of the song, therefore, is to take refuge in an interim state of language that is neither the writer Black Francis’ own, nor is it really Spanish; and yet, as the song’s incorporation into Visa’s advertising campaigns for the 2010 World Cup shows, there is no escaping Capital forever. Money does not care what language you use: so when Yeats envisions his Isle of Innisfree (“Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honeybee”) is he imagining the beginnings of a self-sufficient Utopia or the foundations of a cottage industry? Attali reminds us that the self-styled open range of song is in fact always up for sale: “Music, an immaterial pleasure 15 The Magnetic Fields, “Desert Island”, written by Stephin Merritt, Holiday: Feel Good All Over, 1994. 16 A line of discussion which is perpetuated in Derrida’s The Beast and the Unicorn. 17 The Pixies, “Isla de Encanta”, Come on Pilgrim, 4AD, 1987.

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turned commodity, now heralds a society of the sign, of the immaterial up for sale, of the social relations unified in money.” 18 3. The Police, “Message in a Bottle”19 Islands drive you mad. This message is either the ravings of a lunatic, singing in a demented fake patois, from a place of indeterminacy where it is unclear whether we are dealing with a literal Robinson, exotically displaced, or a thoroughly alienated little Englander marooned in his bedsit. The distinction collapses, in effect, into a distress signal (as is the song’s very self-consciously parasitic genre of white reggae) that speaks from (and to) anywhere. This song ends on a vision of one castaway discovering the existence not of community but of more castaways: the dubious consolation of finding out that everyone is solitarily confined brings us back to Adorno’s vision of culture as the vast open-air prison in which we all wander and graze.20 2. Joy Division, “Isolation”21 Ian Curtis finally brings us to his Isle of the Ecstatic, where the nomad finally becomes a monad, bent on orgasmic suicide and a martyr’s afterlife of dedicatory tee shirts and tribute bands. This is Attali’s domestic stockpiler, the tyrant of the bedroom, dancing with his own reflection, and “destroying at pleasure”; the discofied death-drive has never sounded quite so delicious or joyous, expressive of a sociopathic heroism that finds its obvious political expression in fascism (how Joy Division became New Order). Number One with a Bullet: The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds22 Attali has identified very well the volatility of the musician, their capacity for disingenuousness, avoiding taxes while preaching about


Attali, Noise, 4. The Police, “Message in a Bottle”, Reggatta de Blanc, A&M, 1979. 20 The comparative fate of “Message in a Bottle” in the charts is interesting, number one (for several weeks) in the UK, Ireland, Spain and Canada, it flopped in the United States (peaking at 74), suggesting that it was not a song quite ready for globalized digestion, and that its strangeness remained resilient in a culturally-specific way. 21 Joy Division, “Isolation”, Closer, Factory, 1980. 22 The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds, Capitol, 1966. The Beach Boys, The Pet Sounds Sessions, Capitol, 1997, 4-CD box set. 19


Michael Hinds

wealth-sharing, and how a protest song can become an establishmentanthem: The musician, like music, is ambiguous. He plays a double game. He is simultaneously musicus and cantor, reproducer and prophet. If an outcast, he sees society in a political light. If accepted, he is its historian, the reflection of its deepest values. He speaks of society and he speaks against it.23

So, in this way, even as the desert island listener or performer is a form of fugitive, craving isolation, they are also not really leaving the world behind but suborning it, bending it to their will. In Dana Spivotta’s novel Eat the Document, Jason, the son of a woman living in fear that her anti-social activities as a radical in the 1960s will be discovered forty years later, acts out his version of alienation through a self-knowingly over-intense relationship with the music of The Beach Boys.24 Their “In My Room” alone might be proclaimed as the bedroomed isolator’s anthem of choice, but Jason fixates on an entire album, Pet Sounds, and our exploration ends with it, not least because it fosters so excessively the intensive solipsism that lies at the heart of pop: I am a person, I think, who feels comfortable in my isolation …. I am at home only in my own personal loneliness. The thing of it is I don’t necessarily feel connected to Brian Wilson or any of The Beach Boys. But I do, I guess, feel connected to all the other people, alone in a room somewhere, who listen to Pet Sounds on their headphones and who feel the way I feel. I just don’t really want to talk to them or hang out with them. But maybe it is enough to know they exist. We identify ourselves by what moves us.25

Jason, like his mother, is therefore part of an underground movement, and for all of his harmlessness and dedication to leisure, there is a latent violence in his apparent indolence, that of a dormant sleeper cell: “He was drowning in the circular mess of relativity, the mindfuck of repeated listening, the loss of perspective that comes with looking 23

Attali, Noise, 12. Dana Spivotta, Eat the Document, London: Picador, 2007. 25 Ibid., 76. 24

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at something too closely.”26 If Pet Sounds is the exemplary desert island album of official Rock Culture, voted the “Best Album of All Time” by MOJO magazine in 1995, it also exemplarily plays Attali’s double game, offering both hedonism and prohibition. For all of its renowned warmth and density of harmony, Pet Sounds ends with the sound of barking dogs, and also presents a crisis of confrontation for its listener, a question about where you stand. Are the dogs in Pet Sounds barking at us, or is it on our behalf? On whose territory do we stand, are we invading or defending, warding off or backing off? Are we on the island, or being thrown off it? The album’s title does not help in resolving this dilemma of position and power. If it is my dog barking, then it is a pet, if it is your dog that is barking, then it is a menace to society. The dogs in question, Banana and Louie, were in fact Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s pets, and in interviews he has spoken of a wish born from simply proprietorial love to record them for posterity in the album’s final mix – a wish that did not anticipate what any listener’s reaction to the barks might have been.27 Wilson wanted the sound incorporated and that was that (famously, he also had a Caligulan request for a horse in the studio denied); one man’s flaky eclecticism imposed with an iron will. Since Pet Sounds’ reissue on CD, and its subsequent anointing by MOJO in the period of manic canon-fashioning surrounding the millennium, it has been read as simultaneously the auteurist triumph of Brian Wilson – “I watched Brian Wilson work as I imagine Orson Welles must have looked when he directed and performed in his early films”28 – and as a thoroughly private document. If the album is readable as the supreme product of Wilson’s inner laboratory, it is also held to be indivorcible from his hazard-prone and pathospunctuated life-text. In this essential reading, Wilson is seen as continuing a process of self-assertion seen in earlier records like “I’m Bummed At My Old Man”. Pet Sounds describes a narrative of melancholic self-realization towards independence, and that growth is represented within a classically oedipal paradigm of son having to 26

Ibid., 75. Charles L. Granata, I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times: Brian Wilson and the Making of Pet Sounds, London: Frontier Press, 2003, 12. 28 Nik Venet, Capitol Records executive, quoted in ibid., 121. 27


Michael Hinds

overcome father: “He was trying to torment his father with songs he couldn’t relate to and melody structures his father couldn’t understand.”29 So, Pet Sounds is an agonistic project in which the conflicted hero-son (and freshman Psychology major at El Camino Community College) prevails over a vicious and controlling father through music; and the frustrated musician and composer (and erstwhile band manager) Murry Wilson gratifyingly fits the bill as an unnatural villain. Among the plural tyrannies attributed to him is that he had once made Brian defecate on a dinner plate (or a newspaper) and demanded that he eat it;30 in this abusive context, Brian Wilson makes a ready Hamlet, a son fat and scant of breath but possessed of an apparently limitless virtuosity that nevertheless cannot redeem him from a debilitating hesitancy. To those who have canonized Pet Sounds, therefore, it records the sorrowings of Young Wilson, a tale of a young boy becoming a man, a reading affirmed by songs on it that Wilson announced as “childhood songs”: the bicycle-belled “You Still Believe in Me” and the instrumental “Let’s Go Away for a While” (originally titled “The Old Man and the Baby”). The family romance therefore pervades the record to the extent of displacing all other relationships. Nearly all of the songs in Pet Sounds address a relationship between a “you” and “I”, but it is impossible to be precise about who they are. Songs that address a lover can equally speak to a father, and in “You Still Believe In Me” the addressees converge entirely. For instance, the opening track, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?”, expresses an apparently straightforward wish for settling down with the girl of his dreams, but that wish is also expressed not just to annoy the old man, but to dispel his spectre entirely by taking his place; but, and this is an album full of such pussyfooting qualifications, the problem with all of this is that it makes Brian too much an icon of humiliated maleness, an emasculated Biff. Brian bites back, and for all its affected melancholy, something strident and aggressive is also stated in “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?”. The opening bars confirm this; the near-decrescendo harp track sounds like an agreeably debauched version of the theme from The Archers, but is punched out cold by a single drum-beat (a light29

Granata, Brian Wilson and the Making of Pet Sounds, 186. Steven Gaines, Heroes and Villains: The True Story of The Beach Boys, New York: New American Library, 1986, 47.


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sounding snare in earlier versions, but souped up by Brian to a thud in the final mix). This is the bang of Dad’s gavel on one level, confirming the song’s and album’s structured denial of all desire by paternalistic veto: a wish is a wish, but the Law’s the Law. This was a view that had already informed the Beach Boys lyrics, pre-Pet Sounds, when fun ended with Daddy taking the T-Bird away, but what is interesting in Pet Sounds is that a fundamental shift is made from identifying with the oppressed to aspiring to become the oppressor.31 Self-realization is discovered by the ability to prohibit, to sanction and admonish; and this is the abiding narrative in the record that culminates in both the final track “Caroline, No” and those barking dogs. Saying “no” at the record’s end was Wilson’s most important compositional decision, and the word’s appearance is by virtue of a peculiarly wilful piece of misprision on his part. Tony Asher, the advertising executive on three-week sabbatical hired by Wilson to produce the raw lyrical material for the record, relates how he had composed a song called “Oh Carol, I Know”, which Wilson determinedly heard otherwise. The abiding negativity, but decisive importance, of the song (to Wilsonistas, his most representatively “melancholic” piece of music, which was originally released as a solo single rather than as a Beach Boys record) is confirmed by Bruce Johnson, the “sixth Beach Boy”: I always felt that “Caroline, No” was the song on which he probably knew … but he didn’t know … that the special door that had been open to him was closing. This song isn’t about a person; the taproot is a lot deeper with “Caroline, No”.32

The reading of Pet Sounds as a harmonious (if melancholic) breakthrough narrative is founded upon an insistence on the album’s sonics rather than anything else. There is a tendency to decontextualize the sound structures of the songs and talk about them as ends in themselves; this in part resolves the problem Tony Asher’s lyric-writing provides for the auteurist reading of the record as Brian’s 31

As Lawrence Grossberg (Dancing in Spite of Myself: Essays on Popular Culture, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997) has indicated, rock music is conventionally seen as opting for a martyr’s fate, tragically accepting whatever crackdown occurs in the name of glorious victimhood. 32 Granata, Brian Wilson and the Making of Pet Sounds, 33.


Michael Hinds

sole property. Admittedly, its lyrics are underwhelming; it is hard to perform a close reading of songs in Pet Sounds, not least because there is nothing behind the surface. Yet, it is intriguing that Asher worked in advertising, as The Beach Boys from the beginning had a thoroughly marketed aspect to them. Their early striped shirts and surfing songs were advertisements for lifestyles as much as anything else (lifestyles that they did not themselves practise; Brian first stood on a surfboard in his thirties), and the habit of using high-concept aspirational lyrics was in place before Asher. Beach Boys music has always had something of the hard sell about it; somebody somewhere is always saying “wouldn’t it be nice”, and you can bank on it. Their obvious commodity-status also means that there is something embarrassing about The Beach Boys, so much so that advocates of Wilson’s genius always insist upon his separation from the rest of the group. There is Brian Wilson, but there is also a group of anachronisms-for-hire called The Beach Boys that everyone laughs at, whether they are performing at Krusty the Klown’s belated Barmitzvah or at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.33 However, such anachronism is not only profitable, it is also entirely consistent with Brian’s self-perception in Pet Sounds: “I Guess I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times”, as the song goes. This sense of unbelonging is vital to the album’s popularity amongst a coalition of the variously powerful; political conservatives (William F. Buckley is famously Beach-Boy literate, which might give credence to Lawrence Grossberg’s assessment of The Beach Boys as producing good music with questionable political effects); self-styledly grown-up rock musicians – like Paul McCartney, for whom Pet Sounds is what you give to your children;34 and music journalists, particularly those who came of age after the 1960s. Pet Sounds is often read contentiously as an album whose decade did not appreciate or know how to appreciate. A dialogue in Eat the Document between Jason and his mother shows how Pet Sounds acts as a micro-battlefield in the culture wars:


The group appeared in the fifteenth episode of the sixth season of The Simpsons, “Today I Am a Clown”, screened 7 December 2003. 34 Granata, Brian Wilson and the Making of Pet Sounds, 123.

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“Honestly, Jason, I think I know who Dennis Wilson is. I grew up during those days. You’re the one who shouldn’t know who Dennis Wilson is,” she said, now annoyed. Gage laughed. “I didn’t realize you followed popular music,” I said. “How much do you have to follow to know the Beach Boys?” she said. “It’s not like the Beach Boys are obscure. I mean Nancy Reagan liked the Beach Boys. I think that disqualifies them from ‘cult’ status.” …. I began calmly, patiently: “The Beach Boys’ extreme commercial popularity is precisely one of the reasons they are cult figures …. But I don’t expect you to understand my appreciation for the Beach Boys.” My mother nodded, smiling. She paused for a moment as if she were about to speak, but I had not finished. “Dennis Wilson is the double whammy, because even though he is well known as the only good-looking Beach Boy, as a musician he is an obscure member of this very famous band –” “I met Dennis Wilson once,” she said softly. “– and his solo records are therefore truly cult –” She smiled at me. I stopped for a second. She sucked daintily on her pipe. “What?” “I said I met Dennis Wilson once,” she said.35

The classic status of any text lies in its metonymic durability, its capacity for becoming whatever its beholder wants it to signify: even as Pet Sounds could be used to exemplify the radical experimentalism of the 1960s, Wilson’s statements of disconnection from the undeserving Zeitgeist have meant that Pet Sounds has become a key text for those who wish the 1960s never happened, those not made for the times. Kingsley Abbott’s book Pet Sounds: The Greatest Album of the Twentieth Century performs just such an oppositional writing in which Brian Wilson is shown to be countering the prevailing 1960s culture of protest and public accountability, instead dedicating himself to the personal: … his hugely demanding career ... had kept him isolated from current affairs .... While others ... were writing material that addressed the world around them, Brian was seeking to address adolescent and


Spivotta, Eat the Document, 85.


Michael Hinds young adult relationship issues .... Such empathy was rare in the pop of the time.36

A proto-Doctor Phil then, but there is also a Christological aspect given to such estimations of Wilson, that his emotional struggles are representative of everyone’s, something he also invited (albeit with characteristically fuzzy hesitancy) with his statements that he wanted the album to create “a kind of spiritual feeling”; and again, this feeling is held to be communicated in the album’s soundworld rather than anything else. The album was also therefore genuinely prophetic in anticipating the feelgood pseudo-Buddhism of the early twenty-first century. Pet Sounds, Wilson said retrospectively, was “a production concept album”, a phrase which casts him unnervingly as an engineer of human souls. Declaring the album to be pure sound, it does in a sense become an elaborate and profound experience, even if thoroughly inarticulate, a lot like sleep. The music does feature fascinating tink-a-tunking, deep, muffled, violent sounds and contrasts that sound as if recorded underwater, offering pure jouissance and pure meaninglessness at times, becoming inscrutable, sullen but enthralling music. The reconstruction of Pet Sounds as ambient music implies that it is deep, principally because it does not make you want to talk. Words do not matter in Pet Sounds, the lyrics themselves propose silence: “Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder).” Quiescence is all, and Pet Sounds demands it in the middle of the noisiest domestic decade in the US. As Grossberg has asserted, “The Beach Boys appear to have had no social impact whatsoever”;37 but it is hard to calculate such matters, and with “Student Demonstration Time” in 1971, they attempted to engage directly with America’s chaos, however carefully (the song counsels its listener to stay away from riots, not to start them). Pet Sounds’ insulation is not complete therefore, and it bears the imprint of pressure from outside, alluding to warfare beyond that of father and son. Domesticity is fetishized from “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” onwards, but in “I Guess I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times” it is done from exile. This happens even more 36

Kingsley Abbott, Pet Sounds: The Greatest Album of the Twentieth Century, London: Helter Skelter, 2001, 32-34. 37 Grossberg, Dancing in Spite of Myself, 48.

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pointedly in “Sloop John B”, the only cover version on the record and another threat to the validity of the auteurist reading (the song was included at the urging of Al Jardine, the “quiet Beach Boy”). Most Pet Sounds literature attempts to wish that the song did not exist, it is presented as an unhappy and aberrant interloper in an otherwise insulated Wilsonworld: “[it] interrupts the program’s pleasurable flow and destroys the notion of Pet Sounds as a bonafide concept album.”38 Yet a song about being stuck far away from home, under the command of one arbitrarily drunk or maniacal officer or another, almost over-announces itself as an analogy for the American experience in South-East Asia, a reading given greater credence with the choice of olive drab for the front cover background and the orientalist photographs for the back sleeve featuring the group (without the non-touring Brian) in full Samurai dress in Japan. That critics such as Abbott or Granata stress how unwelcome “Sloop John B” is within Pet Sounds only further emulates the hostility to those who did “come home”, disenchanted and exhausted. The exhaustion expressed in “Sloop John B” is not exceptional, but everywhere in Pet Sounds: it is a weary record, creaking with an aged domesticity. Too much for Capitol Records’ taste; they refused to permit “Caroline, No” in its original form, and insisted that Wilson’s vocal be speeded up to make him sound younger, alarmed by his calculatedly arrested delivery of the lyric. This brings us back to the wish of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?”, not just Brian Wilson’s wish but also that of his coalition of admirers. The wish of Pet Sounds is obscene, it is not only to kill Dad, but to become him and discover his power to forbid, allow and forbid again. To no longer love the girl, but to tell her where her place is, just as “Caroline, No” laments a girl lost to the scene and its voguish ways (signified by her new haircut). In Pet Sounds, the pleasures of issuing admonition are superior to those of a straightforward hedonism. This is operative even when Pet Sounds is apparently serving a conventionally liberal agenda; as when in a week-long Doonesbury strip in 1990, the death of an AIDS-infected young man named Andy was described. Andy, who has lived long enough to hear Pet Sounds released on CD, has his last rites presided over by the spectre of Brian Wilson, his last breath taken to the strains 38

Granata, Brian Wilson and the Making of Pet Sounds, 98.


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of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?”, his last scribbled words are: “Brian Wilson is God.” Plenty of devotees would agree, but what kind of God? Wilson provides the coup-de-grâce to Andy; graceful it may be, but a coup it remains (and it recalls that the drumbeat at the beginning of “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” has an assassinatory tone of dispatch). Wilson achieves power over life and death, even as the answer to “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” remains “Caroline, No”. There is no rebellion in Pet Sounds, it is in fact full of lush compromises and accommodations, and one listener’s ambience is another’s muzak; but it also has its ferocity, its attachment to its own righteousness and arbitrary assumption of power. Which brings us to a final realization: having discovered the absolute and obscene pleasure of paternal power, a power he coveted from the start, then why should Old Man Wilson, our renewed and inevitable Crusoe, call off his dogs? On the desert island of pop, despite its dream of luxury and peace, we are alone with more than our perfection; the very illusion of its isolation is what allows us to see the world in all its rage, the real that the fantasy does not conceal but ushers in. This dialectic understanding, the very Adornan understanding that Adorno himself could never discover in pop, potentially revolutionizes not just our apprehension of the kitsch fantasy of the desert island, but might also alert us to the potential for tyrannous harmony in our classics. On Prospero’s island, when Caliban is tranquilized by Ariel’s euphony, what is the pixie playing, Brahms or Barney? Music or muzak?


ADVENTURES IN FORM: THE HEBRIDES AND THE ROMANTIC IMAGINARY HEATHER H. YEUNG In the literature, art and music of the Romantic Period that is representative of or associated with the Hebrides we can see the idea of the island in general, and of the Hebrides in particular, change in imagination and representation. How, indeed, is it possible to find a form appropriate to communicate one’s experience of these islands, or of islands in general, in all their shifting multiplicity? This essay maps the changes in the conception and representation or articulation of the Hebrides in the arts in this period, moving from Scott through Keats, Byron, and the Wordsworths, to Mendelssohn and Turner as the exposed, contested and liminal space of the island becomes, as the period evolves, a site less for ekphrastic pedantry than for formal license and artistic innovation.

In 1807 Byron was to write to Elizabeth Pigot of a projected trip to Scotland’s Highlands and Islands: On Sunday next I set off for the Highlands … we shall purchase shelties, to enable us to view places inaccessible to vehicular conveyances. On the coast we shall hire a vessel, and visit the most remarkable of the Hebrides; and, if we have time and favourable weather, mean to sail as far as Iceland, only 300 miles from the northern extremity of Caledonia, to peep at Hecla. This last intention you will keep a secret, as my nice mamma would imagine I was on a Voyage of Discovery, and raise the accustomed maternal warwhoop.1

This projected adventure was to occasionally obsess the poet from the year 1805 (when he first wrote of the idea to his half-sister Augusta) onwards, but it was doomed to become no more than a joke between his friends and family. However, Byron’s letter to Elizabeth Pigot displays all the spirit of adventure, excitement and intrepidity 1 George Gordon Byron, The Works of Lord Byron: Letters and Journals, ed. Rowland E. Prothero, n.p.: Aeterna Publishing, 2011, I, 143.


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that surrounded travel to the Hebrides in the early 1800s, enhancing the links between the Hebrides and the artistic imagination, maritime travel and the literary. Links with the artistic imagination had blossomed out of the publication of James MacPherson’s “Ossian” poetry in the mid-1700s,2 and links between maritime travel and the literary from what Margaret Cohen calls the “maritime modernity” of the sixteenth century onwards, which was to reach its zenith in adventure fictions from Scott to Stevenson. Cohen writes that “as global ocean travel grew up together with the printing press, armchair sailors combed sea voyage literature, factual and fictional, for strange, surprising adventures as well as for information about world-altering developments and events”.3 The literatures that emerged from this trend demonstrated an uncanny mixture of Cartesian rationality and an expression of “the senses, intuitions, experience, feelings, and the body” of those writers who “thrive at the dynamic edges”.4 The island may be seen as the epitome of the “dynamic edge”, being even etymologically, as Gillian Beer points out, composed of two elements – isle, meaning watery, or watered, and land – “the idea of water is thus intrinsic to the word, as essential as that of the earth”.5 The island represents the idea of liminality par excellence. And, indeed, this period of maritime modernity was to see a change in the representation and figuration of the island in western literature and the arts; a change which in many ways ran counter to prevailing artistic trends of the time, and saw the island not only as a scientific, but also as a literary and artistic laboratory for experimentation in ideas and formal innovation. Between the years of 1800 and 1835, the islands of the Inner Hebrides (in particular Mull, Staffa and Iona) bore witness to a flourishing in artists’ adventure and artistic engagement and experimentation. The impression of the island phenomena, rather than 2

The year 1760 saw the start of publications of poetry associated with “Ossian” by James MacPherson, and a vogue for Ossianism swept European culture, affecting people from the United Kingdom to Russia, Sir Walter Scott, Goethe and Napoleon among them; this was a trend set to resonate, in spite of criticisms and dismissals, until the mid-nineteenth century. 3 Margaret Cohen, “Literary Studies on the Terraqueous Globe”, PMLA, CXXV/3 (May 2010), 657. 4 Ibid., 660. 5 Gillian Beer, “The Island and the Aeroplane: the case of Virginia Woolf”, in Nation and Narration, ed. Homi Bhabha, London: Routledge, 1990, 271.

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their rationalized description and contextualization, bears the most effective artistic fruit. Cartesian rationality was to be replaced almost entirely by an expression of the senses, an acute awareness of perceptual effects. However, and as we will see, impression rather than description, although most effective, is rarely used in the earlier years of Hebridean travel: Keats, Wordsworth, and even Scott himself, all of whom admit to having been greatly moved by their experiences on these islands, fail to provide a coherent overall impression in their related artwork. Up until the beginning of the nineteenth century, journeying even within the British Isles to the Hebrides was a daunting undertaking, a route not often travelled except by members of the merchant navy, fishermen, and lighthouse keepers, or, as Byron’s own project highlights, by private voyagers. The art inspired by the Hebrides in this period may thus justifiably be considered an art of “the dynamic edges”.6 Indeed, although Johnson and Boswell had in 1773 successfully charted the inclement seas and weather of the West coast, years later barriers such as language remained – John Keats, on arrival on the West coast of Scotland in 1818, wrote that he was “for the first time in a country where a foreign language is spoken”.7 In spite of potential obstacles, including the famously changeable and difficult weather, tourists did go to the Hebrides, lured by a combination of the prevailing vogue for Ossianism and the picturesque, to which the (re)discovery, renaming and cultural recasting of Staffa’s an uamh binn as “Fingal’s Cave” by Sir Joseph Banks in 1772, Johnson and Boswell’s tour of the islands a year later, and the documents of numerous scientific and geological expeditions all contributed. Travel guides printed excerpts from literary and scientific descriptions of the islands alongside etchings of points of interest: geographical, scientific, and literary exploration went hand in hand. By the 1790s, “sublime” or “picaresque” tourism to Scotland was well established, its topographical reach expanding fast. Within the following thirty years, advances in engineering and technology allowed tourists to walk in the footsteps and sail in the wake of the intrepid travellers of previous years. 6

Cohen, “Literary Studies on the Terraqueous Globe”, 660. Quoted in Derek Cooper, Road to the Isles: Travellers in the Hebrides 1770-1904, London: Routledge, 1979, 2.



Heather H. Yeung

As Byron failed on his attempted voyage of discovery, it is Sir Walter Scott that we see, in 1810, and then again in 1813, make perhaps the first overtly artistically orientated Hebridean voyage. Scott’s Lord of the Isles was first published in 1815, and riding on the wave of Ossianism, the epic poem became incorporated into travel guides. For those with an introduction (Mendelssohn, Turner, and Coleridge amongst them) Abbotsford, Scott’s home in Melrose, became a necessary calling point before a Hebridean tour could begin. By 1825 a regular steamboat service took visitors around the sights of some of the nearer Hebrides. A framework for understanding the islands was thus established alongside a distinctly literary tourist route: Abbotsford, followed by Staffa and Fingal’s cave, and, weather permitting, the ruins of St Columba’s Iona. Perhaps the most impressive thing about Scott’s Lord of the Isles is not the poem itself, which was published to a lukewarm critical reception, but the extensive notes that Scott provides contextualizing the landscapes, the characters, and the chosen tales and allusions which pepper his story. While Bruce and Ronald sail around the Inner Hebrides in a meticulously rhymed and described passage in the poetry, Scott’s accompanying note pays equally meticulous attention to the fact that Staffa and Fingal’s caves resist description, yet have “so often” been described: It would be unpardonable to detain the reader upon a wonder so often described, and yet so incapable of being understood by description. This palace of Neptune is even grander upon a second than the first view. – The stupendous columns which form the sides of the cave – the depth and strength of the tide which rolls its deep and heavy swell up to the extremity of the vault – the variety of tints formed by white, crimson, and yellow stalactites, or petrifications, which occupy the vacancies between the base of the broken pillars that form the roof, and intersect them with a rich, curious, and variegated chasing, occupying each interstice – the corresponding variety below water, where the ocean rolls over a dark-red or violet-coloured rock, from which, as from a base, the basaltic columns arise – the tremendous noise of the swelling tide, mingling with the deep-toned echoes of the vault, – are circumstances elsewhere unparalleled. Nothing can be more interesting than the varied appearance of the little archipelago of islets, of which Staffa is the most remarkable. This group, called in Gaelic Tresharnish, affords a thousand varied

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views to the voyager, as they appear in different positions with reference to his course. The variety of their shape contributes much to the beauty of these effects.8

Contrast this with the form and content of the note’s accompanying verse: Merrily, merrily goes the bark On a breeze from the northward free, So shoots through the morning sky the lark, Or the swan through the summer sea. The shores of Mull on the eastward lay, And Ulva dark and Colonsay, And all that group of islets gay That guard famed Staffa round. Then all unknown its columns rose, Where dark and undisturb’d repose The cormorant had found, And the shy seal had quiet home, And welter’d in that wondrous dome, Where, as to shame the temples deck’d By skill of earthly architect, Nature herself, it seem’d, would raise A Minster to her Maker’s praise!9

The landscape here serves to contextualize the activities of the sailors and to propel the narrative forward, also adding a sense of authenticity to the narrative through the meticulous description and celebration of Staffa. Unlike the neat rhyme and predictable iambics of the poetry at this point, the accompanying note sees Scott’s prose uncharacteristically punctuated with a plethora of hyphens and commas, which mark the pauses in and indicate the numerous subclauses of this prose description which, in its hesitant hyperbole, implies that Scott is almost at a loss for a suitable form of expression here. How indeed is it possible to find a form appropriate to the experience of this island, or of islands in general, in all their shifting multiplicity? The “beauty of effects” that the experience of these 8

Sir Walter Scott, The Poetical Works of Sir Walter Scott, ed. J. Logie Robertson, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1904, 499-500. 9 Ibid., 442.


Heather H. Yeung

Hebrides produce in the viewer seem to catalyse in Scott a lapse in invention, as the writer, in spite of being the only artist to have braved the Hebridean experience twice describes the sites of these “varied effects”, rather than portraying the effects themselves. Keats, visiting the Inner Hebrides in 1818, before the days of the steamboat, was unable to find in poetry a form suitable for the articulation of his experience. Like many visitors before him, Keats wrote mainly of Fingal’s Cave, positing upon it supernatural agency. However, for Keats, the Ossianic influence was weak to non-existent, and it is in this way that he breaks from the traditional framework for the Hebridean experience. The Titans, rather than God or any Celtic deity, are responsible for the manufacture of Staffa in the imagination. Keats writes: … suppose now the Giants who rebelled against Jove had taken a whole Mass of black columns and bound them together like bundles of matches – and then with immense Axes had made a cavern in the body of these columns … such is Fingal’s Cave except that the Sea has done the work of excavation.10

Equally, his doggerel poem “Not Aladdin Magian” posits upon the cave a further literary framework, not the ghost of Ossian or Scott, but Milton’s “Lycidas”. After his tour of Scotland, Keats attempted to revise certain sections of the poem so as to fit it better to his Hebridean experience, but to little avail. However, the tour was conceived at the very beginning of his poetic career as a quest for poetically liberating inspiration. And indeed, following the tour, Keats arguably was at his most prolific. Like Byron’s projected island adventure, or Mendelssohn’s Grand Tour, Keats’s trip to the Highlands and Hebrides was a means to fresh experience rather than an affirmation of the aesthetic value of any guidebook determined artistic site. Wordsworth was also deeply moved by his travel to the islands, but was simultaneously disgusted by the amount of picturesque tourism that they, and in particular Staffa, generated. Thus fiction and tourism provided a ready-made framework for the articulation of 10 John Keats, Selected Letters, eds Robert Gittings and Jon Mee, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002, 133-34.

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experience. In the majority of his “Poems Composed or Suggested During a Tour of Scotland in 1833” Wordsworth keeps to this already established framework. The speaker of the poems is more or less Wordsworth himself, and, in the Hebrides section, the poems describe Wordsworth’s experience there. Fingal’s cave is not only haunted by the ghost of Ossian but created by “the almighty hand / That made the worlds, the sovereign Architect”;11 Iona is represented as a fallen “Glory of the west”, and literary and allegorical characters flit in and out of the verse quite perversely in order to illustrate or emphasize the true, God-given, natural glory of the places described therein. In spite of this, breaking free from the “motley crowd” of tourists, the speaker of his first “Staffa” sonnet seeks to “feel” rather than “see” the “far famed sight” of Staffa and Fingal’s Cave, and the poem “Written in a Blank Leaf of MacPherson’s Ossian” cries out: Let Truth, stern arbitress of all, Interpret that Original, And for presumptuous wrongs atone: – Authentic words be given, or none!12

Each “Staffa” sonnet (there are three) provides a different perspective of the Hebridean experience; Wordsworth moves in the same direction as Scott – towards the articulation of feeling and senseimpression. However, it is only in the final lines of “Homeward” that Wordsworth comes close to articulating a sense of islandness: For many a voyage made in her swift bark, When with more hues than in the rainbow dwell Thou a mysterious intercourse dost hold, Extracting from clear skies and air serene, And out of sun-bright waves, a lucid veil, That thickens, spreads, and, mingling fold with fold, Makes known, when thou no longer canst be seen, Thy whereabout, to warn the approaching sail. 13

11 William Wordsworth, The Collected Poems of William Wordsworth, Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 1994, 473. 12 Ibid., 472. 13 Ibid., 475.


Heather H. Yeung

The imagery is uncluttered by cultural history, tradition, or allegory, creating an impression of the speaker’s surroundings and experience that is much more immediate than anything that has come before in this sequence. There is a sense that the horizons are exponentially expanding and receding as the speaker moves between Scott’s “little archipelago of islands”, shrouded by haar.14 Here, depth perception is confused by the “lucid” yet “mingling” veil, and light, sea, mist, and landmass mingle in visual perception, anticipating Gadamer’s and Husserl’s oceanic horizons of experience. The sense of a fluid mingling in and blurring of perception is emphasized by the abundance of verbal nouns: the objects or coordinates of the speaker’s perception, “waves”, “air”, “veil”, “folds” and “sail”, are perhaps more shifting than they initially seem. As the veil, symbolic of perception, moves past the end of the tenth line, the folds in the veil, representing changeable and multiple perceptual possibilities, mingle and extend over the end of the following line. Next, there is a direct engagement with the idea of visual perception, which is negated but is also the motive by which the penultimate line of the sonnet moves into the next. Finally, the perceived object melts, like the islands, into the light, sea and haar that comprise the archipelago, the sonnet ending, as it began, with the idea of travel and movement. The fact that the sonnet is not neatly tied up visually or aurally (there is no capitulative couplet) expresses the important aspect of the island space: the final rhyming point of reference, “sail”, looks back to the “veil” of perception, situating the perceptual experience within the island space and intimately connected to the medium of travel, producing a sense of Cohen’s “dynamic edge”15, what Beer calls a “shifting liminality”,16 and Gadamer the fact of “not being limited to what is nearby but being able to see beyond it”.17 Apart from Fingal’s Cave and the associated tourism, it seems that it was the travel to and from the islands that had the greatest effect upon their visitors. According to Baldaccino, an island, any island, is 14

“Haar” is a coastal fog formed over the sea and brought to land by winds. It is quite typical along the coast of eastern Scotland. 15 Cohen, “Literary Studies on the Terraqueous Globe”, 660. 16 Gillian Beer, “Island Bounds”, in Islands in History and Representation, ed. Rod Edmond, London: Routledge, 2003, 33. 17 Hans Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, New York: Crossroad, 1989, 302.

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“gripped by negotiating the anxious balance between roots and routes”.18 Baldaccino’s recently established discipline of nissology attests to the sense of islandness as a different experience, meriting a different means of expression and of understanding, from other nonurban spaces. This experience is defined as much by travel to and from the island(s) as it is by life upon them. Foucault equates the boat with the indeterminate nature of island space, again giving travel primacy in our understanding of island-related spatial experience, stating “the boat is a floating piece of space, a place without place, that exists by itself, that is closed in on itself and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea”.19 Indeed, Wordsworth is at his most coherent and least descriptive when back on the steamboat and able to view the Hebrides from a distance as islands, as opposed to places of tourism or artistic effect. Mendelssohn, able to sketch the islands on a calm day moored off Mull, famously suffered from “the most fearful seasickness”20 on the steamboat voyage to Staffa and did not see the cave at all. But it is in his Hebridean work that we can see a different articulation of the idea of the island and islandness. In a letter dated 7 August 1829, Mendelssohn was to include a scrawled piano score of the first eight bars of his Opus 26 overture, Die Hebriden (“The Hebrides”), here entitled “On one of the Hebrides”. Subsequently, there would be very little change brought to these bars. However, after a fit of renaming to rival and reverse to the original name of the cave itself,21 the variant titles of Mendelssohn’s Opus 26 overture become misleading. Through pressure from Breitkopf and Härtel, presumably in order to capitalize upon the Ossianic vogue that was sweeping the Continent, one performance version of the overture was called Die Fingalshöhle (“Fingal’s Cave”), and another, Ossian in Fingals Höhle (“Ossian in 18

Godfrey Baldacchino, “Islands, Island Studies, Island Studies Journal”, Island Studies Journal, I/1 (May 2006), 5. 19 Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces”, trans. Jay Miskowiec, Diacritics, XVI/1, (Spring 1986), 27. 20 Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Die Hebriden, Op. 26, ed. Roger Fiske, London: Eulenberg, 1975, iv. 21 The sea-cave on Staffa had for centuries been known by the Gaelic-speaking communities of the Hebrides as An Uaimh Bhinn (“the melodious cave”), but was renamed “Fingal’s Cave”, after MacPherson’s “Ossian” poems, in 1772, by Sir Joseph Banks.


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Fingal’s Cave”). In the Bodleian manuscript the overture is titled Die einsame Insel (“The Lonely Island”). Afterwards, more alternative titles appear, such as “Overture to the Isles of Fingal” and “Overture to the Lonely Isle”. But in the letters to his family between 1829 and 1833, mention of the overture is always in reference to Die Hebriden. We can safely assume that, although Mendelssohn had read and enjoyed Macpherson’s poems, the overture is a fair representation of his own impressions of the Hebrides as a whole rather than a programmatic piece with particular attention to Fingal’s cave, with attention to both the individuality (“die Hebriden”) and also the exemplarity (“die einsame Insel”) of these islands. Two years after his trip to Scotland and the Hebrides, Mendelssohn was still reworking the overture. Attempting to break from form in order to express experience, he was anxious to rid his score of any contrapuntism. He wrote to his sister: … the Hebrides I can’t release here, because I still do not regard it was finished .... The middle part in D major marked forte is very ridiculous, and the would-be working-out of the movement tastes more of counterpoint than of train, oil, sea gulls, and salted cod – it should be the other way around.22

Scored for a relatively small orchestra, the exposition of the first motive is uncluttered by extra noise – a musical picture similar to Wordsworth’s poetic “clear skies and air serene”. A sense of “shifting liminality”, of distance, and a lack of horizontal restriction are created, as the primary motif in the lower strings is doubled in the bassoons. The primary motif is in itself an interesting construction, being made up of a descending triad, repeated six times over three keys. As the triads shift between pitch levels and the cellos move in contrary motion to the violas and bassoons, Mendelssohn creates a feeling of undulation. By avoiding the introduction of the leading tone early on, Mendelssohn creates a sense of the ancient in the modal character of the harmonies but avoids any early associations with narrative progression. 22

Letter to Fanny Mendelssohn (Paris, 21 January 1832), quoted in R. Larry Todd, “Of Sea-Gulls and Counterpoint: The Early Versions of Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture”, 19th-Century Music, II/3 (March 1979), 197.

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By the point at which the second motif is introduced the phrasing has become decidedly asymmetric, the development episodic rather than reliant on conventional modulation and contrapuntism. By avoiding obvious formal resolutions, Mendelssohn creates an organic sense of movement in Die Hebriden, akin to the weather-reliant seatravel and island experience he gained on The Maid of Islay. Harmonies and phrasal leaps in octaves and fifths go some way toward creating a musical seascape that is at once rich and barren, full of perceptual possibilities without complication of extensive land mass or human population. The two themes meet just before the coda which climaxes in a con fuoco storm of fortissimo semiquavers from the strings, and then subsides, returning to the primary motif. The motif is now in contrary motion in the clarinets and flutes, with the key note of each sequence doubled in the strings and lower wind, creating a similar sense of distance between perceptual coordinates as the string/wind doubling at the opening of the piece. Finally, the overture fades to a general pause, the final sound of string pizzicati in octaves signalling a return to the tonic, emphasized by the doubling of the a by timpani on top of a diminuendo a in the flute extending the key note, creating a calm expanse, a suspension of normal perceptual experience, similar in image and effect to Wordsworth’s “lucid veil” and Scott’s idea of a ‘beauty of effect’ produced by a combination of travel, islands, sea, and changeable weather. As R. Larry Todd writes: “Mendelssohn approached the art of orchestration as a painter selecting mixtures of colours from a palette.”23 Turner was much more stoic during his Hebridean voyage than Mendelssohn, clambering down sheer rocks on Staffa in order to achieve the optimum perspective for an etching. As with Wordsworth’s successful Hebridean sonnet and Mendelssohn’s overture, Turner’s painting “Staffa: Fingal’s Cave” gives primacy to the elements, the horizon, perception and travel. If anything, the steamboat replaces Staffa as the primary object of perception, and, aligned to the right centre of the painting provides both visual focus, vertical relief, shadow, and a sense of movement as the steam from the funnel trails behind the boat proper. There are two light sources, 23 R. Larry Todd, Mendelssohn: The Hebrides and Other Overtures, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993, 86.


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and the movements of light, sea, and sky combine to create a germinal sense of the vorticism that would find its full expression in Turner’s later art. The faint outline of Staffa to the left of the boat, and the setting sun to its right, in combination with the rough sea in its wake which is calm to its front, keep the boat enclosed, illustrating what Rodner calls “a grand drama of the clash of two sources of energy – humanity’s and nature’s – with the latter reigning supreme”,24 and the Foucaldian idea of the boat as “closed in on itself and at the same time … given over to the infinity of the sea”.25 In the expanding and indistinct horizon, the low point of view of the observer, the changeable nature of the elements, and the privilege given to the idea of travel we can see in play all of the components that successfully communicate the idea of islandness. So, the early nineteenth century saw the position of the Hebrides in the artistic imagination undergo a distinct change. There is a movement away from the attempt at accurate description, or of the islands’ use in fiction as representative of bounded exile, as in Scott, towards the use of art as a medium by which to express the experience of being on and traveling around islands, an almost phenomenological attitude that anticipates the expanded and rich use of the idea of the island in the twentieth century. As we have seen in Mendelssohn’s Die Hebriden and Turner’s “Staffa: Fingal’s Cave”, islands, their “shifting liminality” and the travel between them, become resonant with a multiplicity of sense impressions and experiences. Were the other arts ahead of literature in their ability to express a sense of islandness? Looking at the early nineteenth-century impressions of the Hebrides, it certainly seems so. But in Keats’ and Scott’s prose descriptions of the Hebrides and Fingal’s cave, and Wordsworth’s final Hebridean sonnet, we may see the germ of the liminal and the transitory that constitutes the beginning of a true island experience wherein the Hebrides become the site of a rich variety of beautiful perceptual effects, of a shifting and expansive horizon, and stimulate the application of new forms to express a quite modern island imaginary. 24

William S. Rodner, “Humanity and Nature in the Steamboat Paintings of J.M.W. Turner”, Albion, XVIII/3 (1986), 466. 25 Foucault, “Of Other Spaces”, 27.

“THE LIGHTHOUSE” (EDGAR ALLAN POE, 1849; CRISTINA FERNÁNDEZ CUBAS, 1997): FROM THE “EGOCENTRED” TO A “GEOCENTRED” ANALYSIS PATRICIA GARCÍA When Edgar Allan Poe died in 1849 he left behind an unfinished text about a nobleman who accepts a position as a lighthouse keeper. The manuscript was later found and assigned the title of “The Lighthouse” (Woodberry 1909), which has since been accepted as the official title. In 1997, however, the Spanish publishing house Ediciones Áltera commissioned nine writers to finish Poe’s manuscript. Rather than being restricted to the style and themes of its author, their contribution was to be a free and personal homage to him. Among them was Cristina Fernández Cubas. This essay explores her development of the use of narrative space in Poe’s short story, shifting from an “egocentred” to a “geocentred” angle. Based on Ryan’s approach to narrative space, this essay is centred on three elements: “spatial frames”, “story spaces” and “storyworld”. Each of these aspects will play a central role in generating a dynamic plot, despite the lack of human interaction in an isolated setting.

When he died in 1849, Edgar Allan Poe left an unfinished text about a nobleman who accepts a position as a lighthouse keeper. In a remote lighthouse, with only the company of a dog, his wish is to be completely isolated from the world and to write a book. Poe’s incomplete manuscript, three diary entries (January 1, 2, 3) and an empty heading (January 4) were later found and assigned the title of “The Lighthouse” which has, since then, been accepted as the official title.1 A century and a half later, in 1997, the Spanish publishing house Ediciones Áltera commissioned nine writers to finish Poe’s manuscript. Rather than being restricted to the style and themes of its author, their contribution was intended to be a free and personal 1 See George Edward Woodberry, The Life of Edgar Allan Poe, Personal and Literary, Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1909.


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homage to him. Among them was Cristina Fernández Cubas, one of the most important short story writers in contemporary Spain.2 Her connection with Poe has been acknowledged in various interviews where she has mentioned how his fantastic short stories, in particular the famous “The Fall of the House of Usher” (1839), have lingered in her mind since she was a child.3 The impact of this author is indeed traceable in her prose, for instance in her taste for descriptive details to generate uncanny atmospheres, as seen in stories like “La noche de Jezabel” (“Jezabel’s Night”, 1983) which takes place in a classic setting during a stormy night in a remote house. The role of narrative spaces to convey the mysterious or macabre in her fiction is fundamental to Fernández Cubas, a feature which is also one of the most distinct characteristics of Poe’s prose. Furthermore, the topos of the enclosure and the microcosm – derivative of the Gothic-Romantic tradition – is frequently found in her short stories, as exemplified in the isolated residence of “La ventana del jardín” (“The Window by the Garden”, 1980) and the closed nuns’ convent of “Mundo” (“World”, 1994).4 In addition, it is the literary form of the short story that predominates in her creative output, very often incorporating fantastic elements that disturb the impression of normality. It is precisely her skilful treatment of the supernatural that has made her a key figure of reference for recent generations of Spanish fantastic writers.5 Her creative achievement crystallized with the award of the prestigious Premio Setenil (Setenil Prize) for contemporary Spanish short fiction in 2006, for her 2

Cristina Fernández Cubas was born in Arenys de Mar, Spain, in 1945. Katarzina Olga Beilin, “Cristina Fernández Cubas: Me gusta que me inquieten”, in Conversaciones con novelistas contemporáneos, Woodbridge: Tamesis, 2004, 127-47. 4 As the author has stated on several occasions, her own personal experience might have influenced the recurrent use of the enclosure, such as remote convents and boarding schools: “In those days, my head was full of abbesses, convents, novices, convent turntables, lattice .... Closed-off spaces by excellence, where life goes on according to the strict codes of conduct and whose walls – thanks to the powers of the pen – I had allowed myself to cross” (Cristina Fernández Cubas, eds Irene AndresSuárez and Ana Casas, Cuadernos de Narrativa, Madrid: Arco/Libros, 2007, 12; my translation). 5 See La realidad oculta: cuentos fantásticos españoles del siglo XX, eds David Roas and Ana Casas, Palencia: Menoscuarto Ediciones, 2008, and Perturbaciones: Antología del relato fantástico español actual, ed. Juan Jacinto Muñoz Rengel, Madrid: Salto de Página, 2009. 3

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compilation of short stories Parientes pobres del diablo (Poor Relatives of the Devil). In her continuation of “The Lighthouse” (“El faro”, 1997),6 the protagonist keeps writing about his experiences in his diary, the only discursive space where the reader learns that he has been abandoned, with no more boats delivering goods or water, as initially promised. Various disturbing events break the monotony of his days, such as the discovery of a fishing net made of white human hair from various people, and the mysterious disappearance of his dog for whom the only trace is a bloody collar. He also records how the number of steps towards the upstairs room in the lighthouse oscillates, as if the construction was progressively sinking. The reliability of the narrator is increasingly brought into question as his madness becomes quite evident towards the end of the story, in particular after the dog has died. In the final entries, he explains that underneath the lighthouse, drinking from the deposit of his water supply and feeding from the sea, are the souls of his predecessors who await him to join them. The lighthouse as man: the “egocentred” perspective Mieke Bal, one of the few narratologists who has recognized the potential of space beyond it being just a container of the action, distinguishes between “frame of action” and “thematized space”. I borrow this distinction to indicate that, whereas the function of space in many texts can be predominantly situational, in others it becomes “an object of presentation itself”. It is then central to the plot as well as to the discourse, insofar as it “influences the fabula, and the fabula becomes subordinate to the presentation of space”.7 This short story is a very interesting case study that illustrates how understanding where the action happens (situational function), how this place is described (discursive level) and how it influences the characters and the events (story level) is fundamental to fully comprehending the text. The importance of space has not gone unnoticed in the few works dedicated to “The Lighthouse”.8 These studies have developed the 6

Edgar Allan Poe, El faro, concluido por Cristina Fernández Cubas [et al.], Barcelona: Áltera, 1997. 7 Mieke Bal, Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2009, 136. 8 For instance: Kathleen Glenn, “Fernández Cubas, Poe, and Apocalyptic Vision”,


Patricia García

analysis of narrative space in relation with the main character, that is, as a tool to portray him. As they have argued, the expression of introspection and madness is projected onto the concise physical space. In both versions of the story, the central space is a remote lighthouse on a rock possibly somewhere in the sea around Scandinavia. As the story evolves, possibly as a result of the protagonist’s isolation and hunger and thirst, the character is increasingly worried about the architecture of the building, its mutating height and strange underground distribution. This has been interpreted as a symbolic journey into his inner self, culminating in madness, both recurrent themes in the work of Poe.9 This perspective on narrative space could be called – as Bertrand Westphal renders it – an “egocentred analysis” based on the character and not on space.10 Certainly, in this particular text an egocentred perspective is useful to explore the symbolic charge of the lighthouse, the sea and the island. The correlation between inner self and physical space is also an important intertextual element that demonstrates an affinity between Fernández Cubas’ version and the Poean atmospheric and symbolic use of interiors. From this perspective, the treatment of narrative space by Fernández Cubas is consistent with the GothicRomantic tradition, capturing the literary conventions of the period during which this text was initiated. The perception of space, and its portrayal in fiction, was highly influenced by Edmund Burke’s aesthetics of the Sublime as rendered in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757). This theory is very well reflected in the Gothic enclave, a site typically isolated and hard to access: “Silent, lonely, and sublime”, just as Emily describes her first glimpse of Montoni’s castle in The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794).11 Primarily acting as catalyst for the exceptional Monographic Review, XIV (single annual issue, 1998), on “Hispanic Millennial / Apocalyptic Literature”, 59-68; or Mora González, “Retomando la narración de Poe: dos perspectivas sugerentes en el relato inconcluso ‘El faro’”, in Mujeres novelistas en el panorama literario del siglo XX, ed. Marina Villalba Álvarez, Cuenca: Ediciones de la Universidad de Castilla La Mancha, 2002, 221-29. 9 For example, “The Descent into the Maelstrom” (1841). 10 Bertrand Westphal, Geocriticism: Real and Fictional Spaces, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, 111. 11 Ann Radcliffe, The Mysteries of Udolpho, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992, 227.

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and to be experienced, the Gothic enclave is traditionally interpreted as the space that mirrors states of high emotion and threat. It is a symbolic projection of the character’s mood and state of mind that reflects the Romantic ideal of man’s supreme sensitivity when in isolation. This is the core of an egocentred interpretation of the spaces in “The Lighthouse”. However, focusing on the symbolic properties of narrative spaces reduces them to being facets of the protagonist: the function of the lighthouse in the story is thus to portray the character. By shifting from the egocentred (based on the human character in space) to a geocentred angle (foregrounding space as character), a much wider complexity in terms of the representation and function of narrative space is revealed. Based on Ryan’s approach to narrative space, this analysis is centred on three elements, or “laminations”: “spatial frames”, which comprise spatial boundaries (for example, clear-cut or fuzzy) and hierarchical relations (for example, in, within); “story space”, a concept that reaches beyond the physical emplacement of the action (the lighthouse and the island) and embraces those physical spaces the narrator imagines and are not the actual scene of the occurring events; and, finally, “narrative world” which regard space as a domain with its own logical rules.12 Each of these aspects will play a central role in generating a dynamic plot, despite the lack of human interaction in an isolated setting. Spatial frames: figure and ground A recurrent strategy employed in “The Lighthouse” to create a sense of confinement is drawn from the visual arts. The contrast between figure and ground, a basic technique to make an element stand out by juxtaposing it to an undefined background, is found in this text with the lighthouse (figure) and the sea (ground).13 Figure and ground are 12

Ryan’s approach is understood here as “the physically existing environment in which characters live and move” (Marie-Laure Ryan, “Space”, in The Living Handbook of Narratology, eds Peter Hühn et al., Hamburg: Hamburg University Press: On this subject, see also Lubomír Doležel, Heterocosmica: Fiction and Possible Worlds, Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998. 13 See Edgar Rubin, “Figure and Ground”, in Visual Perception: Essential Readings, ed. Steven Yantis, Philadelphia: Psychology Press, Key Readings in Cognition Series, 2001, 225-29.


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interdependent principles: they define each other by their bordering edges which allow the reader to appreciate the central object of presentation. Thus, in “The Lighthouse”, the role of spatial frames is crucial to draw a contrast between these two main domains of action. The figure is the lighthouse, with sharp clear-cut boundaries (“full of abysses”) and what surrounds this construction is “impossible to be explored”.14 The ground is depicted by the sea, an entity of fuzzy unclear boundaries and imprecise spatial referents, other than the horizon which itself is not always discernible – “the color of the sea, dark grey, merged with that of the sky”.15 The idea of isolation is heightened by the fact that the surrounding exterior remains indefinable and unembraceable, on more than one occasion referred to as “immense”.16 In this contrast between ground and figure, the “polysensorial” construction of space is fundamental.17 The sense of sight is appealed to in order to create a feeling of being suspended in space and time. On several occasions, the protagonist repeats that he cannot envisage anything, not even a seagull: I search the horizon. Nothing. Only Goritz and me. And the immensity of the ocean.18

The sense of touch is also evoked in this contrast between the fluid sea and the material lighthouse. This idea reflects the distinction between “smooth” and “striated space” suggested by Deleuze and Guattari: “sedentary space is striated, by walls, enclosures, and roads between enclosures, while nomad space is smooth, marked only by ‘traits’ that are effaced and displaced with the trajectory.”19 Striated space is limited and limiting,20 as are the confines of the lighthouse, surrounded by the sea and with hardly enough surface to walk around 14

Cristina Fernández Cubas, Todos los cuentos, Barcelona: Tusquets, 2008, 491 (all translations of Fernández Cubas’ “The Lighthouse” are my own). 15 Ibid., 490. 16 Ibid., 490 and 498. 17 Westphal, Geocriticism: Real and Fictional Spaces, 133. 18 Cubas, Todos los cuentos, 498. 19 Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, London: Continuum, 2004, 420. 20 Ibid., 422.

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its external margins. The sea in contrast is a smooth space in the sense that it is presented as intangible, open-ended, and in constant movement. Story spaces: expansion of the enclosure The character’s seclusion and the lack of human interaction are compensated with elements that contribute to expand his sense of space, yet also to generate the dynamism of the story. A significant part of the action is concentrated on the figure of the ally – the dog – and the character’s relationship with him (for example, on the 29th of January, when the dog barks at some presence he detects in the basement). The monotonous routine is also disrupted by occasional strange objects that the sea brings and which also serve to generate some plot turns (for example, on the 20th of March, when the net of hair is found). In relation to narrative space, a specific technique is recurrently employed to expand the limited stage of action, which involves exploiting the potential of “story spaces” as defined by Ryan: the main character repetitively evokes the places of his life ashore which take the action beyond the confines of the lighthouse and its surroundings. In the text, there are at least three further techniques that serve to compensate for the restrictions imposed by the lighthouse. First, the protagonist recalls memories from the past, flashbacks that transport him back to his previous life on the mainland and through which the reader learns what happened before. This is particularly visible in the entries for the 18th and 19th of January,21 where he explains his encounter with his Platonic love, Aglaia, and also in the entry for the 28th of February, when he narrates his arrival to the lighthouse.22 Second, his dreams bring him back to firm land, “in ‘society’, surrounded by presences almost as real as that barking, which now was dispelling them” (entry of 29th of January). These dreams create a constant oscillation between his reality in the lighthouse and his previous life when he was safe on land. Finally, the elements connected with his life ashore – spaces and people – begin to intrude on his everyday life on the island: 21 22

Cubas, Todos los cuentos, 492-94. Ibid., 496 ff.


Patricia García Does solitude exist? I am not sure. Aglaia is here – and that makes me happy –. But also here is De Grät, the seaman from the sloop, Orndoff ....

If sight and touch are the senses that predominantly construct the impression of confinement, the ear is the key sense that extends this physical space and fights his solitude. Sound, which can travel across physical frames, is what evokes the presence of his friends and beloved in the lighthouse and merges the spaces from ashore with the lighthouse (“All the time I seem to hear them”). Moreover, each of the three main characters has a correspondent sound that he identifies with the sea: De Grät is like the sea when it withdraws … Ornoff, however, reminds me of the waves when they break into the rocks …. Aglaia does not speak much … but her words – the few words that I have crossed with my beloved! – gain here, in the lighthouse, a sweet sonority.23

Story-world: a one-person world? Narratives concerning a character confined to the isolation of a single space have been conceptualized by Lubomír Doležel with the term of “One-Person Worlds”.24 Doležel develops this type of story-world in relation to the island and castaway motifs of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), Ernest Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River” (1925) and Joris-Karl Huysmans’s À Rebours (Against the Grain, 1884). All these texts have in common a reduced domain of action and single focalization. As Doležel points out, in this type of story-world the plot is particularly limited by the physical setting: “The one-person world is an artificial and precarious structure, because it suffers from a severe restriction: one and only one person is admitted into the world.”25 In “The Lighthouse”, the evocations of other spaces onshore, as discussed in the previous section, serve to bring in some imagined human interaction, which compensates for the protagonist’s isolation. 23

Ibid., 491. Doležel, Heterocosmica: Fiction and Possible Worlds, 37-54. 25 Ibid., 37. 24

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Another key plot turn occurs towards the end, this time also affecting narrative spaces. A “terrible discovery” takes place in the basement where, according to the protagonist, his starving predecessors drink from his water.26 This is how the character explains why he received the strict instructions to always keep his water in the basement deposit. For him, the discovery of this occult space reveals that he is not alone. But beyond that, this revelation opens up a new ontological domain, with its own operating laws, where the souls of the former lighthouse keepers, “cruelly prolonging their illusion of life”, are “condemned to perpetuity”.27 This is an important shift in terms of the presumptions the reader holds as regards the type of story-world framing this story. From the presumed one-person world with its own coherent operating laws according to realistic conventions, there is a shift to a “dyadic world”28 ruled by alethic constraints which determine what is possible or impossible within a fictional world. Dyadic worlds of the alethic modality combine the natural and supernatural domains, the mythological world being an example of this typology.29 The vision that tortures the character towards the end also expands the previously confined space of the lighthouse, in this case, adding an ontological domain or story-world located in the underground. As a result, in the final passages the axis that demarcates what is “above” and “below” is constantly emphasized and contrasted: … the crazy man in me only thinks of the ones above. But I – why should I lie to myself – belong, since I arrived here, to the world underneath. To the narrow and submerged reign. 30

However, due to the single focalization in the story, there is not enough evidence to ascertain whether this is an actual fact or a product of his mental isolation. This way of introducing a fantastic element into a realistic setting from the point of view of a potentially disturbed character can be best understood with recourse to the concept of the 26

Cubas, Todos los cuentos, 504. Ibid., 505. 28 Doležel, Heterocosmica: Fiction and Possible Worlds, 128. 29 See ibid., 115 and 129. 30 Cubas, Todos los cuentos, 506 ff. 27


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“pseudo-fantastic”.31 The “pseudo-fantastic” is strongly related to oneperson world narratives, since the impossible element is portrayed from a restricted focalization and with very few, indeed if any, contrasting views on events. This is what incites the reader to associate the impossible element with the mental dysfunction of the character. Thus, the domain where the tormented souls of lighthouse keepers lurk could easily be interpreted as a product of the character’s mind, a mere hallucination, especially after the dog’s disappearance when the narrator’s reliability becomes increasingly questionable. His sense of time and space is effaced. The last journal dates are in question marks, since the protagonist is no longer capable of discerning between “yesterday, the day before yesterday, maybe the other day…”, and there is no reliable referent to structure his sense of time: “I cannot recompose the hours or days that followed the terrible discovery.”32 To conclude, a closer analysis of various layers of narrative space shows how space is more than a tool used to reveal the characteristics of the protagonist. By putting forward narrative space as character, it becomes evident that it also functions as an active agent in generating the plot. Spatial frames draw a contrast between figure and ground giving the impression of confinement and loss of reference. Story spaces, extending beyond the space of the lighthouse by evoking places and people from his previous onshore life, provide a mechanism to expand his physical confinement and fight his solitude. The irruption of the supernatural domain opens up another world down below the lighthouse which also modifies the constrictions of the one-person world. Finally, whereas the lighthouse captures much of the attention throughout the story, the motif of the island makes a crucial appearance in the last passage. The character writes that when Orndoff arrives to rescue him, he will find his book, The Secret of this World: “A white ocean where – but maybe Orndoff will not even notice – only a little island of ink floats.”33 This final image once more appeals to the opposition between figure and ground, where the island lies as 31

David Roas, Tras los límites de lo real: una definición de lo fantástico, Madrid: Páginas de Espuma, 2011, 62-67. 32 Cubas, Todos los cuentos, 503 and 504. 33 Ibid., 507.

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an exception within the surrounding vastness of the sea. The unfinished book and diary are two discursive spaces that enable the character to record his memories from the lighthouse and from his past, and, as he writes, they become the only elements he will leave from his tormented life. The figure of the island therefore, appears here as a synonym of the act of writing. Perhaps, through this final spatial figure, Fernández Cubas intends to draw a parallel with Poe’s unfinished short story, or perhaps, this metaphor captures the very essence of the project she was commissioned to do: to complete a manuscript whose author, in a degradingly tormented state of mind, had left adrift just before his death.

FIFTY YEARS ON: ALDOUS HUXLEY’S ISLAND (1962) RECONSIDERED DAVID GARRETT IZZO Huxley’s last novel is a summation of his vast study in the ways that humanity might use science rather than abuse science and forsake a rabid capitalism for more of a spiritually motivated, semi-socialistic society. Island is Huxley’s device aimed at giving readers a look at a positive utopia, quite a change from the dystopia of Brave New World. The innovation in this novel is in the ideas, rather than in the telling. In its way, Island is a refutation of Brave New World. One must have an overview of Huxley’s idea of mysticism as an island in the mind to fully appreciate the underlying guiding principle of Island, which begins with an intuition that there is an integrated sense of a spiritual unicity and then one seeks the ways to heighten the perception of this intuitive awareness as a basis for expanding human potential.

To be capable of love – this is, of course, about two thirds of the battle; the other third is becoming capable of the intelligence that endows the love with effectiveness in an obscure and complicated and largely loveless world. It is not enough merely to know, and it is not enough merely to love; there must be knowledgelove and charity-understanding or pajna-karuna, in the language of Buddhism – wisdom-compassion.1

An island can be a sanctuary, a safe haven, an escape from the larger and fractious world, a place for hopes and dreams to be born. Shakespeare’s The Tempest is set on such an island, one that is a metaphor for the inner life of the mind, and it remains the first modern effort to define an island as an aesthetic frame for ideas. Perhaps Shakespeare’s play somewhat echoes a precursor, the Arthurian Avalon, where Excalibur is found, forever after assuring the isle’s 1

Aldous Huxley, Letters of Aldous Huxley, London: Chatto and Windus, 1969, 866.


David Garrett Izzo

mystical aura. Later, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick metaphorized the island as sanctuary in his chapter titled, “An Insular Tahiti”. Alongside the many fictional islands one could refer to, representing places to which one escapes for solace, solitude or clarity, Aldous Huxley’s Island (1962) stands out as the aesthetic frame for an exploration of love as a basic and indispensable element of life. Huxley, one of the pre-eminent intellectuals of the twentieth century, spent a lifetime in quest of an inner island of mystical serenity. He learned early that love would be the predetermining condition in his search for serenity. On 29 November 1908, his mother, who was forty-seven, died from cancer. Aldous adored her and was devastated by her death. In a final letter to her son written on her deathbed, she told him: “Don’t be too critical of people and love much.” Huxley later added in 1915: I have come to see more and more how wise that advice was. It’s her warning against a rather conceited and selfish fault of my own and it’s a whole philosophy of life. 2

If his cynicism prevailed in his novels in the 1920s, in the 1930s, he began to formulate the idea to “love much” as a “philosophy of life”. The change begins to appear in his 1928 novel, Point Counter Point, in which Huxley intimates that such a place as an island in the mind can be achieved through a surrender to contemplative music: There are grand things in the world …. Johan Sebastian [Bach] puts the case. The Rondeau begins, exquisitely and simply melodious, almost a folk-song …. His is a slow and lovely meditation on the beauty (in spite of all the evil), the oneness (in spite of such bewildering diversity) of the world. It is a beauty, a goodness, a unity that no intellectual research can discover, that analysis dispels, but of whose reality the spirit from time to time is suddenly and overwhelmingly convinced …. The music was infinitely sad; and yet it consoled …. It was able to confirm – deliberately, quietly … that everything was in some way right, acceptable. It included the sadness within some vaster, more comprehensive happiness.3

2 3

Ibid., 83. Aldous Huxley, Point Counter Point, London: Chatto and Windus, 1928, 31-32.

Huxley’s Island


Huxley developed an intuition for mysticism very early in life. In 1916, at the age of twenty-two, in a letter to his brother Julian, he wrote: I have come to agree with Thomas Aquinas that individuality in the animal kingdom if you [like] is nothing more than a question of mere matter. We are potentially at least, though the habit of matter has separated us, unanimous. One cannot escape mysticism; it positively thrusts itself, the only possibility, upon one.4

He continues this theme in 1925: “I love the inner world as much or more than the outer. When the outer vexes me, I retire to the rational simplicities of the spirit.”5 Huxley’s last novel Island was written in part after he learned that he had cancer and he may have believed that this would be his last opportunity to express his vision of a utopian society in which a key component would be mystical philosophy. Island was published in 1962 and Huxley died on 22 November 1963. He had spent a lifetime writing about the ways that untapped human potentiality could be nourished and nurtured, seeing science as a means to serve humanity for the good rather than science being used to expand the reach of the military-industrial complex he found in the US that sought profit before the needs of people. Huxley, seen by many as un enfant terrible in the 1920s for his bitterly satirical novels depicting British upper-class life, was in fact not at all a curmudgeon. Christopher Isherwood, whose Berlin stories famously inspired Cabaret, admired Huxley as both an older brother and a father figure, and said of him in 1939: “How kind, how shy he is – searching through the darkness of this world’s ignorance with his blind, mild, deep-sea eye. He has a pained, bewildered smile of despair at all human activity.” Mimicking Huxley speaking, he then adds: “‘It’s inconceivable,’ he repeatedly begins, ‘how anyone in their senses could possibly imagine …’ But they do imagine and Aldous is very, very sorry.”6 Moreover, Isherwood did not tolerate criticism of Huxley by others. In a diary entry of 1943 Isherwood recounts a 4

Huxley, Letters, 88. Aldous Huxley, Along the Road, London: Chatto and Windus, 1925, 110. 6 Christopher Isherwood, Diaries, 1939-1960, San Francisco, CA: Harper, 1998, 77. 5


David Garrett Izzo

meeting with Bertolt Brecht and notes Brecht’s disparagement of the Perennial Philosophy, which he endures as funny until Brecht attacks Huxley: I was so angry I nearly got up and left the house at once. I did leave shortly afterwards …. What I object to is his claim to be more honest than a man like Aldous.7

Indeed, Huxley financially assisted many desperate refugees in their escape from Hitler in the 1930s and then supported them after they arrived in America. For the help he offered many people in different ways he never sought recognition either, and this was revealed after he died. Huxley, therefore, not only wrote about humanity in copious essays, but he also acted humanely to be his own exemplar for how humans could progress toward an evolution of goodness. Thornton Wilder, another prodigiously generous “man like Aldous”, wrote that: “Of all the forms of genius, Goodness has the longest awkward age.”8 Huxley understood that progress was not measured in single lifetimes but as many lifetimes in a continuous, contiguous upward spiral. Of this he wrote: “Any given event in any part of the universe has as its determining conditions all previous and contemporary events in all parts of the universe.”9 Any change of the collective human mind would need to be achieved through humanity’s collective re-education or, in effect, by creating new “determining conditions” that would lead to this beneficent evolution. Huxley’s Island was his instructional guide for setting up these conditions. It was a kind of a new age programme before the New Age actually began. And it proved popular too: in 1968, the paperback reprint sold over a million copies. In a letter of 22 November 1958, Huxley, writing about his progress with Island, explains: I have been working at my phantasy about a society in which serious efforts are made to realize human potentialities …. The locale of the 7

Ibid., 318-19. Thornton Wilder, The Woman of Andros, New York: Albert and Charles Boni, 1930, Preface. 9 Aldous Huxley, Grey Eminence: A Study in Religion and Politics, New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1941, 40. 8

Huxley’s Island


story is a hypothetical island between Ceylon and Sumatra – independent in spite of colonialism, where the process of turning an old Shivaite-Mayahana-Buddhist society into something combining the best features of the East and West was inaugurated in the eighteenforties by a Scottish surgeon (modeled on James Esdaille), who operates on the then Raja under “magnetic anesthesia [hypnosis],” becomes his friend and acts as his collaborator in initiating the necessary changes, which are carried on by successors of the Scotchman and the king, during the succeeding three generations. It is interesting to try and imagine what could be done to create such a place dedicated to eliciting all the latent powers and gifts of individuals, by consciously adopting and combining desirable features from different cultures, Indian, modern Western, Polynesian, Chinese.10

During the writing of Island Huxley wrote in numerous letters of his struggle to combine fiction – that is, a compelling narrative – with the exposition necessary to discuss the means and methods that his utopian “phantasy” required. He attempted to do so through dialogue between characters, mainly, the Esdaille-modeled character, Robert MacPhail, and a reporter, Will Farnaby, visiting the island. Huxley became resigned that Island could not completely eschew didacticism in order to accomplish his goal of providing a blueprint model that would educate readers. In fact, Huxley’s views on how to combine fiction with instruction were already clear early in his career: [Writers today] are at liberty to do what Homer did – to write freely about the immediately moving facts of everyday life. Where Homer wrote of horses and tamers of horses … [we] write of trains, automobiles, and the various species of … bohunks who control the horse-power …. The critics who would have us believe that there is something essentially unpoetical about a bohunk (whatever a bohunk may be) and something essentially poetical about Sir Lancelot of the Lake are, of course, simply negligible.11

Huxley called this approach to writing “Wholly-Truthful” art: 10

Huxley, Letters, 850. Aldous Huxley, “The Subject Matter of Poetry”, in On the Margin, London: Chatto and Windus, 1923, 29. It was Carl Sandburg who used the term “bohunk”, in his poem “Smoke and Steel” (Smoke and Steel, 1922). 11


David Garrett Izzo Wholly-Truthful art overflows the limits of tragedy and shows us, if only by hints and implications, what happened before the tragic story began, what will happen after it is over, what is happening simultaneously elsewhere …. Tragedy is an isolated eddy on the surface of a vast river that flows majestically, irresistibly, around, beneath, and to either side of it …. Consequently, Wholly Truthful art produces in us an effect quite different from that produced by tragedy. Our mood when we have read a Wholly-Truthful book is never one of heroic exultation; it is one of resignation, of acceptance. (Acceptance can also be heroic.) The catharsis of tragedy is violent and apocalyptic; but the milder catharsis of Wholly Truthful literature is more lasting.12

Both are used to good effect in Island. The novel’s protagonist, Farnaby, is a writer employed by a multinational energy corporation to spy on Pala, which may have large oil resources waiting to be exploited. Pala is a small society that is an ongoing experiment in finding means to serve the ends of teaching people methods that achieve the greater good for the inhabitants through re-education of body, mind, and spirit. Will first meets two island children: Mary Sarojini and Tom Krishna MacPhail. They are the grandchildren of Dr Robert MacPhail who began Pala with the Old Raja. Will is invited to stay at their living quarters. When Will awakens the next morning, he reads several chapters of the Old Raja’s perennially philosophical book, Notes on What’s What. He learns that Pala is a New Age world where many of the ideas Huxley described have since been developed and written about. The novel’s conflict is indeed between a selfless utopia and selfish capitalist greed. In his conversion Will is taken, chapter by chapter, into Huxley’s polemical descriptions of a potential paradise. Will is shown around the island. He begins a revelatory reawakening of his consciousness through the potential for human goodness he finds on this benevolent patch of land, which is a much happier place than the profit-driven world he came from. Science integrates with the arts and education to retrain body, mind and spirit. Huxley here details theory and practice based on his lifelong study. There is, for instance, an Agricultural Experimental Station to breed 12

Aldous Huxley, “Tragedy and the Whole Truth”, in Music at Night, London: Chatto and Windus, 1931, 21.

Huxley’s Island


better crops so that no one should go hungry. The educational and health-care systems include the best of Eastern and Western traditions. Organized religion is not dogmatic but is based in mystical intuitive logic and self-experience. God is not an angry God used for propaganda as in the outside world, but a loving God that wishes all of his creation to love and be loved. Huxley’s belief that human nature itself would need to be fundamentally re-oriented through education is paramount in Island. Yet, Huxley also knew that entrenched mores would resist a common cause of universal love because the ego is self-serving and selfpreserving rather than a vehicle for collective good will. Island of the mind One must have an overview of Huxley’s idea of mysticism as an island in the mind to fully appreciate the underlying guiding principle of his last novel, which begins with an intuition that there is an integrated sense of a spiritual unicity, and then one seeks the ways to heighten the perception of this intuitive awareness as a basis for expanding human potential. Imagination (intuition) can allow us to see the timeless interrelation of all existence. But imagination is not just about seeing what is not real; it is equally about seeing what is real – such as atoms. Now we have the string theory of quantum physics and the Higgs boson asserting that there is an integrated physical basis for what has been called the “God particle” that links all existence as indivisible and that only a false sensory perception deceives us otherwise. Imagination leads to the discovery of what is physically real and can be measured (science). Imagination also leads to the discovery of what is metaphysically real and can be metaphorized (art, spirituality). Science and art are about seeing what previously was not seen but was imagined (intuited), after which the scientist and artist take what was imagined and make it into an outcome that can be seen or heard. Art is one vehicle for transcendence. Human desire for transcendence is a need, either conscious or unconscious, which has no cognitive – let alone philosophical – basis. Transcendence is the design of the Perennial Philosophy, first recorded in the Vedas. The creative impulse of the arts is the reflective dialectical synthesis of moments in space. These moments recreate awe and evoke a sense of unicity that


David Garrett Izzo

seeks to overcome feelings of separation. Unity with the Ultimate Reality is the goal of the Perennial Philosophy. Within this philosophy is the concept of an Ultimate Reality or Ground of Being (perhaps Divine) that is both the first cause of the continuum and the continuum itself. The vast literature of mysticism that reflects the Perennial Philosophy has been given an encapsulated form by what Huxley called “The Minimum Working Hypothesis”, which summarizes the common denominators of the Perennial Philosophy into four basic tenets. If the reader is also able to make this leap even temporarily, then Huxley’s Island will fit into a much clearer context: Minimum Working Hypothesis 1. the phenomenal world of matter and of individualized consciousness – the world of things and animals and even gods – is the manifestation of a Divine Ground, within which all partial realities have their being, and apart from which they would be non-existent. 2. human beings are capable not merely of knowing about the Divine Ground by inference; they can also realize its existence by a direct intuition superior to discursive reasoning. This immediate knowledge unites the knower with that which is known. 3. man possesses a double nature, a phenomenal ego and an eternal self, which is the inner man, the spirit, the spark of divinity within the soul. It is possible for a man, if he so desires, to identify himself with this spirit and therefore with the Divine Ground which is of the same or like nature with the spirit. 4. man’s life on earth has only one end and purpose: to identify himself with his eternal self and so come to unitive knowledge of the Divine Ground of all existence.13

The Minimum Working Hypothesis is the integral essence of which all the ideas in Island have their basis. One can see from the excerpts that follow that Huxley believed people could hope for change even centuries into the future. First, Farnaby learns that mystical awareness is a pre-determining condition to attain knowledge, empathy and compassion:


Aldous Huxley, “Introduction”, in The Bhagavad-Gita, trans. Christopher Isherwood and Swami Prabhavananda, Los Angeles: Marcel Rodd, 1944, 17.

Huxley’s Island


“Listen to him [a bird repeating the word ‘attention’] closely, listen discriminatingly.” Will Farnaby listened. The mynah had gone back to its first theme. “Attention,” the articulate oboe was calling. “Attention.” “Attention to what?” he asked, in the hope of eliciting a more enlightening answer …. “To attention,” said Dr MacPhail.14

He also learns that an economy should be created by people to provide service for people: “Whereas we,” said Dr Robert, “have always chosen to adapt our economy and technology to human beings – not our human beings to somebody else’s economy and technology. We import what we can’t make; but we make and import only what we can afford. And what we can afford is limited not merely by our supply of pounds and marks and dollars, but also primarily – primarily,” he insisted – “by our wish to be happy, our ambition to become fully human.” 15

As Dr Robert MacPhail and his assistant, Vijaya Bhattacharya, emerge from a shower after working arduously on Pala’s farm, Farnaby furthermore discovers that work, body, exercise and mind are to be integrated as a holistic basis to become fully human: “Aren’t you supposed to be intellectuals?” Will asked .... “So you went out into the fields and did a Tolstoy act.” Vijaya laughed. “You seem to imagine we do it for ethical reasons.” “Don’t you?” “Certainly not. I do muscular work, because I have muscles, and if I don’t use my muscles I shall become a bad-tempered sitting-addict.” “With nothing between the cortex and the buttocks,” said Dr Robert. “Or rather with everything – but in a condition of complete unconsciousness and toxic stagnation. Western intellectuals are all sitting-addicts. That’s why most of you are so repulsively unwholesome. In the past even a duke had to do a lot of walking, even a moneylender, even a metaphysician. And when they weren’t using their legs, they were jogging about on horses. Whereas now, ... you 14 15

Aldous Huxley, Island, New York: Harper and Row, 1962, 19. Ibid., 162-63.


David Garrett Izzo spend nine tenths of your time on foam rubber. Spongy seats for spongy bottoms – at home, in the office, in cars and bars, in planes and trains and buses. No moving of legs, no struggles with distance and gravity – just lifts and planes and cars, just foam rubber and an eternity of sitting. The life force that used to find an outlet through striped muscle gets turned back on the viscera and the nervous system, and slowly destroys them.”16

Will had already found out that relationships with all animate and inanimate nature are the basis for mystical unity achieved by eschewing the ego to attain a selfless perception of the integral unicity of the ultimate reality: “What’s a not-sensation?” “It’s the raw material for sensation that my not-self provides me with.” “And you can pay attention to your not-self?” “Of course.” Will turned to the little nurse. “You too?” “To myself,” she answered, “and at the same time to my not-self. And to Ranga’s not-self, and to Ranga’s self, and to Ranga’s body, and to my body and everything it’s feeling. And to all, the love and friendship. And to the mystery of the other person – the perfect stranger, who’s the other half of your own self, and the same as your not-self. And all the while one’s paying attention to all the things that, if one were sentimental, or worse, if one were spiritual like the poor old Rani, one would find so unromantic and gross and sordid even. But they aren’t sordid, because one’s fully aware of them, those things are just as beautiful as all the rest, just as wonderful .... [This] is contemplation.”17

Will’s inquiries then lead him to the realization that the goal of education is to teach how everything is integrated: “How early do you start your science teaching?” “We start it at the same time we start multiplication and division. First, lessons in ecology.” “Ecology? Isn’t that a bit complicated?” 16 17

Ibid., 164-65. Ibid., 84.

Huxley’s Island


“That’s precisely the reason why we begin with it. Never give children a chance of imagining that anything exists in isolation. Make it plain from the very first that all living is relationship. Show them relationships in the woods, in the fields, in the ponds and streams, in the village and the country around it. Rub it in.” “And let me add,” said the Principal, “that we always teach the science of relationship in conjunction with the ethics of relationship. Balance, give and take, no excesses – it’s the rule of nature and, translated out of fact into morality, it ought to be the rule among people.”18

Will finally learns that living and dying should be conceptualized as non-finite events integrally related to the spiral of evolving consciousness: “Eating, drinking, dying – three primary manifestations of the universal and impersonal life. Animals live that impersonal and universal life without knowing its nature. Ordinary people know its nature but don’t live it and, if ever they think seriously about it, refuse to accept it. An enlightened person knows it, lives it, and accepts it completely. He eats, he drinks, and in due course he dies – but he eats with a difference, drinks with a difference, dies with a difference.” “And rises again from the dead?” he [Will] asked sarcastically. “That’s one of the questions the Buddha always refused to answer. Believing in eternal life never helped anybody to live in eternity. Nor, of course, did disbelieving. So stop all your pro-ing and con-ing (that’s the Buddha’s advice) and get on with the job.” “Which job?” “Everybody’s job – enlightenment.”19

Huxley’s purpose in Island was to embody a safe haven where humanity could work to provide enlightenment on a better way of living. Fifty years later, this purpose remains not only current but prescient, and Island continues to be a guide to holistic contentment.

18 19

Ibid., 247-48. Ibid., 277.


THE GAELICIZATION OF BRASIL ISLAND: FROM CARTOGRAPHIC ERROR TO CELTIC ELYSIUM BARBARA FREITAG Brasil Island, better known as Hy Brasil, is a phantom island. In the mid-fourteenth century Mediterranean mapmakers marked it on nautical charts to the west of Ireland, and its continued presence on maps over the next five hundred and fifty years inspired many an enterprising seafarer from England to search for it. Writers, too, fell for its lure. In seventeenth-century English literature it is envisioned as a place of commercial and colonial interest. A century later, in the vision of Ulster writers the island becomes bound up with questions of national identity and millenarian prophecy. With the development of cultural nationalism in Ireland Brasil Island acquires a new identity: having fabricated an Irish pedigree (including a Gaelic name and an ancient pagan as well as a medieval Christian track record) artists and poets, in both the North and the South, fashion it into a wondrous fairyland of Celtic lore.

The first known map of Ireland was plotted by Ptolemy in 150 AD. It is not a map as such, but it notes the latitude and longitude of dozens of features like promontories, estuaries, islands, towns, and so on. By marking these coordinates on a grid, it is possible to reconstruct an approximate outline of the country. Realistic geographical representation began with the marine charts which originated in the thirteenth century. As first-hand intelligence based on actual observation and information obtained from sailors and specifically compiled for seafarers, these nautical maps were designed to provide practical navigational help for the increasing Mediterranean trade and shipping. When commercial interests drew them into the Atlantic the Mediterranean traders had the charts extended northwards to take in the British Isles and Northern Europe as well as the newly discovered (or imagined) Atlantic island groups. The early nautical charts were produced almost exclusively by Italian and Catalan cartographers. It was one of them, an Italian from Genoa by the name of Dalorto or Dulcert, who in the mid-fourteenth


Barbara Freitag

century first marked a large round island called insula de brazile to the west of Ireland.1 Other mapmakers copied it and, for the next five hundred and fifty years, this island held its place on some three hundred maps until it was finally removed from the charts in the late nineteenth century. Confusingly, many Mediterranean mapmakers also applied the name Brazile to an island of the Azores group, which we nowadays call Terceira, and occasionally we find two, sometimes even three, Brasil Islands in different parts of the Atlantic Ocean marked in one and the same chart. The free distribution of the name is perplexing and has indeed caused consternation. So much so that, when discussing “Brasile” as a geographical appellation, Walter Scaife remarks in 1890 that this toponym had something of a will-o’-the-wisp character, “for on various maps it may be seen designating a great Antarctic continent, extending to the South Pole, or a small island near the arctic circle; or it may be as far west as the southern part of South America or as far east as … the coast of Ireland”.2 The first question that concerns us here is why this Genoese cartographer marked an island to the west of Ireland where there was none, and then what prompted him to give it this particular name. Trying to establish who could have supplied him with materials for his chart, we find that Irish trade relations with France and Italy are pretty well documented from the Norman invasion onward, and so we must assume that the mariners of these countries had familiarized themselves with the coasts of Ireland where they would have obtained further local information. What is not so clear, however, is whether 1

Some attribute the chart to Angelino Dulcert, a Majorcan mapmaker of Genoese origin, others to his colleague Angelino Dalorto, who some argue is the same person as Dulcert as their maps show such a remarkable accord in style, form and content. While there are valid arguments for the conviction that Dulcert is no other than Dalorto, a more recent study of their charts offers very good evidence that they are indeed two different cartographers. Because of this uncertainty we come across references like “Dulcert/Dalorto” or the “Dalorto-group”. While it is regrettable that a question mark hangs over the identity of the cartographer who gave us Brasil Island, it is arguably of greater importance to know that the chart, although produced on Majorca, obviously belongs to the Genoese school. Exactly when this map first appeared is a little uncertain, but most cartographers put it at 1330. The map is preserved in Florence and forms part of the Prince Corsini Collection. 2 Walter B. Scaife, “Brazil, as a Geographical Appellation”, Modern Language Notes, IV (1890), 209.

The Gaelicization of Brasil Island


they garnered this information from the native Irish, the Norse, or the Normans. T.J. Westropp points out that most of the Irish places marked on the early charts were well known to the Anglo-Normans. Accordingly, French, or rather Norman influence underlies these maps from the very first, while distinctive Irish names remain unrecorded.3 What is more, Westropp also draws attention to the fact that the charts contain names which are neither Norman nor Irish, but are toponyms of southern European extraction. In some cases they represent straightforward semantic translations: for example, “The Bull Rock” in Kerry is marked as “Toro”. Other sites are given names that bear no resemblance to the local versions whatsoever, as is the case with “Bolus Head” which is marked as “Lespor d’Irlanda”. The two corollaries of this are, first, that it is quite erroneous to assume the names on the charts are all somehow derived from the Irish language and, second, that as there is no corresponding island named in the Irish tradition, a Mediterranean origin of the toponym is more than likely.4 In the early Middle Ages, “grana de brazill” was a coveted and very valuable commodity. It was a dye whose name derived from its colour, namely a fiery red. It was then considered more valuable than gold, and there was such a demand for clear strong colours for the clothes of the rich that it became the ideal product for adventurers. The dye was mainly extracted from the logwood tree, commonly referred to as brazil-wood, from which the South American country is named. What is less well known is that the dye was also prepared from lichen, called Rocella or Orchella moss. This northern species of brazil, which grows on Atlantic rocks and headlands, has been found not only in Irish waters, but also as far north as Iceland. Columbus mentions “collecting brazil” in the accounts of his third and fourth voyages, and judging by the equipment he brought along for this – slung bags and knives – one can only assume that these were lichengathering and not tree-felling expeditions. As with the South American country, then, the dye seems to have been responsible for 3

Thomas J. Westropp, “Early Italian Maps of Ireland from 1300 to 1600, with Notes on Foreign Settlers and Trade”, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 3rd ser., sect. C, XXX (1912-1913), 364-65. 4 Thomas J. Westropp, “Brasil and the Legendary Islands of the North Atlantic: Their History and Fable. A Contribution to the ‘Atlantis’ Problem”, Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 3rd ser., sect. C, XXX (1912), 249, 255, 259.


Barbara Freitag

giving Brasil Island its name.5 Early chart-makers frequently used the names of precious commodities – like gold, ivory, pearls – for areas in which the desired commodity had already been found or where it was hoped future discoveries would be made. From its very conception, then, it seems that Brasil Island was based on wishful thinking. Nevertheless, determined efforts were made to find the island. There is some anecdotal evidence of Cornish and Welsh gentlemen squandering their family’s fortunes in fruitless attempts to locate it. Far better documented are the endeavours of Bristol merchants in the last decade of the fifteenth century, who sent two to four ships each year in search of it. In 1497, Christopher Columbus received the information that the men from Bristol had actually found Brasil Island.6 Once on the maps, Brasil Island not only attracted seafarers, but writers, too, fell for its lure. Spain provides us with the earliest literary references to it. As early as 1340, an anonymous Spanish monk wrote a travel book in which the narrator purports to give an account of a journey through Africa, Europe and Asia. Among many other places, he claims to have visited Brasil Island which, judging by the route he took, was clearly meant to be in the Azores.7 More intriguing is a fifteenth-century Spanish version of the legend of King Arthur, written by one Lope García de Salazar (1399-1476). Salazar changed the traditional story of Arthur’s final resting place by substituting Brasil Island for Avalon, which he justified by pointing to sea charts which clearly show the island. Moreover, he also gave an account of a meeting with Bristol sailors who told him that they had found the island, where they had taken on a load of brazil-wood which they had sold at a huge profit. So now they naturally wished to rediscover the island, but were unable to do so. Salazar was not surprised to learn of their problems because he knew the island was 5

L.D. Hills, Lands of the Morning, London: Regency Press, 1970, 54-55. David B. Quinn, “The English Contribution to Early Overseas Discovery”, Terrae Incognitae, VIII (1976), 91-92. 7 Book of the Knowledge of all the Kingdoms, Lands, and Lordships that are in the World, and the Arms and Devices of Each Land and Lordship, or of the Kings and Lords who Possess Them, ed. and trans. Clements Markham; repr., Nendeln/Lichtenstein: Kraus Reprint, 1967 >1912@, 29. The text was written by a Spanish Franciscan in the middle of the fourteenth century, published for the first time with notes by Marcos Jiménez de la Espada in 1877. 6

The Gaelicization of Brasil Island


enchanted. Its enchanted status notwithstanding, he obviously believed in its existence, confidently affirming that “there is no doubt that this island is there”. He reputedly heard tell that the spell was not an all-encompassing ban against the island’s discovery. Apparently, the enchantment worked only if, prior to being sighted, the island caught sight of the would-be discoverer. Conversely, however, the island could be found if the ship saw the island before the island saw the ship.8 Although it had been alluded to by earlier novelists and playwrights, the first writer to elevate Brasil Island to a full-blown literary topic was the English writer Richard Head (c. 1637-1686?). It is not entirely surprising that Head, author of The English Rogue, and by all accounts a bit of a rogue himself, found disappearing islands attractive. An inveterate gambler, he frequently faced bankruptcy, which obliged him temporarily to duck out of sight and also to produce books quickly by borrowing from other works, thereby earning his notorious reputation for plagiarism. He published three works in which Brasil Island figures. Like Salazar before him, Head makes reference to the maps, the island’s enchantment and to the English expeditions. In his first two books a bunch of blackguards on the run are desperately trying to find Brasil Island because (a) they need a hiding place, and (b) they hope to lay their hands on its fabled wealth.9 In both works the attempts fail, but in his third book, entitled O-Brazile, or, The Inchanted Island, the island is discovered and explored. The lucky seafarers are a Captain Nisbet and his crew who chanced upon it close to the coast of Northern Ireland. All the circumstances of the exploration are related in the manner of a factual eyewitness account and are contained in a letter supposedly written by William Hamilton, a man from Derry,


Harvey L. Sharrer, “The Passing of King Arthur to the Island of Brasil in a FifteenthCentury Spanish Version of the Post-Vulgate Roman du Graal”, Romania, XCII (1971), 72. 9 Richard Head, Hic et Ubique; or, the Humours of Dublin. A Comedy. Acted Privately, with General Applause, London: Printed by R.D. for the Author, 1663; Richard Head, The Western Wonder: or, O Brazeel, an Inchanted Island Discovered; with a Relation of Two Ship-wracks in a Dreadful Sea-storm in that Discovery, London: Printed for N.C., 1674.


Barbara Freitag

who claims to have faithfully written down everything Captain Nisbet told him about his exploration of Brasil Island.10 From this we learn that the islanders are a destitute Scots-Gaelic speaking people who feel greatly relieved at having been discovered at long last. Descended from noble ancestors, this once prosperous people have been able to manage neither their own affairs nor their plentiful resources. Worse still, they were incapable of ridding themselves of an evil spell under which they had lain for hundreds of years. With its rich gold and silver mines untapped, its towns derelict and its population languishing, the island is clearly in need of a competent colonial power to rescue it. The view that a culturally superior nation could by rights take over another that was considered inferior was quite commonly expressed in the context of colonial expansion, but Head probably did not intend to make a political statement here. He needed to write books which catered for and satisfied a popular taste. O-Brazile was clearly intended to excite an English readership, with whom travel books, in particular those which fuelled their sense of superiority, were prodigiously popular. In fact, reports of newly discovered islands, whether real or fictitious, were sure to cause a sensation among the reading public all over Europe. One such example is Henry Neville’s Isle of Pines, which was published in London in 1668. It was an instant success throughout Europe and was translated into French, Dutch, Italian and German. Head’s O-Brazile is clearly modelled on the Isle of Pines which was ambiguous enough to make some readers believe that it was a true story of discovery, and it, too, was published in the form of a letter purporting to be an eyewitness account. In the 1720s, under the title The History of the Inchanted-Island of O-Brazile, there appeared another book claiming to give an account of a visit to the island. The influence of Head is unmistakable. Here we have a sailor named William Hogg, on board a ship that sailed from Londonderry to Boston, who describes how the crew suddenly espy an island about twenty leagues off Galway. When they explore it they learn that they have landed on Brasil Island, where they stay for the 10 Richard Head, O-Brazile, or, The Inchanted Island: being a Perfect Relation of the Late Discovery and Wonderful Dis-inchantment of an Island on the North of Ireland: with an Account of the Riches and Commodities thereof: communicated by a Letter from London-derry to a Friend in London, London: Printed for William Crook, 1675.

The Gaelicization of Brasil Island


next seven years. Again, the island is portrayed from the point of view of someone who is smug in the knowledge of coming from a culturally superior background, and the islanders are described as pretty barbarous, and devoid of art, culture and industry.11 Turning to what we now call Northern Ireland, we find that the two most intriguing stories concerning the island stem from there. A Voyage to Obrazeel and Old Ireland’s Misery at an End, although published anonymously, in all probability were both written by Northern Irish clergymen and, by peculiar coincidence, both date from the same year: 1752. A Voyage to Obrazeel is about an island which was once situated close to the coast of Donegal, but whose inhabitants had opted to become invisible, and who now, having lived under water for generations, dread the possibility that they may be discovered. So the story focuses on the islanders rather than on the enterprising conqueror or would-be colonizer. The island is a little paradise with cattle in fair pastures, splendid vegetation, fruit and grain in full perfection, where the people are happy and virtuous. Two men from Ulster manage to visit the island, and it is through their eyes that the author contrasts the unfavourable social conditions of Ulster with O’Brazeel’s ideally organized society. The two worlds could hardly be more different. There is no aristocracy, no military and no institutionalized church in O’Brazeel. Personal property is limited, while poverty, corruption and injustice are unheard of. Overall, it amounts to a pious yet progressive vision of an autonomous Ulster, which serves as a model for a possible unification with the rest of Ireland. It is presented as a popular sovereignty, underpinned by a radical and egalitarian philosophy, and spiritually guided by a Church brought back to her apostolic origins.12 The other story in which Brasil Island is also cryptically bound up with questions of national and religious identity is entitled Old 11

William Hogg, The History of the Inchanted-Island of O’Brazile. Giving an Account of the Country, Religion, Government, Marriages, Funerals, their Customs, also of the strange Birds and Beasts that are there, and of his own Landing in Galloway, Dublin: Printed by C. Carter, 1724. 12 “A Voyage to O’Brazeel: or, The Sub-Marine Island. Giving a Brief Description of the Country; and a Short Account of the Customs, Manners, Government, Law, and Religion of the Inhabitants”, in The Ulster Miscellany, Belfast: James Blow, 1753, 964.


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Ireland’s Misery at an End. It, too, is set in an island off Donegal and shares a number of features with A Voyage to Obrazeel, in particular in regard to the conception of Brasil Island.13 In both cases the island is closely connected with millenarian prophecy. Both texts portray it as hidden under water and, as its concealment is deliberate on God’s part, it follows that the islanders are the chosen people. Like the biblical New Jerusalem it is not yet seen, but its emergence is prophesied in time to come. The two authors imaginatively explore Brasil Island’s complex symbolic possibilities. Coming from opposite sides of Protestantism – apostolic and episcopalian – they both use it for patriotic ends, albeit with different political goals: A Voyage is aiming at a totally independent Ireland, while Old Ireland’s Misery is only looking for legislative independence for Ireland within a British Empire. As a literary motif Brasil Island occurs much later in what is now the Republic of Ireland but, once introduced, it is ardently pursued. In the course of the eighteenth century, the English-speaking patriots began to take a growing interest in the ancient Gaelic past which ultimately led to a convergence of Gaelic and Anglo-Irish cultural energies. Patriots from both sides of the divide were united in their appreciation of the west of Ireland as the locus of a pure pre-colonial Irish people, as the last surviving bastion of Gaelic culture and identity. Detached from the Irish mainland and the furthest away from England, in particular, the western isle, real or imaginary, came to be indicative of qualities thought to be authentic and indigenously Irish. Brasil Island seemed eminently suited for this idea. It was argued that this island belonged to Gaelic lore and that, thanks to the ecclesiastical as well as trade contacts with Ireland, Mediterranean mapmakers heard of it and put it on their charts accordingly. In the early 1780s, William Beauford not only provided the island with a Gaelic-looking name, but also placed it firmly in the Gaelic tradition by ascribing to it the unfounded epithet “paradise of the pagan Irish”.14 13 Old Ireland’s Misery at an End. Or, The English Empire in the Brazil’s Restored. Being the Second Appearance of the Inchanted Lady, who Appeared the 5th Day of June, 1752, in the Form of a Mermaid, on a Sand Bank in the Harbour of Lougres …, Newport, RI: Thomas Fleet, 1952. 14 William Beauford, “Antient Topography of Ireland; with a Preliminary Discourse; Illustrated with a Map of Antient Ireland …”, Collectanea de Rebus Hibernicis, Dublin: Luke White, 1786, III/11, 282.

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In his treatise on the ancient topography of Ireland, Beauford referred to the island as Hy Brasail, the Hiberno-English spelling for Í Breasil or Uí Bhreasail, thus suggesting a Gaelic root. Although “Hy Brasil” has remained the preferred option for English speakers until today, there is a noticeable tendency among Irish speakers to dispense with the suggestion and apply the full Gaelic rendering of the name. Beauford was a schoolmaster with a keen interest in the study of Gaelic antiquity. The reason why he used the prefix Hy has to do with the difficulties English speakers had with Irish place names. Different letters or combinations of letters frequently express the same sound, he observed, giving the following example: “O, Hy, Y, I, Eochadh, Eogha, and Ibh have the same sound, being like the English O, open.” Accordingly, many Irish place names beginning with what sounded like an O in English were transcribed as Hy; for example, the ancient kingdom of Uí Failghe (now Offaly) in Leinster was anglicized as Hy-falgia.15 So, when he referred to O’Brasile as Hy Brasail, Beauford went by sound because, as far as he was concerned, O and Hy were interchangeable. What he disregarded, however, is the fact that the O in O’Brasile stands for the Romance definite article and has nothing to do with Irish. On the early maps Mediterranean cartographers used terms like “the Isle of Brasile”. From the mid-sixteenth century onward, toponyms began to be cut short by ellipsis and words like “the mountain of” or “the island of” tended to be dropped, but on the now prominent Portuguese charts the article “o” (or “a”) preceding the name was usually kept (for instance, Oporto = the port of Porto), and so we now find “O’Brasile” – sometimes linked into a single word, sometimes written with an apostrophe. We can observe this change in the English sources, too. In all the early documents, the name is made up of three words, but from the early seventeenth century onwards, we almost exclusively find the truncated version of O’Brasile. The Anglo-Irish version Hy Brasil (or O’Breasil) suggested a tribal name. As Bre(a)sal is not an uncommon name in Irish, the search began for a historical figure after whom the island might have been named, but in the end no prospective personage emerged to fit the bill. Yet, the notion that Brasil Island had an Irish history was too tempting 15

Ibid., 269.


Barbara Freitag

to let go of and the search began to focus on other possible origins of the name. Many went to great lengths to prove a Gaelic root by conjecturing far-fetched etymologies, despite the fact that the Old Irish dictionary lists bre(a)sal either as an English loanword or derived from Latin bresilum. Either way, it is defined as the name of a dye (“red raddle”) used for marking sheep. Others probed into mythology and conjured up ever more fanciful Celtic kings. Even scholars like Tomás Ó Flannghaile, Lecturer and Examiner in Irish, got carried away. Although somewhat perplexed that “in later times” Hy Brasil had been added to the list of designations for the pagan Elysium and also expressing his surprise at its Irish rendering (“a name sometimes written even in Irish Hí-Breasail or ‘Brassil’s Isle’”), he nevertheless went on to speculate that it probably derived from Breasal Breac, a legendary king from the Book of Leinster.16 However, we search in vain for evidence of Brasil Island or Hy Brasil in older Irish sources. There is no mention of it in the early or middle Irish tales, records, annals or bardic poetry. In fact, it is not until the nineteenth century that we come across the name in folklore collections. And this is the reason why Irish scholars dismiss it as a non-authentic name, with the great Celticist James Carney insisting that this “curious term” is found “exclusively in non-Gaelic and comparatively late sources”.17 And yet the imaginary island of Hy Brasil came to be presented as the epitome of all things Celtic. As both an incarnation of Gaelic Ireland and the location of the Celtic Otherworld, its charm proved irresistible, particularly for the patriots. Thus Hy Brasil soon became a favourite subject with Irish poets and writers, but painters and composers, too, were drawn to Hy Brasil and frequently used it as a motif in their works. Gerald Griffin (1803-40) started the trend with his ballad “Hy Brasail [in some editions O Brazil or O’Brazile], the Isle of the Blest”.18 Because it was such a great success and also instrumental in 16

The Lay of Oisín in the Land of Youth by Micheál Coimín, ed. T.Ó. Ó Flannghaile, Dublin: M.H. Gill and Son, 1907, xiii-xiv. 17 James Carney, “Review of Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abbatis, edited with Introduction and Notes by Carl Selmer”, in The Otherworld Voyage in Early Irish Literature, ed. J.M. Wooding, Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2000, 47. 18 The Ballads of Ireland, ed. E. Hayes, London, Edinburgh and Dublin: A. Fullarton and Co., 1855, II, 103-104.

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propagating the idea that this island was the paradise of the pagan Irish, the full text is given here: On the ocean that hollows the rocks where ye dwell, A shadowy land has appeared, as they tell; Men thought it a region of sunshine and rest, And they called it Hy-Brasail, the isle of the blest; From year unto year, on the ocean’s blue rim, The beautiful spectre showed lovely and dim; The golden clouds curtained the deep where it lay, And it looked like an Eden, away, far away! A peasant who heard of the wonderful tale, In the breeze of the Orient loosened his sail; From Ara, the holy, he turned to the west, For though Ara was holy, Hy-Brasail was blest. He heard not the voices that called from the shore – He heard not the rising wind’s menacing roar; Home, kindred, and safety, he left on that day, And he sped to Hy-Brasail, away, far away! Morn rose on the deep, and that shadowy isle, O’er the faint rim of distance, reflected its smile; Noon burned on the wave, and that shadowy shore Seemed lovelily distant, and faint as before; Lone evening came down on the wanderer’s track, And to Ara again he looked timidly back; Oh! Far on the verge of the ocean it lay, Yet the isle of the blest was away, far away! Rash dreamer, return! O, ye winds of the main, Bear him back to his own peaceful Ara again. Rash fool! For a vision of fanciful bliss, To barter thy calm life of labour and peace. The warning of reason was spoken in vain; He never revisited Ara again! Night fell on the deep, amidst tempest and spray, And he died on the waters, away, far away!

A deeply religious man, Griffin frequently adopted a didactic tone in his works and here he is warning against being deluded by beautiful spectres. Clearly the moral to be drawn is that one should not strive after the blissful past in exchange for a pious life of labour and peace. And yet the depiction of the fanciful pagan dreamland, which the


Barbara Freitag

foolish peasant sets sail for, had the opposite effect on his readers: it inspired them with a wonderful vision of the ancient Irish Elysium. Griffin’s ballad gained immediate and lasting fame. It was frequently cited and anthologized, though not so much for its didactic import, which tended to be ignored, as for its powerfully evocative images of the ancient paradise. Hy Brasil became in fact also a Christian designation, on a par with the terrestrial paradise reserved for God’s saints. It was above all the island which St Brendan set out to find. The association between St Brendan and Hy Brasil had become so commonplace by the end of the nineteenth century that the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society could confidently state that, according to tradition, St Brendan “made a voyage in his curragh across the Western ocean, in the sixth century, in search of the shadowy land of Hy-Brasil …”.19 However, a more sceptical attitude towards Hy Brasil emerges when the Literary Revival draws to a close in the 1920s. Concerned not so much with the Gaelic past as with the current problems, the new generation of writers focuses more on the orthodoxies of life in contemporary Ireland. As a consequence, the ethnocentric approach to the west, with all its concomitant romantic sentimentality, disappears and most artists no longer draw on the Gaelic or the otherworldly dimension of Hy Brasil. Poets in particular rather treat the island as a demythologized locus of imagination, and begin to explore, without strain, Hy Brasil’s diverse metaphoric possibilities. To conclude, what began as an error (or wishful thinking) by an Italian cartographer initiated a spate of exploratory voyages, but, more importantly, it has for centuries provided writers in England and Ireland with a rich literary motif. In the United Kingdom there were sporadic sightings, including mythical apparitions throughout the last century, and in 2002 the island resurfaced in all its glory in Margaret Elphinstone’s novel Hy Brasil.20


“Folklore”, Journal of Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, III (1894), 66. Margaret Elphinstone, Hy Brasil, Edinburgh: Canongate, 2002. For a fuller account of the mythical and literary history of this island, see Barbara Freitag, Hy Brasil: The Metamorphosis of an Island. From Cartographic Error to Celtic Elysium, Textxet: Studies in Comparative Literature 69, Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2013.


THE TEMPEST TOSS’D SHIP: TWELFTH NIGHT AND EMOTIONAL COMMUNITIES IN EARLY MODERN LONDON ROBERT J. VRTIS A deep analysis of William Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, this essay provides a framework for understanding the emotional expectations of the early modern audiences at the public playhouses. These emotional values subverted a growing emotional stoicism underpinning government actions and the rhetoric of antitheatricalists of the time. Furthermore, this essay borrows from Barbara Rosenwein’s concept of “emotional communities” in order to illuminate the way that this play functioned both as a site where two groups with incongruent emotional norms and values come into fictional conflict (in the world of the play), while, in the act of performing itself, simultaneously establishing a microcosm of a parallel conflict of emotional values unfolding in early modern London.

In his 1612 emblem book Minerva Britanna, a volume filled with allegorical images coupled with explanatory poems, Henry Peacham illustrates the stark contrast of emotionalism and emotional governance under the title “Nec igne, nec unda” (“Neither fiery, nor billowing”).1 His allegory is fairly simple, offering icons of explicitly masculine emotional governance and an implicitly feminine emotional chaos. Central to the image stands a pillar of stone jutting out from a churning and turbulent sea. Peacham’s poem explains that this stone, tall amongst the crashing waves and beneath a stormy sky “is Manlie Constancie of mind”. As the poem explains, this stone endures without alteration despite the world’s changeability and the forces (wind, lightning, sea) that would alter it. The stone is entirely barren, further suggesting that no change, even internal to itself, will reshape this pillar. Sailing through the storm, oriented as if it were suspended 1

Henry Peacham, Minerva Britanna, The English Experience, its Record in Early Printed Books Published in Facsimile, no. 407, Amsterdam: Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, 1971, 158.


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in the moments before smashing itself against the great stone, Peacham has placed a “goodly ship to drowne”. This ship, ablaze with flames (intended to represent passions) and piloted by pride and desire, is Opinion. Held in opposition to the stern stone body, the ship offers the alternative which Peacham cautions against: a body in emotionally charged transformation. For him, such a body cannot help but come to wreckage, a victim as much of the world’s influences as its own passion. In her essay exploring emotional governance in the seventeenth century Katherine Rowe explains that the trope was fairly common at and around the time that Minerva Britanna was published, with notable instances occurring in Thomas Wright’s The Passions of the Minde in Generall, as well as in Macbeth.2 In Shakespeare’s play Ross urges a frightened Lady MacDuff to “school yourself”, lamenting that they live in such a fearful state that: … we hold rumor From what we fear, yet know not what we fear, But float upon a wild and violent sea Each way and move –3

Peacham’s stone offers an icon of emotional regulation capable of resisting all emotional input and remaining constantly its severe self in direct contrast to the emotionally volatile self which presented a danger to itself beyond help of any but God. Elsewhere, I have tried to demonstrate that this emblematic contrast is something of an artefact in which we can see competing valuations of emotion with direct implications for the early modern public theatre and those who participate (on stage or in the auditorium) in the performance.4 Here, I 2

Katherine Rowe, “Humoral Knowledge and Liberal Cognition in Davenant”, in Reading the Early Modern Passions: Essays in the Cultural History of Emotion, eds Gail Kern Paster and Katherine Rowe, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004, 171. 3 William Shakespeare, Macbeth, IV.ii.19-22, in The Arden Shakespeare Complete Works, eds Richard Proudfoot, Ann Thompson and David Scott Kastan, rev. edn, London: Methuen Drama, 2011, 791. 4 Robert J. Vrtis, Plague and Mirror: Metaphors of Emotional Transfer and Their Effect on the Actor-Audience Relationship in Theatre, Diss. University of Oregon, 2011.

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wish to further explore these notions of individualized emotional governance and chaotic emotional transformation as a way of exploring one of Shakespeare’s best known plays about a shipwreck, Twelfth Night, alongside the emotional tensions within the culture that produced it in the hopes of illuminating both. The catastrophic destruction of a ship serves as catalyst for the plot of Twelfth Night, but the destruction of a vessel upon the wild waves of a raging storm also serves as an illuminating metaphor for the way Shakespeare constructs different forms of emotionalism in his play. Whatever his intentions may have been, Peacham’s image stands as emblematic of the tensions between emotional communities5 taking shape in early modern London. The emotional values of one, favouring relative stoicism and withdrawal from mass emotional experience, repeatedly formed central tenets drawn on by many of the polemics against public theatres. This same form of emotionalism increasingly influenced the authorities and coloured public policy with detrimental results for the theatres. Peacham’s ship, on the point of floundering, stands as the implied opposition to this severe emotional self-governance. However, it could easily stand for the mind incapable of dampening emotional input from without, or even an emotionalism that seeks the communal emotional experience that the solitary stone denies itself. Members of an emotional community seeking just such an experience could be found attending or creating the performances in the public theatres of the era. Twelfth Night navigates in spaces between these extremes, an artefact that explores the possibilities for emotionalism in its time, and provides an ideal avenue for exploring these emotional communities. Following Orsino’s brief first scene, the action of Twelfth Night begins with a shipwreck and an emotionally charged transformation. Pulled from the sea by sailors, Viola mourns for the twin she believes drowned and pleads for some measure of hope that he may yet live. 5

“Emotional community” is Barbara Rosenwein’s term for a group of people who tend to “adhere to the same norms of emotional expression and value – or devalue – the same or related emotions” (Barbara H. Rosenwein, Emotional Communities in the Early Middle Ages, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press 2006, 2). Emotional communities, Rosenwein explains, can cut across class divisions or political boundaries, though the social and cultural milieu can certainly have an effect on one’s emotional values. So, to identify an emotional community emerging in early modern London is not as simple as grouping together a political faction or social stratum.


Robert J. Vrtis

Severed from her old life, she adopts a new identity as the boy Cesario. Nearly every character in the world where Viola has washed ashore lives in an emotional extreme. The play opens with Orsino in the pangs of unrequited love, though his love is ultimately inwardly directed as a kind of love for the idea of himself in love. Jonathan Bate usefully draws attention to the Ovidian myths surrounding Orsino, particularly that of Narcissus.6 Although Orsino’s love is directed at himself, he nonetheless feeds his heartsick passion with music and poetic imagery. Olivia begins the play mourning the loss of her brother in an extreme way, having promised to mourn for seven years within the confines of her estate. Her emotional state is directed inwards too despite the claim that the object of her sorrow is her sibling. The fool Feste hints as much when he offers to prove the lady a fool for mourning a soul she believes in heaven.7 The most important representatives of opposing emotional communities at this point, however, come in the person of Olivia’s steward, Malvolio, and in the cabal of revellers Sir Toby Belch, Maria, Sir Andrew Aguecheek, Fabian and Feste. The revellers provide an ideal example of emotional values unifying a small community across social barriers that might otherwise separate the different individuals, the aristocratic knights from the serving class, for example. Indeed, Sir Toby expresses his desire to marry Maria in terms of the laughter she provides. Following the initial phase of their humiliation of Malvolio, Sir Toby declares just that and promises to “ask no other dowry with her but such another jest”.8 When Fabian later tells us of their off-stage marriage we hear that Sir Toby has followed through on his promise of marrying her.9 This community indulges in physical delight by eating and drinking to excess (Sir Toby and Sir Andrew); as Malvolio complains, they dance, laugh, and sing with “no respect of place, persons, nor time”.10 The small community embodies a celebration of shared emotion much like the crowds that assembled to watch plays, 6

Jonathan Bate, Shakespeare and Ovid, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993, 138-45. William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, or What You Will, I.v.56-69, in The Arden Shakespeare, 1196. 8 Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, II.v.178-79, 1204. 9 Ibid., V.i.356-57, 1216. 10 Ibid., II.iii.90-91, 1200. 7

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which we glimpse in Michael Drayton’s “Sonnet 47” and in Middleton’s and Dekker’s The Roaring Girl. In the latter, under the pretext of setting the scene, Sir Alexander describes the audience from an actor’s perspective. After noting the wide cross section of “many faces there filled with blithe looks”, which “seem to move and give plaudities”, he gives the impression of sailing on a sea of emotion. He says: The very floor, as ’twere, waves to and fro, And like a floating island seems to move Upon a sea bound in with shores above. 11

Packed tightly together in the yard and on the benches above, the audience transforms into something more than a collection of individuals. They become a sea, sharing in collective emotional experience, integral to the performance itself. Drayton describes the experience of play-going in early modern London: “With those the thronged Theatres that press” where “In heat of blood a modest mind might move: / With shouts and claps at every little pause, / When the proud round on every side hath rung”.12 Such an audience, visibly and audibly engaged to the point where the very theatre seemed to reverberate with their presence, echoes the boisterousness of Shakespeare’s revellers as well as Peacham’s ship at sea. In the same poem Drayton describes his inability to partake in their enthusiasm, though his is an expression of sorrow at being unable to share in their emotional response to his play, not of the stony unwillingness to be unaltered by emotions that Peacham’s pillar suggests. Malvolio provides a point of resistance to the revellers as well as the target of their collective scorn. “Sad and civil”,13 as Olivia calls him, he comports himself within an emotional norm decidedly opposed to theirs. Olivia has set the emotional tenor of her home by plunging herself into seven years of sombre mourning, but Malvolio exceeds her by far. He is grave and sober, and he goes so far as to 11

Thomas Dekker and Thomas Middleton, The Dramatic Works of Thomas Dekker, I.ii.14-32, ed. Fredson Bowers, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958, III, 17. 12 Michael Drayton, Minor Poems of Michael Drayton, ed. Cyril Brett, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907, 48. 13 Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, III.iv.5, 1207.


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deny a fool’s power to cure sadness through laughter. After Feste’s attempt to cheer her by mocking her sorrow Olivia asks her steward, presumably having just laughed, “What think you of this fool, Malvolio? Doth he not mend?” After giving the clown only slight credit Malvolio then questions how effectual the fool is, noting that one has only to withhold laughter, that is, choose not to share in emotional experience with him, to remove his power.14 In fact, the steward aims to rise in the world largely by affecting an emotionalism of withholding his laughter and shunning communal enjoyment. Even after he is fooled into believing that Olivia is deeply in love with him, his fantasies have little to do with her. In the scene during which he finds the forged letter Maria tells us that he has already been “yonder i’ the sun practising behaviour to his own shadow this half hour”. 15 Already, he has no need for entertainment beyond himself. Upon entering the scene he indulges in a fantasy that involves Olivia only peripherally. He seems more interested in the image of himself perfecting the “humor of state” frowning and exerting an “austere regard of control” as he admonishes Sir Toby to amend his drunken foolishness.16 This scene underlines Olivia’s earlier observation that the killjoy is “sick with self-love”.17 Not unlike Orsino, Malvolio is the object of his own love to which Olivia is only an adjunct. Otherwise, his emotionalism comes largely from a self-righteous scorn for those who waste the treasure of their time with foolishness and rigorous emotional governance. What is more, he refuses to admit emotions that could alter his state. He will not be transformed by laughter because he will not allow himself to laugh. When the forged letter prompts him to adopt a smile, along with cross-gartered stockings, he does so for the advancement it could provide him. Otherwise, he has every intention of quashing Sir Toby’s behaviour with a “sad face, a reverend carriage, a slow tongue, in the habit of some sir of note”.18 For all his affected behaviour and determined individualism he might be forgiven as a wet blanket or a laughable social climber. However, his attempts to impose his 14

Ibid., I.v.70-86, 1196. Ibid., II.v.16-17, 1202. 16 Ibid., II.v.23-76, 1202-1203. 17 Ibid., I.v.87, 1196. 18 Ibid., III.iv.73-74, 1207. 15

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emotionalism on others are what make him intolerable and, ultimately, the object of the revellers’ prank. With palpable contempt, Maria calls him “time-pleaser” and notes that “sometimes he is a kind of a Puritan”19 in a slight with metatheatrical resonance worth exploring in order to give the tension between these characters greater context. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, anti-theatricalist writers outlined myriad reasons why Londoners should avoid public theatres. Their attacks ranged from accusations that plays drew young apprentices from their work (wasting their valuable time in foolishness), that they mixed sacred and profane materials, and that they provided a place for the easy transmission of plague. The language of these texts struck an increasingly familiar refrain, stating that plays transformed those who attended them through an emotional assault carried out by the actors in conjunction with the masses assembled to see the play. The writers (all men) single out women as being especially vulnerable. The year following James Burbage’s construction of London’s first purpose-built theatre (The Theatre), John Northbrooke asked in A Treatise Against Dicing, Dancing, Plays, and Interludes, with Other Idle Pastimes: “what safeguard of chastity can there be, where the woman is desired with so many eyes .… she must needs fire some, and herself also fired again, and she be not stone; for what mind can be pure and whole among such rabblement, and not spotted with any lust?”20 Stephen Gosson reserved an entire section of his Schoole of Abuse (1579) for the special instruction of London’s gentlewomen, citing their supposed inherent weakness as the reason to do so. In this section he advises the women of London not to attempt to cure their melancholy by joining these emotional crowds, but rather to take up solitary activities such as reading or “at the most engaging in sober conference with one’s neighbours”.21 Not unlike Olivia’s handling of her sorrow, Gosson advises women to withdraw to private spaces and to avoid attempts to alter their mood with communal cheer. 19

Ibid., II.iii.144-50, 1200. John Northbrooke, “A Treatise Against Dicing, Dancing, Plays, and Interludes, with Other Idle Pastimes (1577)”, in Shakespeare’s Theater: A Sourcebook, ed. Tanya Pollard, Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2004, 5. 21 Stephen Gosson, “The Schoole of Abuse”, in The English Stage: Attack and Defense, 1577-1730, ed. Arthur Freeman, New York: Garland Publishing, 1973, F2vF4. 20


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Indeed, Jonas Barish has noted that the attacks on the public theatre during this period were regularly couched in anti-feminine rhetoric which constructed the female body as more susceptible to emotional influence by others than the male body.22 The language used also presages the implied call for emotional governance in Peacham’s image of the stone. Northbrooke’s woman is not stone and so, in the absence of his “manly constancy of mind”, she must necessarily be set alight with fiery emotions if she enters a sea of emotional others. Gosson advises the women of London to withdraw from the elements and be wary of the cheer offered by theatres when they feel the need to alter a sombre mood. These writers are perhaps extreme examples of what was nonetheless a pervasive notion in early modern London, as Gail Kern-Paster demonstrates in The Body Embarrassed, that the female body was more open to external influence and less capable of regulating internal emotional balance.23 While the anti-theatrical writers took time to give special warning to women about the dangers of public theatres, their tracts also repeatedly warn that the performance of the actors had the power to render the whole audience, among other things, womanish. In 1599, John Rainolds attested to the transformative power of plays, writing that “senses are moved, affections are delighted, hearts though strong and constant are vanquished by such players”, adding: “an effeminate stage-player, while he feigneth love, imprinteth wounds of love.”24 Puritan author William Prynne peppered his Histriomastix with many warnings about the effeminacy of stage players and their ability to transfer this heightened emotional instability to the audience. After reminding his reader that it is not only those actors playing women’s roles who adopt this “gross effeminacy” in their voices and actions, Prynne goes on to say that the actors “emasculate, metamorphose, and debase their noble sex … affectedly, to unman, unchristian, uncreate themselves … and all to no end but this: to exhilarate a confluence of unchaste, effeminate, vain companions”.25 The danger of these players 22 Jonas A. Barish, Anti-Theatrical Prejudice, London: University of California Press, 1981, 203. 23 Gail Kern-Paster, The Body Embarrassed: Drama and the Disciplines of Shame in Early Modern England, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1993. 24 John Rainolds, William Gager, and Alberico Gentili, Th’overthrow of Stage-Playes, New York: Garland Publishing, 1974, 18. 25 William Prynne, Histriomastix, New York: Garland Publishing, 1974, 290-91.

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would not be so great if these transformations were contained within the bounds of the stage floor or even, as several of these same antitheatrical writers posit, if the texts were read without being enacted. The expressive physicality and the “viva vox”,26 however, overwhelmed the bodies of the assembly and, disease-like, transformed those gathered, body and soul.27 In this view, those who attended theatrical performances willingly exposed themselves to an extreme emotionalism, potentially dangerous not only for its ability to lead members of the audience into further vice, but because the actors’ emotionalism had the potential to change them permanently. The enactment of desire, for example, could imprint sexual appetite on the audience, or the actions of Twelfth Night’s revellers could transform the audience into riotous fools with no respect for time, place or person. Through extreme contrast, the anti-theatrical writers align themselves with an emotional community deeply adverse to the norms of expression and emotional values held by the players and their audience. Theirs was a community that valued rigorous governance of emotions not unlike Olivia’s stern steward, Malvolio. Gosson complains: “the poets that write plays, and they that present them upon the stage, study to make our affections overflow, whereby they draw the bridle from that part of the mind that should ever be curbed, from running on ahead: which is manifest treason to our souls.”28 In Gosson’s view, the affections that the players stirred weakened the mind’s ability and resolve in resisting emotions. Such actions threatened reason’s seat. Typical of anti-theatrical writing, Gosson ties the emphasis on governance of passions so prevalent in his emotional community to Christian dogma in order to further legitimate his position: … a Christian knoweth how to delight in death …. as Christ died, and after ascended up to heaven, so he persuaded us to die, that is to mortify this flesh with the delights thereof, and to seek after those things that are above .… Our life is not his except we crucify the flesh, 26

Ibid., 930-31. Vrtis, Plague and Mirror, 47-62. 28 Stephen Gosson, “Playes Confuted in Five Actions”, in The English Stage: Attack and Defense, 1577-1730, F1v. 27


Robert J. Vrtis with affections and concupiscences of the same; we crucify not the affections of the flesh when we resort unto plays to stir them up, therefore running to plays we live to ourselves, and not to Christ.29

Not only does this clearly align the anti-theatricalists with a more or less specific religious doctrine (primarily a Protestant, sometimes Puritan, Christianity), it also demonstrates that the emotional community which these writings reflect is not adverse to emotion entirely. Rather than an absence of emotion, the writers typically favour a sombre sobriety associated with individualism and opposed to the communal feeling that the public theatres offered. Their ability to “delight in death” and in the mortification of carnal delights suggests that emotions directed toward heavenly ends are permissible as they encourage the abandonment of earthly emotional relationships. Attacks of Gosson’s kind may tend toward hyperbolic excess, but they nonetheless represent a devaluation and suspicion of passions (especially mass emotions) that reached beyond the theatres and affected public policy in early modern London. Thomas Wright’s examination of emotions, Passions of the Minde in Generall,30 paid very little attention to the public theatre, but nonetheless his theories about passion show a deep concern for its ability to subvert reason and disease the body. Primarily interested in helping physicians diagnose patients, he insists that if others wish to learn how to stir passions using his work, only those “christian Orators” who can direct emotions toward divine objects should do so.31 For others Wright echoes Gosson, giving over an entire chapter to the “Meanes to mortifie Passions”, in which he outlines ways that the reader may moderate passions and chasten their “rebellious flesh”, including exhortations to avoid the company of those who do not bridle their passions.32 Suspicions of theatrical performances’ potential to excite emotions dogged the relationship between theatres and the authorities, who were concerned with civic control and the potential for large groups to 29

Ibid., F7v-F8r. Thomas Wright, The Passions of the Minde in Generall: A Reprint Based on the 1604 Edition, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1971. Originally published in 1601 and reprinted in 1604. 31 Ibid., 2-3. 32 Ibid., 83. 30

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become unruly and rebellious. The initial limitations Elizabeth I set on theatrical productions established an emotional tone with respect to how matters of religion and governance ought to be handled. She forbade players to deal with such matters, stating that they are “no meet matter to be written or treated upon but by men of authority, learning, and wisdom, nor to be handled before any audience but of grave and discreet persons”.33 This decree not only placed subject matters of religion and governance out of the allowed scope of public theatres (reserving it for social elites); it provided a limited emotional tone with which such subjects could be handled. This specifically aimed at a traditional form through which theatre engages with social and political subject matter, satire. Effectively, Elizabeth placed the handling of these issues outside of an emotional community that did not, in her view, have the significant emotional governance appropriate for the handling of such matters. Early in the English Civil War, as Puritan civic control of London hit its height, Parliament quickly closed the public playhouses. The text ordering the closing of the theatres in 1642 uses the language of emotion to justify the parliamentary ordinance: And whereas public sports do not well agree with public calamities, nor public stage plays with the seasons of humiliation, this being an exercise of sad and pious solemnity, and the other being spectacles of pleasure, too commonly expressing lascivious mirth and levity: it is therefore thought fit and ordained by the Lords and commons in this Parliament assembled, that while these sad causes and set times of humiliation do continue, public stage plays shall cease and be foreborne.34

The injunctions against theatres and the limitations placed on theatrical productions between 1559 and 1642 continually refer to the inappropriateness of the emotions experienced when attending a play and view with great suspicion the mass emotions invoked by impassioned players, especially due to the potential for riot feared

33 Edmund Kerchever Chambers, The Elizabethan Stage, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1923, IV, 263. 34 “An Ordinance of the Lords and Commons Concerning Stage Plays, September 2, 1642”, in Shakespeare’s Theater, ed. Pollard, 333.


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from a great collection of spectators experiencing heightened emotions as one.35 Whether or not the political goals of all involved were entirely aligned (and, indeed, Elizabeth I and the 1642 Parliament would most certainly have been opposed), these writers and civic authorities adopted a set of emotional values and norms of expression that they associated with the authority and behaviour necessary for a wellordered society. This same emotionalism colours civic injunctions against public theatres, thereby imposing a specific set of emotional norms on society. This is the same attitude that Malvolio exhibits in his attempts to restrain Sir Toby and his companions in order to create a well-ordered household. As C.L. Barber observes, Malvolio uses morality and sobriety (and, we could add, affects a particular emotionalism) in order to rise socially but, in the world of the play, this makes him “a kind of foreign body to be expelled by laughter”.36 This laughter comprises a kind of double rejection of Malvolio as it also, through the laughter of the audience watching, rejects the imposition of an ever-encroaching emotional austerity on public theatres. Sir Toby rails at Malvolio: “Dost thou think because thou art virtuous, there shall be no more cakes and ale?”37 Unfortunately, while Malvolio’s promise of revenge comes to naught as it is held perpetually off-stage, the closures of the theatres in 1642 struck a severe blow to the emotional community that so defiantly laughed. Public theatres provided a space and events (that were more or less tolerated by civic authorities) in which contemporary strictures could be relaxed and emotional values inverted.38 Instead of isolated emotional governance, those who attended valued a certain degree of 35

See especially the “Act of Common Council for the Regulation of Theatrical Performances in London, December 6, 1574” (in Shakespeare’s Theater, ed. Pollard, 305-308) and Barbara Freedman, “Returning to Elizabethan Protest, Plague, and Plays: Rereading the ‘Documents of Control’”, in The Mysteries of Elizabeth I: Selections from English Literary Renaissance, eds Kirby Farrell and Kathleen M. Swaim, Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2003, 192-216. 36 Cesar Lombardi Barber, Shakespeare’s Festive Comedy: A Study of Dramatic Form and Its Relation to Social Custom, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1959, 257. 37 Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, II.iii.113-14, 1200. 38 Thereby creating what William Reddy might call an “emotional refuge” (William M. Reddy, The Navigation of Feeling: A Framework for the History of Emotions, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).

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self-loss in the emotionally charged event, intentionally setting themselves adrift in the storm, either incapable of or not interested in creating the impenetrable exterior Peacham described as manly constancy. The audience could participate in the event for the express purpose of experiencing the storm of emotion, allowing their ships to catch fire and experience wreck. As Shakespeare’s looming metaphor of shipwreck in Twelfth Night suggests, the experience of outwardly directed emotions (especially love) have a way of fracturing and even destroying previous notions of a stable (and isolated) self. In this destruction is the potential for change, for transformation. To participate in the theatrical display one opens oneself to the possibility of transformation induced by the highly emotional and potentially turbulent event: at the very least, the transformation from an isolated individual to one of a larger entity, the audience. Malvolio sinks in these waters largely because he refuses to transform. Even with the promise, however false, of love on his horizon, Malvolio cannot shift his focus or feel beyond himself. As others have shown, the title Twelfth Night suggests a close association between the play and festivity.39 For this reason it is tempting to see in the play a simple collision of two types of emotionalism, with one winning out (the revellers duping Malvolio). However, the subtitle Or What You Will, suggests greater complexity: that the audience may draw their own conclusions. The revellers may be the starkest contrast to Malvolio’s sombre self-love, but the play provides another alternative to Malvolio’s (and by extension the contemporary anti-theatricals’) emotional values. While Orsino, Olivia and Malvolio all manifest some degree of self-love, only Malvolio is destroyed by it through an incapacity for emotional transformation. The other two are pulled out of themselves by an agent of transformation, Viola. As previously mentioned, at the start of the play Viola undergoes an emotionally charged transformation. This is because the shipwreck provides her with the opportunity to begin anew, and, rather than drowning in sorrow for the loss of her twin, she buoys herself with hope and recreates herself as Cesario. She reaches out to her rescuers and allows herself to be consoled with this hope. This fuels her ability 39

“Twelfth Night” refers to the Epiphany, the final day of the Christmas season.


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to transform, to move on. Viola provides a sharp contrast to Olivia’s form of mourning. The heiress has walled herself up in her household as much as in her grief. She will admit no agents from without that might alter this state, keeping her sorrow in stasis. Feste might be capable of mending, but he is not able to pull her out of her inwardly directed state as Viola/Cesario can. In the guise of Cesario, Viola’s attempts to woo Olivia for Orsino get off to a rocky start. This is due in part to Olivia’s stern refusal to be moved by the stale lines Viola has learned from her master. Her praise, written well enough if formulaic,40 feels stilted and Olivia has no problem deflecting it. As the scene progresses, however, Viola increasingly wanders “out of [her] text”, until Olivia prompts her to speak for herself rather than her master. The countess asks what action love would prompt Viola to take and Viola replies with an effusion of emotion, presumably fuelled by the passion she feels for Orsino with whom she has fallen in love while in his service: Make me a willow cabin at your gate And call upon my soul within the house; Write loyal cantons of contemned love And sing them loud even in the dead of night; Halloo your name to the reverberate hills And make the babbling gossip of the air Cry out “Olivia!” O, you should not rest Between the elements of air and earth, But you should pity me. 41

Viola’s ability to speak from the heart draws Olivia out of herself and, as soon as “Cesario” has left, we see that Olivia herself is overwhelmed by a rush of love. Her emotions outpace her ability to rein them in. Numbering Viola’s virtues, the countess begins and ends a list of physical attributes with Viola’s tongue – her speech, and her spirit, the passion with which she expresses herself.42


For more on this subject, see Lorna Hutson, “On Not Being Deceived: Rhetoric and the Body in Twelfth Night”, Texas Studies in Literature and Language, XXXVIII/2 (1996), 140-74. 41 Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, I.v.262-69, 1198. 42 Ibid., I.v.286, 1198.

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By Act II, scene iv, the Duke has taken Viola/Cesario into his confidence where she is able to begin dislodging him from his extreme self-love. Orsino comments on the passion in his page’s expression. Complimenting her ability to “speak masterly” he immediately adds that she must surely be in love too to speak with such emotion.43 Later in this same scene, Viola overturns Orsino’s claim that women do not have a capacity to love as deeply as men do with another effusion of emotion. She tells a story of her love, under the pretext that she is speaking of her sister pining away. Orsino will not or cannot naysay her: “Was not this love indeed?” Rather, he prompts her through to the end of her story. Presumably, the duke is left speechless because she has to change the subject saying: “Sir, shall I to this lady?”44 Viola alters the world where she has been washed ashore by her ability to draw the inhabitants out of their determined self-love, affecting them with emotion that is deeply rooted but focused outside of herself. Elizabeth I and London’s civic authorities during and after her reign set out injunctions severely limiting public playing in early modern England, and they often bound up in their ordinances and decrees the language of emotional governance. In so doing, they emphasized emotional values of controlled sobriety that anti-theatrical writers took to an extreme. These writers more overtly tied stoic emotional values to religious doctrine, placing the public theatres and their audiences on the other side of morality by drawing connections between immoral behaviour and the experience of emotion that theatres offered. Taken in combination, these tracts and ordinances outline emotional values of isolated individual experience that favours relative impassivity. In this model, passion is reserved for religious experience while other emotions are routinely denied. Mortal delights are mortified in favour of a spiritual rigour, leaving one solitary or in communion with the divine. Throughout Twelfth Night Shakespeare presents foils for this emotional ideal. Acknowledging the potential pitfalls of indulgent emotion that too easily lead to self-absorption, he also demonstrates a transformative power in outwardly directed emotional experience (primarily in the form of love, though not exclusively). In the 43 44

Ibid., II.iv.22-25, 1201. Ibid., II.iv.123, 1202.


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character of shipwrecked Viola, Shakespeare presented a different possibility for the experience of emotion to his audience. Like a ship coming apart in a storm, her emotions deconstruct her sense of self. This disintegration of self threatens the ideal of constancy set forth in Peacham’s emblem and the previously mentioned anti-theatrical writings, but it also allows for the construction of a new identity informed by emotional input. In this way, Viola is an exemplary player of the early modern stage, to which she alludes with her smirking statement: “I am not that I play.”45 On the pretext of speaking hypothetically (with Olivia) or of telling a story that is not her own (with Orsino) she intentionally sets her ship ablaze with passion, enabling those she encounters to be drawn out of themselves and partake in an emotional experience that is not directed inwardly, but shared. In her emotionally charged transformation, she has the potential to transform her audience. What is more, she defies the polarity of Peacham’s stone and ship. She does not deny the influence of emotion. Rather, she allows herself to feel and to feel deeply. It permeates her being so completely that others cannot help but experience it and be changed by her passions. Nor does her emotional shipwreck drown her. Rather she rides the waves, able to navigate the swells yet to never succumb to them fully. Just as public theatres of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries offered a different way of experiencing emotion, relaxing the ever-increasing emotional strictures of civic and moral authorities, Viola offers an alternative way of experiencing emotions: neither shunning them, nor drowning in them, but able to feel them both as individual and as shared experience. The audience that encircles her, given the opportunity to experience a spectrum of emotionalism in characters from Malvolio to Sir Toby, is not forbidden to carry any particular mode of emotion with them or align themselves with any defined emotional community. As the sub-title of the play suggests, the audience has only to experience the play, taking from it what they will. But embedded in Twelfth Night is an invitation to the audience to allow for an emotional shipwreck (a disintegration of self and immersion into communal emotion) that denies the growing stoic ideal and embraces a cycle of destruction and transformation through emotional experience. 45

Ibid., I.v.179, 1197.

A SHIPWRECK OF FAITH: HAZARDOUS VOYAGES AND CONTESTED REPRESENTATIONS IN MILTON’S SAMSON AGONISTES DYANI JOHNS TAFF In John Milton’s Samson Agonistes (1671), Samson compares the loss of his divine strength to a shipwreck and the Chorus compares Dalila to an alluring merchant ship as she approaches Samson. This essay argues that Milton uses maritime metaphors to represent contested gender, theology, and representation. The focus on these sites of contestation reveals that Milton invites readers to question his characters’ interpretive acts by presenting successive, competing interpretations of Dalila’s supposed betrayal and of the moral ambiguity of Samson’s death. Samson and Dalila compete –with each other and with other characters – for control over their metaphorical ships, and they risk shipwreck as they seek to represent their actions and choices favourably. Parallel to Milton’s characters, readers risk a kind of shipwreck as they navigate competing versions of the biblical story and encounter the conflict between wilful acts of interpretation and the desire to become a vessel for divine will.

In 1642, Milton wrote that to enter contemporary debates about church government would be “to imbark in a troubl’d sea of noises and hoars disputes”.1 Milton saw the hazards of joining debates about right religious practice as akin to setting sail in a stormy sea; like Paul and other New Testament authors, he connects faith in religious truth – a truth about which one can rarely be certain – to the danger of the sea voyage, and considers himself (or his text) a vessel for divine will.2 Milton would continue to find maritime metaphors useful in


John Milton, The Reason of Church Government Urg’d against Prelaty, in Complete Prose Works of John Milton, ed. Don M. Wolfe, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1953, I, 821. 2 Acts 9:15 is an example of this use of the word “vessel”; see below for further discussion.


Dyani Johns Taff

both his prose and his poetry.3 In Milton’s work, the pilot is a figure who enters a contested, watery space; he navigates debates about religious practice, competition and unrest in a troubled marriage, and a chaotic world where maintaining one’s faith is like navigating dangerous seas. In Samson Agonistes (1671), Milton foregrounds the marital and epistemological problems that pilots encounter by figuring both Samson and Dalila in maritime terms and by illustrating their struggles to shape their own representations. Milton uses Samson’s shipwreck – for which Samson blames himself, Dalila, and God – to focus our attention on Samson’s difficulty in navigating his relation to God, and on the hazards of interpreting divine will. Milton sets Samson’s version of the narrative from the Book of Judges next to those of several others: Dalila, Manoa, the Chorus, and other characters present interpretations of their own and Samson’s acts. Milton’s maritime metaphors alert his readers to the “troubl’d sea” of texts that make the project of biblical interpretation dangerous and competitive. His drama resists a coherent, singular retelling of the story from Judges 13-16 because such a coherence would fail to represent the kind of struggle that readers encounter when they attempt to interpret God’s will and to navigate a complex world. In what Alan Rudrum has punningly called the “Agon over Samson Agonistes”, critics have vigorously debated how to read the ending of the play. These critics fall broadly into two camps that Rudrum calls “traditional” – those who read Samson as a heroic, divinely motivated liberator of his people – and “revisionist” – those who read Samson as a “false hero” and perpetrator of a violent massacre.4 Recently, critics have begun to consider alternatives to reading the play from either of


Metaphors and images of ships, pilots, and shipwrecks appear in several of Milton’s prose works across his career, such as The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643), Tetrachordon (1645), Eikonoklastes (1649), and The Readie & Easie Way (1660). In the poetry, examples of these metaphors and images appear in Lycidas (1638), Paradise Lost (1674) at 1.200-210, 2.1011-24, 2.1041-44, and 3.71-76, and Samson Agonistes (1671), among other occurrences. For more examples, see my discussion of The Doctrine and Discipline and Tetrachordon below. 4 Alan Rudrum, “Milton Scholarship and the Agon over Samson Agonistes”, Huntington Library Quarterly, LXV/3 and 4 (2002), 465. The author includes himself in the “traditional” camp.

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these standpoints.5 In her essay “Discontents with the Drama of Regeneration”, Elizabeth Sauer contends that, in reading Samson Agonistes, “readers confront their blindness. Regenerationist interpretations give way to the elusive motives for Samson’s final act – an act that leaves the various truths in play.” Without entirely disallowing Samson’s regeneration, Sauer recasts it as just one of “various truths” that Milton leaves open at the end of the play. In “confronting their blindness”, readers take up the position inhabited by Milton’s characters, and indeed by living persons, wherein they cannot know the full moral ramifications of any act they see.6 I will argue that to refocus on the maritime imagery of Milton’s drama is to refocus on this quality of unknowability; Milton figures his characters in maritime terms precisely to foreground the uncertainty of the interpretive voyage on which readers embark as we make our way through Samson’s story. Apart from Dalila’s entrance as the “ship / of Tarsus”,7 the maritime imagery in Milton’s drama has been little examined. In 1959, Barbara Lewalski highlighted Milton’s representations of his characters and their emotions as ships and tempests, and opened intriguing venues for new scholarship.8 And yet, the topic seemingly attracted no interest until John Guillory, in “Dalila’s House: Samson Agonistes and the Sexual Division of Labor” (1986), compared Dalila’s entrance to the description of Cleopatra on her barge in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra (c. 1608). In his essay Guillory explores the sexual and political implications of Milton’s move to describe both Samson and Dalila in maritime terms, and argues that 5

In addition to Sauer, Donnelly has expressed this goal. He argues that the critical divide between “regenerationist and revisionist readings of the play” does not have to remain a stark binary: “a regenerationist reading”, he writes, “does not require an orthodox theological interpretation of the play” (Phillip J. Donnelly, Milton’s Scriptural Reasoning: Narrative and Protestant Toleration, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009, 206), and neither does a “revisionist” reading require complete commitment to heterodoxy (ibid., 205). 6 Elizabeth Sauer, “Discontents with the Drama of Regeneration”, in The New Milton Criticism, eds Peter C. Herman and Elizabeth Sauer, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012, 129. 7 John Milton, Samson Agonistes, ll. 714-15, in Milton: Complete Shorter Poems, ed. John Carey, New York: Longman, 1997, 382. 8 Barbara Kiefer Lewalski, “The Ship-Tempest Imagery in ‘Samson Agonistes’”, Notes and Queries, VI (October 1959), 372-73.


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because of this “narrative doubling … certain properties specific to Samson’s identity can be transferred to Dalila”,9 making possible not only her seduction of Samson away from “public vocation” but also her own brief entrance into public life.10 In what follows, I extend Lewalski’s and Guillory’s discussions to argue that Samson’s and Dalila’s parallel characterization as both ships and pilots prompts us to examine our own acts of interpretation as readers of multiple versions of the same story. Samson describes himself as having been “shipwrecked”11 after Dalila’s betrayal; he divulged his secret to Dalila, and his “vessel” 12 lost its integrity, but Samson struggles to assign stable agency for his wreck. Because Dalila too is an ambiguously guided vessel that might bring good or evil to Samson, we set her voyage and her story beside Samson’s and see a competing version of events wherein Dalila, in betraying Samson, saves her people from his violence. Furthermore, Samson’s final destruction of himself and the Philistines can be read as either a triumphant rebuilding of Samson as God’s “vessel” – since Samson claims that his “consecrated gift / Of strength” has returned with his regrown “hair”13 – or as yet another misunderstanding of God’s will and a tragic, violent shipwreck of the “vessel” that Samson achieves of his “own accord”.14 As Sauer notes, there remain “various truths in play”;15 as a result, the act of reading the play resembles the act of navigation. Indeed, readers risk a kind of shipwreck in interpreting multiple versions of the story, a position that echoes the 9 John Guillory, “Dalila’s House: Samson Agonistes and the Sexual Division of Labor”, in Rewriting the Renaissance: The Discourses of Sexual Difference in Early Modern Europe, eds Margaret W. Ferguson, Maureen Quilligan, and Nancy J. Vickers, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1986, 113. 10 Ibid., 116. 11 Milton, Samson Agonistes, l. 198. 12 Ibid., l. 199. 13 Ibid., ll. 1354-55. 14 Ibid., l. 1643. The Messenger reports that Samson says “Now of my own accord such other trial / I mean to show” (Milton, Samson Agonistes, ll. 1643-44) before he destroys the theatre. Critics debate whether the phrase “of my own accord” confirms Samson’s exercise of his free will as God’s chosen or represents Samson as acting on his own initiative apart from God’s prompting. The phrase provides yet another node of unknowability in the play. For a summary of this debate, see Rudrum, “Milton Scholarship and the Agon over Samson Agonistes”, 474-82. 15 Sauer, “Discontents with the Drama of Regeneration”, 129.

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risks that Samson and Dalila take when they seek to retell competing versions of their past and to shape their future representations. Early in the play, Samson calls himself a “fool”16 for misinterpreting God’s purpose for him and divulging his secrets to Dalila, precipitating what he sees as a shipwreck. But when Samson describes his shipwrecked state, he only partially assigns blame to himself for his wreck, making the position of pilot obscure and confusing the cause of his dejection. After he greets the Chorus, Samson describes himself as “confused with shame” and asks: How could I once look up, or heave the head, Who like a foolish pilot have shipwrecked, My vessel trusted to me from above, Gloriously rigged; and for a word, a tear, Fool, have divulged the secret gift of God To a deceitful woman…17

Samson claims to have steered his ship – the “Gloriously rigged” body given him by God that allows him to kill enemies so easily – foolishly, and therefore to have wrecked it. And yet, the vessel itself is “trusted” to Samson from “above”: does the ship belong to Samson or to God? Is Samson really the “pilot” of the ship? Or might he be suggesting that in taking on the role of pilot, he disregarded God’s guidance – usurped the divine pilot – for his own purposes? Additionally, Samson links his downfall to Dalila: not only was he a “foolish pilot”, but he also sailed into contact with a “deceitful woman”. Samson at first suggests that he is to blame for his failure to carry out God’s will, then blurs the control of the ship so that it is difficult to ascertain whether Samson or God was in control, and finally places the blame for the shipwreck itself on an external cause, making Dalila into a storm or a rock or another element outside of himself and his understanding with God and casting her as responsible for his downfall. In the next few lines, Samson further complicates the issue of blame, casting even more doubt on God’s guidance of Samson as divine vessel. After describing his own shipwreck, Samson laments

16 17

Milton, Samson Agonistes, l. 201. Ibid., ll. 197-202.


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his slavery, and speculates with derision about how others see him now. Speaking to the chorus, he says: … tell me friends, Am I not sung and proverbed for a fool In every street, do they not say, how well Are come upon him his deserts? yet why? Immeasurable strength they might behold In me, of wisdom nothing more than mean; This with the other should, at least have paired, These two proportioned ill drove me transverse. 18

Samson worries that in his dejection and distance from God, he has been made into a “proverb” or a warning for other men of how not to behave. But he also questions his position as proverb – he asks why he must be called a “fool / In every street”, and proceeds to answer his own question: if his “immeasurable strength” had been better “proportioned” with wisdom, he would not have been driven “transverse”. As John Carey points out, “transverse” means “sideways [or] off-course” and is “a nautical term [that] continue[s] the ship image of 198-200”.19 Samson again appears to take the blame for his own shipwreck: he asserts that had he been wiser, he would have been able to hold his ship on course. He imagines an alternate past where, with strength and wisdom “paired”, he might have become a very different figure than the blind slave he now finds himself. But Samson also subtly implicates God; if God had made him better “proportioned” – if God had given him more wisdom, or perhaps if God had been a better pilot of Samson’s “Gloriously rigged” ship, he would never have shipwrecked in Dalila’s storm, and he would not have become a proverbial warning to those embarking on marriage ventures with foreign women. In his devastation over his lost image as God’s chosen strongman, Samson seeks to retell his story, to shift the blame off of his own skill as a pilot and onto God’s. He imagines an alternate narrative in which he did not shipwreck, but remained God’s chosen “vessel”,20 strong and whole, guided by God’s wisdom. And 18

Ibid., ll. 202-209. Milton: Complete Shorter Poems, 365, note to l. 209. 20 Milton, Samson Agonistes, l. 199. 19

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yet, in doing so, he again obscures the role of pilot – is Samson in control of the ship, or God? Milton prefigures this slippage in control of the vessel in The Reason of Church Government, and foregrounds both religious and mercantile associations that maritime imagery might have had for his readers.21 When Milton describes himself as having “imbark[ed]” on the “troubl’d sea” of discourse, he draws multiple meanings of the word “imbark” into his text, which include: “Of the ship: to receive on board” (“embark”, v. 1b), “to go on board a ship” (“embark”, v. 3), and “to engage in a business or undertaking, as in war, commerce, or the like” (“embark”, v. 4).22 These meanings bring two seventeenthcentury associations with ships into Milton’s text. In one sense, Milton the treatise author becomes a ship, or a vessel, among other vessels in a contentious sea. As a vessel, Milton sees it as his “duty” to write this pamphlet since “God [has] given [him] ability the while to reason against” those who have brought the Church “under heavy oppression”.23 Milton calls to mind Pauline uses of the word “vessel” where, as in Acts 9:15, a person becomes the vessel through which God achieves his ends: “But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he [Paul] is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.”24 Paul, as God’s 21

On the dating of Milton’s composition of Samson Agonistes, several critics disagree. Parker and Worden set out exemplary arguments for early and later composition, respectively. Worden’s analysis makes it clear that those parts of the play that echo republican and regicidal rhetoric were most likely composed after 1662, but this evidence does not necessarily preclude the possibility of an earlier draft or drafts. The rhetorical references to shipwreck in Milton’s early prose that are echoed in Samson Agonistes suggest either that Milton wrote a draft or drafts of the play before the 1660s or that he returned to his rhetoric of the 1640s as he composed the play. In either case, maritime metaphors were important and productive for Milton at several stages of his career (Walter Parker, Milton: A Biography, Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1968; Blair Worden, “Milton, Samson Agonistes, and the Restoration”, in Culture and Society in the Stuart Restoration: Literature, Drama, History, ed. Gerald MacLean, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995, 111-36). 22 “embark, v.”, OED Online, Oxford University Press, May 2013. 23 Milton, The Reason of Church Government, 804. 24 In Greek, the word is σκευ’ος (skeuos) which, according to Thayer and Smith’s Bible Dictionary, can mean, among other things, “vessel”, “instrument” and “the tackle and armament of vessels, used specifically of sails and ropes”. Thayer and Smith count 23 uses of σκευ’ος in the New Testament, 19 of which the King James Version translators render as “vessel” (Thayer and Smith, “Skeuos”, The KJV New


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“vessel”, sails from Tarsus carrying what he sees as religious truths to far away places, even when those foreign places might see him and his message as heretical. But as the final meaning of “embark” suggests, one could also embark on business and commerce at sea. Ships not only called up ancient Pauline ventures, but also more recent mercantile ventures for business where the cargo consisted of English exports to Europe and a variety of imports from the Mediterranean and the New World, such as spices and other commodities. Merchants also brought back stories about people and people themselves who were culturally and religiously foreign. The identity of the pilot, however, remains complex: if Milton is the vessel, and proper religious practice is the cargo with which God has loaded him, then God is the pilot or the merchant, and is ultimately in control of Milton’s venture into “troubl’d seas”. But we can also see Milton’s treatise as a vessel itself, directed by the author, and carrying Milton’s ideas into the dangerous waters of religious debate; he ventures his ideas as cargo for mercantile business despite the threat of shipwreck. Milton’s description of the vessel, especially the shipwrecked vessel in Samson Agonistes, also echoes 1 Timothy 1:18-20, where Paul (or the author of 1 Timothy writing as Paul) likens having strong faith and conscience as a leader of a Church to manning a strong and stable ship. He asserts that lacking these qualities leads to shipwreck: 18 This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophesies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; 19 Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck. 20 Of whom is Hymeneus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.

Here, Paul instructs his disciple Timothy to guard his faith and conscience in order to fight “good warfare”, presumably against those who were practising or preaching early Christian faith incorrectly. Failure to keep a good conscience – to properly identify and defend Testament Greek Lexicon, 2012: Even in this brief definition we see that skeuos is both vessel and sail; the word’s multiple meanings destabilize the metaphor of the divine vessel even as they set it forth.

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religious truth – results in shipwreck. In 1655, Daniel Cawdrey, a clergyman and member of the Westminster assembly, explicated these verses from 1 Timothy at length in a sermon called “A Late Great Shipwrack of Faith”. Cawdrey sought to use the Pauline metaphor of the shipwreck of faith to lament what he saw as the growing problem of “Apostacie”25 in England, and to give his congregation a maritime representation of correct, stable faith and conscience. Cawdrey’s attempts to assign correlations between the human body and a merchant ship, instead of providing a stable metaphor for his congregation as he might have hoped, illustrate the ambiguity of the ship and shipwreck metaphor. Cawdrey takes 1 Timothy 1:19 word by word, finally writing: The last word considerable is, ἐναυάγησαν, have made shipwrack; a Metaphor taken (as I said) from Mariners or Seafaring men, who when the Ship is broken or sunk, lose the Merchandize therein contained. So that Faith, or the Truth of the Gospel is the Merchandize; a good Conscience is the Ship.26

Faith is to be protected from those who would lead one away from the “Truth”, such as the Jesuits – the perennial Catholic enemy whom Cawdrey labels “locusts” – and also the various “Sectaries” who hold “monstrous and blasphemous Opinions” and actively seek to convert the unwary to their ideas.27 But Cawdrey’s explanation of the metaphor leaves us with a few important questions. Does the human actor stand on the ship of his own conscience with his faith tucked safely below decks? Or is the human a ship, guided ultimately by God? Or might the human actor be the merchant still on shore, having sent his ship out into the world for economic gain? Is God then his ship’s captain? Or someone else? What at first seems an easy and useful comparison quickly devolves when we try to ascertain how the guidance of the ship works in practice. This confusion inherent in the metaphor creates space for 25

Daniel Cawdrey, A Late Great Shipwrack of Faith: Occasioned by a Fearful Wrack of Conscience. Discovered in a Sermon Preached at Paul’s the First Day of July, 1655, London: Joseph Cranford, the Phoenix in St. Pauls Church-yard, 1655, Epistle Dedicatorie, A2r. 26 Ibid., 3. 27 Ibid., Epistle Dedicatorie, A2v.


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readers of Timothy – like Milton – and also for readers of Cawdrey’s sermon, to interpret the metaphor to their own purpose, writing themselves into the role of ship, pilot, or passenger, as they see fit. Responsibility for the shipwreck blurs as we are less and less able to assign the role of pilot either to a human actor or to God or to external causes like rocks and storms. Despite Samson’s Old Testament origin, Milton makes him echo 1 Timothy; as though he had been exhorted to do so by Paul, Samson seeks to wage “a good warefare” against the Philistines. And yet the venture of his “vessel” has failed not only because of the wiles of a “deceitful woman”, but also because of the difficulty Samson has had in properly interpreting the direction he receives from God. He seems confused about how to properly pilot his ship, or how to carry out God’s will. Samson justifies his first choice of wife as the result of an “intimate impulse”28 from God – a reasonably clear assertion of divine pilotage in this venture. But with Dalila, Samson applies his own logic in place of divine “impulse”, saying that he married Dalila because “[he] thought it lawful from [his] former act”.29 Samson’s choice seems, then, to have come as a product of his own thought – his own piloting – and not as divine inspiration. He appears ignorant of God’s will in the matter, but attempts to assert that his marriage was “lawful” because he entered into it for the same reasons as he did his first marriage. Previously, as God’s chosen instrument, Samson carried out violence against the Philistines: it would now seem that Samson, as vessel, has agency to direct his voyage even while God is the ultimate pilot. And yet, that very agency – wherein Samson claims to be the “Sole author … sole cause”30 of his downfall – produces shipwreck. Samson has perhaps recognized that, in claiming sole authorship, he misinterpreted God’s will. In his choice to marry Dalila, he does not weigh carefully enough the possibility that the story of this marriage might not map perfectly on to the story of his previous marriage. The project of interpreting God’s will is complex: Samson finds himself in a “troubl’d sea” where he cannot ascertain the right position for


Milton, Samson Agonistes, l. 223. Ibid., l. 231. 30 Ibid., l. 376. 29

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himself within God’s vessel, and where he shipwrecks because of his own desire to control his actions. Dalila parallels Samson: she is another kind of vessel – perhaps divinely directed by Dagon, or perhaps directed only by Dalila’s conscience – and we set her voyage next to Samson’s. Her representation as both ship and pilot, presented to readers by the Chorus, is just as ambiguous as Samson’s.31 She does not shipwreck, but the ambiguity of her portrayal highlights the complex navigations that Milton undertook in creating her character; she is a “troubl’d sea” of texts within Milton’s play. At her entrance, the Chorus make Dalila out as like Shakespeare’s Cleopatra.32 They present her to Samson as a woman who must have been (and therefore must still be) so alluring that even Samson, God’s chosen, could not resist her: But who is this, what thing of sea or land? Female of sex it seems, That so bedecked, ornate, and gay, Comes this way sailing Like a stately ship Of Tarsus, bound for th’ isles Of Javan or Gadire With all her bravery on, and tackle trim, Sails filled, and streamers waving, Courted by all the winds that hold them play, An amber scent of odorous perfume Her harbinger, a damsel train behind; Some rich Philistian matron she may seem, 31

Introduced in the Argument as “friends and equals of [Samson’s] tribe” (ibid., l. 64), the Chorus describe Dalila as they would have Samson see her: since Samson cannot see, they are at liberty to represent Dalila as they desire. They are also the audience’s eyes, serving often as conveyers of stage directions – in a sense, we must take them as honest reporters of what they see. And yet, as Charnes argues, we would do well to recognize “the degree to which reporting is a constitutive, rather than merely conductive, performance all its own” (Linda Charnes, Notorious Identity: Materializing the Subject in Shakespeare, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993, 104). The Chorus is made up of biased observers who, as Samson’s friends, have an interest in representing his actions favourably and those of his enemies unfavourably. 32 For more on Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra as an intertext for Samson Agonistes, see Guillory, “Dalila’s House: Samson Agonistes and the Sexual Division of Labor”.


Dyani Johns Taff And now at nearer view, no other certain Then Dalila thy wife.33

She is at first difficult to make out – “what thing of sea or land” is Dalila, the Chorus ask? After their initial query, the Chorus liken her to a “ship / Of Tarsus”.34 Dalila may be a problematic precursor to Paul, who also sailed from Tarsus – like the apostle (but before him and without his vision on the road to Damascus), she appears to sail toward Samson in order to communicate her religious message, her own version of the “good news” of Christ.35 As characters in the Old Testament, the Chorus can have no knowledge of Paul, but Milton asks us to consider the connections between the Old and New Testament Mediterraneans and, in doing so, portrays Dalila as a voyager whose religious purpose might bear resemblance to a divinely sanctioned voyage, even if the divinity driving her vessel is Dagon and not God. Samson and the Chorus can only see her as a dangerous, seductive figure from a false religion, but Milton does not allow us to completely disavow Dalila’s potential as a divine vessel. From Tarsus, Dalila’s ship sails either toward the “isles / Of Javan” or toward “Gadire”.36 If she sails toward Javan, the Chorus continue to ascribe biblical significance to her ship. If she sails toward Gadire, given England’s history with the city of Cadiz – and its importance as a port of commerce for both Atlantic and Mediterranean trading routes – the Chorus begin to place her as a mercantile vessel. As Dalila approaches Samson, the Chorus extend the mercantile simile and the initial biblical simile drops away; the “amber scent of odorous perfume” allies Dalila not only with Cleopatra, but also with spice 33

Milton, Samson Agonistes, ll. 710-24. Carey posits a connection here to “The biblical phrase ‘ships of Tarshish’ (i.e., probably Tartessus in S. Spain) … found in Isa xxiii 1, 14, and Ps. xlviii 7” (Milton: Complete Shorter Poems, 382, note to l. 715). 35 Dobranski notes that Parker had already pointed out the association between Tarsus and St Paul in an unpublished annotation to Samson Agonistes (Stephen Dobranski, A Variorum Commentary on the Poems of John Milton. Volume Three: Samson Agonistes, Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne, 2009, 268). 36 The “isles / Of Javan” are identified by Carey as the Ionian Isles, west of Greece, where “Javan, son of Japhet (Gen. x 2) and grandson of Noah” was supposed to have landed and become the “ancestor of the ionians”. “Gadire” is an old Phonecian and Greek name for Cadiz, a port in southern Spain (Milton: Complete Shorter Poems, 382, note to ll. 715-16). 34

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traders sailing out of the east and bringing the exotic Mediterranean and Turkish goods to Europe. Through the Chorus’s struggle to identify Dalila, she becomes both a divinely guided vessel and a merchant ship: she blurs the line between religious and economic commerce in the Mediterranean, and this blurring constitutes both her allure and her danger. In the Chorus’ brief description, and in their struggle to define and narrate Dalila, we see beyond their voices to the complex textual negotiations that have gone into retelling Samson’s story in the political and religious climate of Milton’s time. Their confusion mirrors the difficulty Milton faces as he writes his closet drama amidst a “troubl’d sea” of texts. Even though Dalila does not shipwreck in the play, her ship does not signify a stable set of ideas about being either a pilot or a vessel carrying out the will of a god. After her speech to Samson, the Chorus go on to label her an incompetent “steers-mate”37 with whom even the most “expert” pilot “needs must wreck”;38 just as Samson cannot easily place himself as either vessel or pilot, the Chorus cannot decide whether Dalila is an alluring, dangerous foreign vessel that Samson steered to shipwreck, or whether her bad pilotage was responsible for the wreck of their marriage. The Chorus seem to argue that marriage is a joint voyage that can end in shipwreck. Milton prefigures this idea in two of his prose works from the 1640s. In The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce (1643), Milton argues that even a good Christian, when faced with a marriage that he cannot dissolve, is likely to “mutin against divine providence” and is in danger of “shipwrack” because of “an over-tost faith”.39 In Tetrachordon (1645), Milton again describes a bad marriage as one which “brings on such a scene of cloud and tempest, as turns all to shipwrack without havn or shoar but to a ransomles captivity”.40 Marriage partners who are not capable of communicating successfully and being good “steersmate[s]” cannot have a successful marriage. 37

Milton, Samson Agonistes, l. 1045. Ibid., l. 1044. 39 John Milton, The Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce, in Complete Prose Works of John Milton, ed. Ernest Sirluck, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1959, II, 254. See also Lowell Coolidge, “Introduction and Notes to the Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce”, in ibid., 217-360. 40 John Milton, Tetrachordon, in ibid., 600-601. 38


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According to the Chorus, Samson has experienced such a marriage with Dalila, but Samson subtly fashions his own version of their story, refusing to give Dalila any part in piloting their vessel. Instead, she embodies the storm that causes his shipwreck. Samson accuses Dalila of having used her femininity as a specifically sea-based assault on his vessel. As he remembers and discusses his past with the Chorus, he laments: Yet the fourth time, when mustering all her wiles, With blandished parleys, feminine assaults, Tongue-batteries, she surceased not day nor night To storm me over-watched, and wearied out. At times when men seek most repose and rest, I yielded, and unlocked her all my heart, Who with a grain of manhood well resolved Might easily have shook off all her snares: But foul effeminacy held me yoked Her bond-slave; O indignity, O blot To honour and religion!41

Dalila and Samson engage in a battle at sea, and instead of seeing Dalila as a “steers-mate”, Samson figures her as an enemy force. In Samson’s version of their past, Dalila is emphatically not the ship of 1 Timothy 18-20 that can wage good religious warfare on those who deviate from her faith. Rather, she is either war ship or a storm or another sea-based hazard that assaults Samson with her “Tonguebatteries” and causes his ship to sink. She can change Samson with her beauty – “feminine assaults” – and with her words to such an extent that after Dalila is finished with him, Samson finds himself in great pain and with a keen “sense of heaven’s desertion”.42 He asserts that his relationship to God changes as a result of his sea battle with Dalila – he has suffered a shipwreck of faith at her hands. And yet, even in his tirade against Dalila’s wiles, the terms of Samson’s accusations slip, and our sense of who is to blame again blurs. Is Samson the “Sole author” of his loss of divine direction or is Dalila to blame? When Dalila enters and tells her own version of their story, we compare Samson’s account to hers, and we see that each 41 42

Milton, Samson Agonistes, ll. 402-12 (my emphases). Ibid., l. 632.

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marriage partner attempts to rewrite the story in his or her own favour, adding complexity and ambiguity to their joint venture in marriage. Dalila, at first, seems to blame the men and priests of her tribe for her betrayal of Samson’s secrets but, in her apology to Samson, she begins to take agency, and the question of culpability and motivation becomes vexed. Dalila laments: Adjured by all the bonds of civil duty And of religion, pressed how just it was, How honourable, how glorious to entrap A common enemy, who had destroyed Such numbers of our nation: and the priest Was not behind, but ever at my ear, Preaching how meritorious with the gods It would be to ensnare an irreligious Dishonourer of Dagon: what had I To oppose against such powerful arguments? 43

Dalila portrays the men of her tribe as advising her to make “good warfare” on Samson, just as the Paul of 1 Timothy 18-20 advises his disciple: she ought to fight “glorious[ly]” to entrap Samson and to achieve revenge for his wrongs to her religion and society. And yet, the decision to betray Samson ultimately rests with Dalila. She “held long debate”44 with her love for him, and eventually finds the “bonds of civil duty / And of religion” strong enough within her to motivate her actions. Loyalty to her state and to her religion are, for her, worth the price she pays in betraying her marriage bonds. As Stoll argues, Dalila makes a case for “the equal legitimacy of Philistian religion”45 and asserts its worthiness as a cause for fighting a good war. She does not fight for the God of 1 Timothy, but she asserts that her religious war against Samson is no less legitimate. In doing so, she also presents her version of the past, seeking to justify her actions and rewriting her role in Samson’s shipwreck: in Dalila’s version, Samson no longer appears as God’s dejected Nazarite but is the vanquished foe, a casualty of a religiously and nationally necessary war. 43

Ibid., ll. 853-62. Ibid., l. 863. 45 Abraham Stoll, Milton and Monotheism, Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 2009, 297. 44


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In addition to joining Samson as a pilot and attempting to rewrite their past, Dalila fully reverses the storm imagery that Samson uses to accuse her of treachery. Dalila recognizes the inherent difficulty in the joint venture with Samson. At the beginning of her final speech, she exclaims: I see thou art implacable, more deaf To prayers then winds and seas, yet winds to seas Are reconciled at length, and sea to shore: Thy anger, unappeasable, still rages, Eternal tempest never to be calmed.46

Dalila reverses Samson’s earlier figuration of her as a storm that caused his shipwreck. Samson, now, is the “implacable” storm, and Dalila the pilot who must navigate his angry tempest. She turns his metaphor to her own purposes and takes control of the ship. She recognizes that being a co-pilot with Samson in his “anger” can never lead to a productive, profitable voyage, and so she turns away from him and sails to her own end, outside of the drama. Dalila does not shipwreck: like a wise sailor, she opts to find an alternate route – or to wait for safer passage – instead of continuing to batter herself against Samson’s upheaval. At the end of the play, Dalila remains a follower of Dagon, and Samson remains a follower of the Hebrew God, whether or not he has regenerated or rebuilt his vessel, and whether or not we see him as a terrorist, suicide, martyr, hero, or other character. Despite their fundamental difference of religion, the parallel that Milton has set up for us between Samson and Dalila – describing them both as ships and pilots and having both of them engage in navigating and interpreting their representations – extends to the end of the play. Toward the end of her argument with Samson, Dalila imagines an alternative future for herself that we, as readers, know cannot come to be, but that is nonetheless compelling in the moment. Having realized that her attempts to reconnect with Samson are futile, Dalila says: Fame if not double-faced is double-mouthed, And with contrary blast proclaims most deeds …. 46

Milton, Samson Agonistes, ll. 960-64.

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My name perhaps among the circumcised In Dan, in Judah, and the bordering Tribes, To all posterity may stand defamed …. But in my country where I most desire, In Ecron, Gaza, Asdod, and in Gath I shall be named among the famousest Of Women, sung at solemn festivals, Living and dead recorded, who to save Her country from a fierce destroyer, chose Above the faith of wedlock-bands, my tomb With odours visited and annual flowers.47

Dalila first considers her unpleasant, “defamed” future in which readers of Judges and of Samson Agonistes participate, but she then paints a different scene. Dalila imagines an alternative narrative in which she has violently rescued her “country from a fierce destroyer”, and in which she is the scriptural saviour instead of Samson. As Stoll asserts, “Fame’s double mouth suggests a competing historical truth”: “[Dalila] compare[s] herself to Jael, and therefore her legacy to sacred Scripture… [and here Milton] takes the truly subversive step of imagining another sacred history.”48 Dalila fashions a new narrative, attempting to wrest authorial control for herself. As we have seen, she attempts to legitimate the Philistine religion, and argues here for an unsettling alternate view of Samson’s biblical story. Dalila seeks to rewrite her ending: she takes control of her ship from the Chorus and navigates on her own the dangerous waters of authorship. But her version of the story does not stand alone: we read it alongside Samson’s version and the Chorus’s version, and alongside a widening set of texts that tell her story. Samson too seeks to shape his future representation – as he considers the summons to give “public proof”49 to the Philistines of his “strength … surpassing human rate”,50 Samson sees an opportunity to shape his story and to perform a heroic role in the Philistine “theatre”.51 Samson shifts from initially abusing the Officer and 47

Ibid., ll. 971-87. Stoll, Milton and Monotheism, 300. 49 Milton, Samson Agonistes, l. 1314. 50 Ibid., l. 1313. 51 Ibid., l. 1605. 48


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roundly refusing to come to the theatre to talking himself into going along, finally saying: “I begin to feel / Some rousing motions in me which dispose / To something extraordinary my thoughts.”52 As he did in his earlier dejection, Samson here begins to imagine a narrative for himself where he will perform this unspecified “extraordinary” deed as the “enemy”53 of the Philistines. And yet, his decision is fraught with justifications. He assures first himself54 and then his father and friends that his actions will involve “Nothing dishonorable, impure, unworthy / [to] Our God, our Law, my nation, or myself”.55 The negative phrasing seems to belie Samson’s conviction that he does the right thing by going to the “theatre”. As Dalila did before him, he carefully considers the religious and civic ramifications of his plans: as he presumably contemplates a violent action that he hopes is as righteous as his earlier violent acts, Samson seeks to claim civic and religious justification for the action that will come from his “thoughts”.56 Samson attempts to again become God’s vessel and hopes that he has learned – by means of his shipwreck – the wisdom that he lacked in his venture with Dalila. But just as Dalila’s version of her own future does not stand alone, Samson’s justifications are not the only account of Samson’s motives and actions that readers encounter. In fact, because Milton places Samson’s death and the death of the Philistines off-stage, readers cannot access Samson’s version of the final event and must, instead, rely on the words of the Messenger, the Chorus, and Manoa in order to interpret the end of the play. But reporting itself is an interpretive act; the Messenger highlights the ambiguity of his own reporting, describing the moment before Samson pulls down the pillars with two different interpretations simultaneously: he says that Samson “stood, as one who prayed / Or some great matter in his mind revolved”.57 Does Samson pray or think in his final moments? Does he ask God to make him a potent vessel, or does he still struggle to interpret – to think through – God’s will or the implication of his “rousing 52

Ibid., ll. 1381-83. Ibid., l. 1416. 54 Ibid., ll. 1408-409. 55 Ibid., l. 1424-25. 56 Ibid., l. 1383. 57 Ibid., ll. 1637-38 (my emphases). 53

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motions”?58 Manoa and the Chorus interpret the Messenger’s words according to their own ideas about what Samson’s story should mean. They offer a model for reading the end of the play, but not one that readers ought to follow blindly after experiencing the hazards of the interpretive act through Samson’s shipwreck and Dalila’s approach as a ship. Manoa’s final words echo Dalila’s: instead of clearly delineating Samson as a divinely inspired hero, Manoa imagines a future that prompts us to again compare Samson to Dalila, and to ask ourselves if their versions of destructive heroism are in fact so different. Indeed, as Neelakanta contends: Discerning readers of Samson Agonistes are … confronted by the similarities between Samson and those he destroys. Manoa is made to envision Samson’s tomb in language that is uncomfortably similar to Dalila’s depiction of the statue that she imagines the Philistines will erect in her honor.59

As Neelakanta further points out, Manoa’s description of “a monument”60 where all of Samson’s “acts [will be] enrolled / In copious legend, or sweet lyric song”61 and to which “virgins” will bring “flowers”62 closely echoes the tomb and songs that Dalila describes as she imagines her alternate future. Manoa wants fame and glory to follow Samson’s death and the killing of the Philistines, and he wants Samson to be God’s vessel that strikes down the infidel. But, in imagining a future for Samson like the future that Dalila imagines for herself, Manoa makes Samson’s final action echo Dalila’s betrayal even as he seeks to justify and glorify Samson’s violence. Whether Samson has, through repentance, become God’s vessel again, or whether he still seeks to control his own ship and misinterprets divine will remains ambiguous. The violence at the end of the play can be seen as righteous or not, but Milton focuses our attention on Samson’s endeavours at navigation, both maritime and 58

Ibid., l. 1382. Vanita Neelakanta, “Theatrum Mundi and Milton’s Theater of the Blind in Samson Agonistes”, Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies, XI/1 (Spring/Summer 2011), 53. 60 Milton, Samson Agonistes, l. 1734. 61 Ibid., ll. 1736-37. 62 Ibid., ll. 1741-42. 59


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authorial. Samson attempts to tell his story in such a way that he can escape his dejection in shipwreck and reconnect with God, but other versions of the story – those told by Dalila, Harapha, the Chorus, the Messenger, and even Manoa – compete with Samson’s narrative attempts and make his control over his own representation unstable. Just as Dalila tries to shape how she will be seen and performed in the future, Samson attempts to fashion and perform his own story in the Philistine “theatre” so that he can counter those who would sing and proverb him “for a fool”. By placing Samson’s death off-stage – in a text conspicuously not “intended” for the stage63 – Milton asks his audience to occupy the position of interpreter. Just as Samson cannot pin down either responsibility for his shipwreck or a stable interpretation of his marriage to Dalila, so we readers cannot pin down a stable interpretation for his action at the end of the play. We risk shipwreck in our analytical practice and encounter a scattering of possibilities on the “troubl’d sea” of interpretation. In some sense, perhaps, we have to experience shipwreck in order to acknowledge the ambiguity of biblical narrative and to see that each interpretation of a biblical story is a vessel that may or may not be filled with divine purpose, and that may or may not make a successful voyage toward its recipients.


Milton, Samson Agonistes, “Introduction” (OF THAT SORT OF DRAMATIC POEM WHICH IS in Milton: Complete Shorter Poems, l. 48, 357. The essay prefaced Samson Agonistes when the play was published in 1671.


ISLANDS AND IRELANDS: JOURNEYS, MAPPINGS AND RE-MAPPINGS BARRA Ó SEAGHDHA The journey of one family from Cork City to the West Kerry Gaeltacht is set within larger east/west patterns. As an island beyond the island of Britain, Ireland was seen, negatively, as peripheral, underdeveloped and culturally inferior or, positively, by both nationalist intellectuals and romantic visitors, as a repository of ancient, preConquest and pre-industrial values. This seemingly immemorial cultural pattern was shaped by the centuries during which military, administrative, economic and linguistic power was exercised along an east/west axis. Through a West Kerry lens, this essay considers ancient population movements, the Vikings, medieval trade, Spanish/English rivalries, Ireland as theatre for English civil wars, the geo-political consequences of Ireland’s location, the Atlantic, global and cross-European connections created by emigration and recent immigration. A simple east/west mapping of Ireland is inadequate, even though that pattern retains a powerful hold on our imaginations.

There were eight of us – my father and mother, three girls and three boys – by the time we got our first car. When holiday time came, we children watched or got in the way as the Volkswagen was loaded – suitcases went on the roof-rack, bags of clothes and all kinds of necessities were stuffed under the bonnet, under seats, behind the back seat (along with our youngest and smallest, one year at least) and, amid much drama and excitement, we all squeezed in and began the journey westwards. (As we grew bigger, one or two of us had to make our way by train, bus and bike.) Leaving the suburbs of Cork, we watched the smooth green landscape flow past until it turned rocky and became West Cork. We crossed the border into Kerry, passed through Killarney and on, till at last we were trundling up and down the twisting, bumpy roads of the Dingle Peninsula. The sea and the Iveragh peninsula were on our left, fields or rocky slopes or mountains on our right; soon the ocean was opening up out beyond the


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peninsulas and we knew that, past Dingle, the road would have nowhere else to go. We felt that we were moving towards the edge, the very end, of the island of Ireland and that meant that before long we would arrive at the house in Dún Chaoin where we would spend the next four weeks. Always, a few miles out to sea, whether lost in fog, pressed down-upon by a mass of cloud, half obscured by a thunder shower or just basking in sunshine, the Great Blasket lay, like a promise or a dream anchored off-shore. This was a family pattern. We grew up in an English-speaking suburb but at home we spoke Irish, and West Kerry had happy associations for our parents. Instead of being marked out from others by language difference, for these four weeks we would have the chance to spend time in an area where everyday activities – greeting, buying crisps, chatting about the weather – took place through Irish. It was a different world: ewers and basins in the upstairs rooms; oillamps or candles making bedtime mysterious; Charlie, a little further up the boreen, using donkey-and-cart to take a couple of churns of milk to the creamery; the local men gathering to throw up a haystack in a few hours; my older brother and I free to trail after Eileen while she did the morning chores, or to tag along with Jerry (and his dog Sailor) as he checked the sheep in his few fields down by the cliff top, or even, on a special occasion, to accompany the lanky, throaty-voiced ex-islander Mike White (or was it Faight?) and his gentle sister as they made their way up the hill with donkey and baskets to collect roughcut turf. Part of the wonder of the place for us city children was the technological gap. If this created an association between the Irish language and a simpler rural life in the west, this would not have been unusual. Since the nineteenth century, literary intellectuals who recoiled from modern urban industrial life, antiquarians who wished to open up the hidden treasure of folk culture, European travellers in search of exotic worlds near home, Anglo-Irish or unionist intellectuals who sought to tie themselves or their community into the long history of their native island, Continental philologists seeking to establish and document the family tree of European languages, anthropologists measuring skulls, nationalists who invoked a glorious past as a way of justifying their demand for political separation, activists who sought to reverse the accelerating erosion of Irish-

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speaking areas or to give more idiomatic flavour to their own Irish – all, in one way or another, partook of a movement along an east-west axis. Arthur Symons (1865-1945) – poet, Francophile, translator, traveller and wonderful but almost forgotten writer on music – accompanied W.B. Yeats (1865-1939) on a visit to the Aran Islands in 1896. In an essay that leaves his companions unnamed, he conveyed a sense of the sheer otherness of life on the west coast: Here one was absolutely at the mercy of the elements, which might at any moment become unfriendly, which, indeed, one seemed to have but apprehended in a pause of their eternal enmity. And we seemed also to be venturing among an unknown people, who, even if they spoke our own language, were further away from us, more foreign than people who spoke an unknown language and lived beyond other seas.1

The sandy seashore of Inishmaan inspired a more Yeatsian and incantatory passage: More than anything I had ever seen, this seashore gave me the sensation of the mystery and the calm of all the islands one has ever dreamed of, all the fortunate islands that have ever been saved out of the disturbing sea; this delicate pearl-grey sand, the deeper grey of the stones, the more luminous grey of the water, and so consoling an air as of immortal twilight and the peace of its dreams. 2

Symons did less filtering out of unromantic detail than Yeats tended to. Thus, we learn that the visitors to the Atlantic Hotel have been preceded by priests on a cycling holiday (preceded in turn “by a German philologist who was learning Irish”), that the dining table has “an inadequate number of legs and the chairs lean over when you lean back on them”, and that the bedroom is musty. 3 Symons also mentions a “crazy man, bare-footed and bleary-eyed” who commanded: “Give


Arthur Symons, Cities and Sea-Coasts and Islands, London: Collins, 1918, 306. Ibid., 325-26. 3 Ibid., 307. 2


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me a penny, sir! Give me a penny, sir!”4 and a handsome girl who “cried out laughingly in her scanty English, ‘Cash, cash!’”.5 A few decades later, Professor Daniel Binchy finally overcame his great reluctance to step aboard a naomhóg.6 He headed towards the Blaskets: The remainder of our voyage is a vague memory of misery, and when finally we reached the landing stage, I could only stagger out of the boat, oblivious of my surroundings and deaf to the cries of the children who had descended in full strength to welcome us. As the waves of nausea gradually subsided, I forced myself to listen to their greeting. At first I took it to be some local Gaelic blessing still unknown to me but with a shock reminiscent of the worst moments of the crossing, I disentangled the refrain: A pinny for shweets! Up di Valera! Afterwards I was relieved to discover that their knowledge of English was entirely confined to this judicious compound of patriotism and mendicancy.7

Already, it seems, those who came to explore and appreciate were seeding today’s commodification of the exotic. It was Yeats again – less directly this time: through his recasting of ancient Irish mythology – who brought another young man to Ireland a few years after Symons’s visit, the English composer Arnold Bax (1883-1953) who writes: [I] came upon W.B. Yeats’s “The Wanderings of Usheen” in 1902, and in a moment the Celt within me stood revealed .... Of the implications of my earlier music Clifford [Bax’s brother] wrote in a poem, “Adolescent dreams of more than life can give,” and when I read of the warrior poet who forsook his father Fionn and the Fianna at the call of a demon leman, and wandered for three hundred years amongst enchanted islands in the dove-grey western seas beyond the ultimate shores of Ireland in quest of a content that he never found, even in the white arms of an immortal, then my dream became


Ibid., 306. Ibid., 322. 6 A kind of canoe in which tarred canvas is stretched over a simple wooden frame. 7 Daniel A. Binchy, “Two Blasket Autobiographies”, Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, XXIII (December 1934), 546. 5

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localized and I knew that I too must follow Usheen and Niamh from Ireland into the sunset.8

Though Bax would later look back with some bemusement at this adolescent infatuation, it took him to Ireland, to an intimate knowledge of the west coast from Donegal to Kerry and West Cork, to close acquaintance with the Irish literary movement (including those like MacDonagh and Pearse who would be executed as leaders of the 1916 Rising), and to such identification with Ireland that he published short stories under the pseudonym Dermot O’Byrne and composed invocations of landscape and legend of an intensity beyond his Irish contemporaries. Yeats is a complex and sometimes exasperating figure who cannot be defined by the phase of his work in which Irish folk-tales and legends were shrouded in the mist of fin-de-siècle English writing and became the Celtic Twilight, but it was from London that “the lake isle of Innisfree” called to him in his most popular and archetypal poem. And it is he who is credited with sending the future playwright John Millington Synge (1871-1909) from his artistic questing in fin-desiècle Paris to the west of Ireland. So it was that Synge was among the first outsiders to stay on the Blaskets. Solitary, or perhaps selfcontained, and often unhealthy, he was drawn not so much by misty dreams as by the stark and vividly coloured struggle for survival on the western coast – and indeed by the bright eyes and directness of the young women: The little hostess was especially taken with two or three [photos] that had babies or children in their foreground; and as she put her hands on my shoulders, and leaned over to look at them, with the confidence that is so usual in these places, I could see that she had her full share of the passion for children which is powerful in all women who are permanently and profoundly attractive. 9


Arnold Bax, Farewell, My Youth, London: Longmans, Green, 1943, 41-42. Oisín (Yeats’s Usheen and MacPherson’s Ossian), warrior and poet, followed Niamh to the Land of Youth, but returned to, and died in, a much-changed Ireland. 9 John Millington Synge, “In West Kerry”, in Complete Works, New York: Random House, 1936, 515.


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The image of the west of Ireland that still survives in tourist advertising – cloud, mist, patches of blue sky, mountain slopes, bog, thatched cottages, turf stacks – was artistically realized by the painter Paul Henry (1876-1958), a refugee from industrial Belfast who dissolved any doubts the public might have about his postImpressionist technique in the sweet melancholy of his variations on the western landscape. His best work was done by the time he produced some rather undercharacterized images of the Dingle peninsula and the Blaskets – one of the best of them for a tourist poster. Henry produced an idyllic and curiously unpeopled image of the west of Ireland, one with which the post-independence Free State was more than comfortable, perhaps because its lack of definition kept questions about living conditions and class divisions out of view. We find a more peopled island, but visible only through an ideological haze, in Gentle Ireland, a book written in the 1930s for an American Catholic audience by the once-radical Aodh de Blacam (1890-1951).10 In the Introduction, he tells us that he took for his model “M. René Bazin’s La Douce France (Gentle France)” – as it happens, one of the little collections of French-language books that our mother, a secondary teacher before she married, kept in her section of the bookcase in the dining room in Cork. De Blacam’s Ireland is full of wise old women, “strong untiring men”, and boys and girls – “shapely and lively and simple as the wild things of the wood” – who make their way to school from “the lime-white cottages on the hills” and call into the chapel on their way home to “say a wee prayer”.11 This little island had managed to stay in touch with older worlds: Homer, whose poetry is the oldest, the nearest to Eden, that mankind possesses, shows how unspoilt man should be happy in the exercise of natural powers. His men need no mechanical toys, no artificial excitement and diversion; they are happy in the blow of the wellranged oars on the grey-green brine of the ocean, in the sight of white houses and quickset hedges .... Homer and the Gael are at one in their sense of what is beautiful, what is wholesome. 12 10

He appeared under the anglicized form of the name, Hugh, in this American publication. 11 Hugh de Blacam, Gentle Ireland, Milwaukee: Bruce, 1935, 26-27. 12 Ibid., 14.

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For a moment we forget that de Blacam – who may have taken his Homeric parallel from George Thomson (1903-1987), the English left-wing scholar who loved and wrote about the Blaskets – has painted a Homer without war. Similar erasures create the gentle Ireland of his title, “the natio fidelissima, The Most Faithful Nation”.13 The book was written as a comfort for emigrants in an age when they rarely returned and as a statement of the values that they should cleave to in their exile. In the pamphlet Ireland’s Peril (1930), the Reverend E. Cahill, SJ, saw emigration, pauperization and urbanism as threats to Ireland’s very existence: Hence, the people of the Gaeltacht, besides being amongst the very best of the Irish race physically and morally, are of incalculable importance to the future of the nation, and have invincible claims for several reasons upon the special protection and assistance of the State as well as of the Church. For the old Catholic Irish tradition of the Gaeltacht is one of the nation’s best bulwarks against the materialism of the English-speaking world by which it is surrounded.14

Was Cahill aware of one Gaeltacht tradition that had puzzled this judgemental city boy – the number of men whose desire for Sunday mass impelled them only as far as the chapel gate or porch? Fr Cahill, it must be said, did not wish people to continue living “in conditions of destitution and material misery”: it was vital that this population be strengthened and that Ireland become an island fortress of Catholic spirituality in the sea of anti-Christian materialism, with specifically Catholic unions taking care of the workers’ interests and with layCatholic organizations working to keep such threats as betting and the foreign press and films at bay. Again and again, either the whole island of Ireland or its western edge is set up in order to propose (or save) a way of life or a set of values threatened by, but superior to, the island to the East and indeed to the whole modern world. Irish-language organizations and singing had brought our parents together. Our father’s teaching Irish to trade 13

Ibid., 9. Edward Cahill, Ireland’s Peril, Dublin: Gill, 1930, 18. “Gaeltacht” is the term for Irish-speaking areas.



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unionists, like his INTO15 and credit union activities, were in the spirit of those social and political movements that attempted to reactivate or renew the ideals behind the original movement for Irish independence amid the disappointments and failures of 1940s Ireland. (If the failure of his own family to reach perfection could give rise to something more toxic than disappointment, that fog of oppression seemed to melt away during our weeks in Kerry.) In any case, significant social change was underway by the time the Volkswagen began to make its yearly journey to the Kerry Gaeltacht, but that was not obvious to us children then. Others made the journey west as well. Before I knew a word of his poetry, I had been told that the slight figure chatting to my father outside Tigh Mollie, the guesthouse down the road, was the Cork poet Seán Ó Ríordáin (1916-1977). For this diffident, tortured, isolated man, visits to Dún Chaoin were an ease and an inspiration. Curiously, another poet, Máire Mhac an tSaoi (1922- ), who had harshly criticized his early work, was connected with a bungalow half a mile away. Years later, I learnt that the poet Thomas Kinsella (1928- ) and his friend Seán Ó Riada (1931-1971), the composer and recaster of Irish traditional music, had holidayed in the area and listened to local sean nós singers.16 Among them was Seán de hÓra, whose farmhouse we passed on our way in to Clochar strand; it was from his sweetvoiced but more conventional sister that we rented a house in those summers, while she retreated to the more limited comforts of the small barn. I was content at that stage, as children are, to let certain words and events be, without looking for explanations or patterns. “Springfield, Massachusetts” would sometimes surface in conversation; one year, the rhythmic phrase “Santa Maria de la Rosa” sounded again and again, as a team of English divers tried to make a sunken Armada ship give up its treasures. But such things did not interfere with the way we understood that world. In August 1969, we were in a different house, outside Baile an Fheirtéaraigh. The hours on the beach, the walks and climbs and picnics, continued, with occasional trips to Dingle or up the Conor Pass, but that year my father was searching anxiously for 15

INTO is the “Irish National Teachers’ Organisation”. The tradition of unaccompanied singing in Irish; it allows for great rhythmic flexibility and ornamentation. 16

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the spot with the best radio reception, as news of riots, shootings, burning streets and fleeing families came through from Belfast. Years passed – our last holidays in Kerry as a family unit; my first with school friends; my first alone (resulting in a notebook full of observations, wordplay and self-consciousness); my first kindly subsidized by University College Cork, which encouraged students not studying Irish to spend time in the Gaeltacht; my first with a girlfriend; my youngest sister moving to the area; after the death of our mother, my younger brother and I spending a few days every summer with our father and his memories, until they too came to an end; a niece from afar becoming the new focus of family gatherings, and later again a nephew. With these visits, chance discoveries, undisciplined reading and an increasing passion for history, my earlier imagining of where and what West Kerry was began to change. Eventually, a remapping of this annual pilgrimage westward and, effectively, a resituating of the island of Ireland seemed necessary. Were the Blasket Islands really on the edge of the known world? Had the journey to the Gaeltacht really been a journey into a deeper, older well of essential Irishness? Where in the world was Dún Chaoin? The ancient ring-forts and souterrains on headlands out by Slea Head must have been built by people who had travelled over the sea. If we looked through the dip between Sliabh an Iolair/Mount Eagle, on one side, and the rising headland of Ceann Dún Mhór/Dunmore Head, on the other, we saw the Skellig Islands in the far distance (if the colours were muted and the islands appeared small, the good weather would continue; if the colours were sharp, the air glassy and the colours clear, rain was on the way; if you couldn’t see them at all…); the hermitage perched on the heights of the steepest of the two islands had been raided by Vikings sailing along the sea-highway that ran from the Nordic fjords down to Africa. Some commentators connect the withdrawal from the world by the monks on the Skelligs to the ascetic tradition of early Christianity in North Africa. As a boy, I knew nothing of this, or the Spanish merchants who had houses on the outskirts of Dingle in the sixteenth century; or the trade in wine and animal skins that had gone on for centuries between Kerry and France and Spain. Our house in Cork was called after Dún an Óir (literally, the Fort of Gold, but known in English as Smerwick), a lovely spot, but also, after hundreds of Spanish and Italian soldiers


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had surrendered to Lord Grey’s soldiers in 1580, the site of a systematic massacre. The handful of Irish who accompanied the foreign invaders are said to have had their limbs smashed and to have been left to a slower death. There was more than bad weather and ill-luck involved in the fact that several ships of the Armada had gone down in the treacherous waters of the Blasket Sound – as did many others all the way north to Donegal; the story of Captain Francisco de Cuellar, a survivor, made its way into English about three centuries later. It was not Ireland’s isolation, but its strategic location between the emerging world seapower that was England and the open Atlantic, that would make control of the Irish coast so important for centuries to come. In Elizabethan times, the English feared that Ireland would offer a backdoor through which their Catholic Spanish rivals for world supremacy could take them by surprise. Walter Raleigh was both a colonist in Ireland and a privateer (a patriotic pirate?) preying on Spanish ships in the Atlantic. The policy of genocide and civilization discussed so thoroughly by Eudoxus and Irenius in Edmund Spenser’s elegant prose dialogue, A View of the Present State of Ireland, was part of a set of ideas that operated also on the far side of the Atlantic. Cromwell underlined the connection by dispatching thousands of his Irish prisoners to Barbados. Meanwhile, a substantial section of the Gaelic literary-intellectual elite, under threat of extirpation on home ground, decamped and operated from the Continent. Small countries have to know their place. The English were only occasionally as preoccupied with us as we (understandably) were with them. Many of the glories and disasters we learned about at school – the battles of the Boyne and Aughrim, for example, in the late seventeenth century – were episodes in English Civil Wars, played out or extended on our island stage. William of Orange’s victory over James II, the last Stuart king, was almost the final step in a massive shift of land-ownership and power into Protestant hands and in the virtual elimination of both the institutional Catholic Church and the old Gaelic cultural and political elite. In the eighteenth century, the increasingly unrealistic hope for a reversal of this takeover sometimes found expression in songs and poems that wished for the return from exile overseas of the Stuarts. Towards the end of the century, after the American and French revolutions, hope for change sometimes found

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expression in invocations of France or Napoleon – and indeed a few fitful French expeditions made it to the Irish coast. A century later, Britain’s rival for supremacy was Germany. To the Martello towers built along the coast (mostly eastern) in the Napoleonic period were added signalling and coast watching posts such as the one on Ceann Síbéil/Sybil Head and other headlands of the Dingle Peninsula. As it happened, in 1916 a German ship in Norwegian disguise would unsuccessfully attempt to land arms further east on the coast of Kerry. Not far away, a U-19 submarine would land Roger Casement (1864-1916; the Irish patriot and British traitor, but in any case a courageous exposer of the brutal exploitation and casual massacre of the native population in the Congo and in Peru’s Putamayo region) – this botched mission would lead to his arrest, trial and eventual hanging in Pentonville Prison in London. Meanwhile, thousands of Irish soldiers died in British uniform, in France or at Gallipoli, so that the Irish nationalist leader at Westminster (and believer in Empire), John Redmond, could demonstrate how unthreatening and supportive a friend to Britain a semi-autonomous Ireland would be. Though the Irish Free State (the twenty-six counties of independent Ireland) was neutral in World War II, life-and-death dramas were enacted just off Ireland’s Atlantic coast by planes, ships and submarines from the combatant countries. Not surprisingly, the conflict sometimes touched the islands and headlands of Kerry. The often cloud-shrouded slopes of Mount Brandon seemed to exert a particularly dangerous attraction – two of the worst crashes involved Polish-crewed RAF planes. The journey I began with as a child has become a little more complicated. Our yearly destination can be seen as the edge of Europe but, with a flip of the map, it can once again become a stop on the seahighway stretching from Norway to Africa. As we have seen, the history of the whole island of Ireland since the time of Henry VIII has been shaped by its location between a major colonial sea-power and the wide seas that it depended on for its trade and its military might. There is another way of looking at the impoverished west coast of Ireland. In Timcheall Chinn Sléibhe (Around Slea Head), a book of short stories and essays on life and customs in Dún Chaoin, Seán Ó Dálaigh begins a piece on Christmas in this way:


Barra Ó Seaghdha Níl aon líon-tighe i nDún Chaoin nág bhfuil duine éigin leo i 'Merica, agus nuair a bhíonn sé ag déanamh ar an Nodlaig bíonn an dá shúil ar barra cipín aca gach aon lá ag faireadh ar fhear an phuist, féachaint an mbeadh leitir na Nodlag chúcha .... agus nuair a bhíonn an seic innti ... cuireann siad a n-aigne chun suaimhnis go dtí go dtagann an lá chun dul 'on Daingean ag triall ar lón Nodlag. There’s not a household in Dunquin without someone belonging to them in America, and as Christmas approaches their eyes are out on stalks to catch sight of the postman, to see if the Christmas letter has arrived ... and if the cheque is in it, they put their minds at ease until the day comes for going to Dingle to get the Christmas provisions. 17

There may even be enough money to buy a pair of shoes for a child or two. In the century after the Great Famine, many Irish families were thankful for the few pounds that came to them in this fashion from Britain or North America. If poverty and isolation breed emigration, they also breed connection with faraway places. That is why conversation was dotted with references to Springfield, Massachusetts. That is why Ireland’s Atlantic edge was not just looking out on water without end but engaged in subdued conversation with the other side. The photographer Anthony Haughey has caught the closeness of the relationship deftly in a photo-collage.18 We are looking out past the Blasket Islands but, instead of a suggestion of infinite sea, what the eye encounters beyond the islands, startling in its nearness and incongruity, is the emblematically modern and imposing skyline of the city of New York as it would appear to an emigrant approaching by sea. The point of departure and the point of eventual arrival are brought together, forcing us to imagine the shocking clash of worlds that emigration entailed. Haughey’s photographs feature in the permanent exhibition in the heritage centre that now sits between an Ceathrú, where we used to stay, and the rocky beach and sea-devoured, rusty-railed wreck of a pier below. 17

Seán Ó Dálaigh, Timcheall Chinn Sléibhe, Baile Átha Cliath: Oifig Díolta Foillseacháin Rialtais, 1937, 83 (my English translation). 18 Anthony Haughey, “The Edge of Europe/Imeall na hEorpa”, in An Roinn Ealaíon, Cultúr agus Gaeltachta (in association with the Gallery of Photography, Dublin), 1996.

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Visitors work their way along the spine of the building, learning about the customs and crafts of the islanders, then, as a huge window reveals the Great Blasket, turn a corner and find themselves looking at largescale colour photographs of contemporary suburban America (baseball caps, swimming-pools and all): the world of the descendants of those forced to leave the Blaskets in earlier days and to make their way to places like Springfield, Massachusetts. The savings of an emigrant sister brought another brother or sister across, so that, as the process continued, these supportive networks created trans-Atlantic quasi-villages in urban guise. Thus, poverty and emigration create powerful linkages between what are thought of as the remotest corners of the island of Ireland and urban America. Sicily has experienced a similarly powerful linkage. The total population of Dunquin and the Blaskets went from 1,344 to 722 between 1841 and 1851, just one example of the devastation wreaked by the Great Famine.19 What stories lie behind these numbers? We may suppose that entire families were wiped out by hunger and disease. We can imagine acts of generosity and selfsacrifice, but can we discount the probability that one family ensured its own survival by refusing charity to another? We cannot know or judge the staring envy, the anger, the averted eyes, the hardening of hearts, the resignation; we cannot know the brutal ripping of the social fabric that occurred; we cannot know what had to be denied or hidden out of sight subsequently in order that some kind of reconstruction could begin. In Ireland as a whole, in the same decade, death and emigration reduced the population from eight million (or perhaps more, since the statistics for the period are unreliable) to about six, and set the country in a pattern of remorseless emigration. Changes to the patterns of economic, social and religious life followed, and despite such infrastructural developments as the building of a rail system, in some other regards the differences between Britain and Ireland were dramatically accentuated. The population of England went from 8.3 million in 1801 to 16.5 in 1851; it was 30.5 in 1901. The population of 19 The area website provides information and a breakdown of the figures, townland by townland: Seán Ó Cinnéide and Lorcán Ó Slattara, “Dún Chaoin: Daonra An Pharóiste 1821-1911”, 15 December 2010:ún-chaoin-daonra-an-pharóiste-1821-1911-seán-ó-cinnéide.html.


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Ireland is estimated at over four million, or more than half the population of England in 1801 (the time of the Act of Union that would make Dublin more a provincial city than a capital); after a preFamine surge and a catastrophic decline, in 1851, it is something over six million; in 1901 it has come down to something over four – only a sixth of the English population. Thus, when Symons, Yeats and Synge were visiting islands in the West, when Irish nationalist intellectuals were reclaiming and revaluing what remained of pre-Conquest traditions, when the landscape and life of the West were being read as sources of explicitly non-British culture and values, Ireland and England were on divergent paths that made it easier to suggest cultural differences of the most profound nature. Ireland was indeed different from England (and Britain as a whole) but to poeticize or essentialize the differences (in language, custom, religion and music) could sometimes mean remaining blind to what had shaped some of those differences. Was the Irish language by its nature bound up with spirituality and anti-modernity, or was it centuries of activity and power (economic, political, legal and military) expressed and often imposed through the English language that eventually pushed it to the margins? Was there something inherently Irish about rural subsistence, or was this a result of centuries of subservience to the interests and demands of the dominant (and now hugely urban and industrialized) island? Was Ireland inherently anti-industrial or had its eighteenth-century industries been suffocated where they risked upsetting the interests and profits of their English equivalents? Would Yeats have been able to propose an alliance of Irish land-owning aristocrat and peasant against the modern tide of urban, industrial, middle-class and philistine Britain if as much coal had been available for mining in Ireland as in England and Wales? Was Ireland largely detached from continental Europe or had patterns of government, taxation and control, moving back and forth along a periphery-Dublin-London axis led it to forget its earlier history and alternative ways of mapping and imagining itself? Was the coin stamped with the image of the unworldly and poetic Celt too easily accepted? (Was Matthew Arnold’s benevolent condescension just one side of a coin that could also be inscribed with exasperation, loathing and claims to racial superiority?) And was there too little

Islands and Irelands


effort to truly transform the coinage itself, the terms of exchange and debate? This is not the place to refine or amplify or answer such questions, to show the many competing strands of thought that were articulated in those fascinating years, to examine the forces that shaped, for better and worse, the life and culture of independent Ireland. These same forces used to bring one family on a yearly journey to the tip of a peninsula on the western coast. That journey has proved to be more complex than it appeared at the time and its destination less fixed in time and space than we realized. Much has changed: tourism has raised the income of many but made English the language of business in pubs and shops and guest-houses; the landscape is splattered with holiday homes; the roads have improved. Ireland has become more urban and suburban; entry into the EEC (which became the EC, which then became the EU) was welcomed not just for the structural funds and agricultural subsidies it offered but because it allowed Ireland to establish new connections with western (and eventually with all of) Europe, to be less definable as the island beyond the island of Britain. If only for a while, there was the rapid switch from accelerated emigration in the 1980s to an unprecedented surge of immigration in the 1990s. Europe is manifestly in Ireland when a shop website has this to say: “Oferujemy polskie produkty najwyższej jakości oraz świeże irlandzkie mięso prosto od rzeźnika.” Ireland is manifestly in Europe when cheap flights link Dublin to Gdansk, Łódź, Katowice, Rzeszów, Warsaw, Wrocław. The patterns of life and knowledge that encouraged both the actual journey westwards in the 1960s and a certain way of mapping that journey have changed. In remapping one corner of Ireland, we find ourselves ultimately remapping the island as a whole. However, journeys through time and memory, reflection on changing landscapes and ways of life, and greater awareness of the forces that shape lives and landscapes – these do not demand the discarding of the maps we depended on earlier. The updating of what we might call experiential maps involves accumulation and revision rather than erasure. About half a century ago, in his poem “Fill Arís” (“Return Again”), Seán Ó Ríordáin evoked the journey westwards from Tralee as a way of setting aside both everything that had happened since the Elizabethan conquest of Ireland and the distorting influence of English


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literature on his own mind and syntax. In what can be read as an exhausted wishing-away of complexity, hybridity and the struggle for an adequate language, he paints engagement with the whole English literary tradition as unnatural and inauthentic, and makes of Dún Chaoin and its vernacular the door to human and poetic authenticity: Fág Gleann na nGealt thoir, Is a bhfuil d’aois seo ár dTiarna i d’fhuil .... Téir faobhar na faille siar tráthnóna gréine go Corca Dhuibhne, Is chífir thiar ag bun na spéire ag ráthaíocht ann An Uimhir Dhé, is an Modh Foshuiteach, Is an tuiseal gairmeach ar bhéalaibh daoine: Sin é do dhoras, Dún Chaoin fé sholas an tráthnóna, Buail is osclófar D’intinn féin is do chló ceart.20

Leave the Madmen’s Glen in the east, and whatever there is of this year of our Lord in your veins .... Follow the sharp cliffs west some sunny afternoon to Corcha Dhuibhne And you’ll find shoaling at sky’s end there The Dual Number and the Subjunctive Mood And the vocative case on people’s lips: That is your door, Dunquin under the afternoon light, Knock and discover your own mind and your true self.

The politics, the genetics and the history are questionable; but if the grammar is imperative, the tone is subjunctive: this is one mood, one mode and one poem in a poetry that never settles and that is imbued with loss. Less questionable is the sense of imminent revelation as the end of the peninsula comes into view. From the Clasach, a saddle between two mountains, you can look back along the peninsula or look out beyond Dún Chaoin to the Blaskets and the Atlantic. To stand there after a long absence brings a surge of delight – of love – rooted in layer after layer of personal and family memory. After our journey in time, I can also stand there now in imagination and think of the emigrants who cast a last look at their home-place before heading on towards Ventry, Dingle and wherever their journeys 20

Seán Ó Ríordáin, “Fill Arís”, in Brosna, Baile Átha Cliath: Sáirséal agus Dill, 1964, 41 (my English translation).

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would end; of Springfield, Massachusetts; of Lord Ventry’s treatment of his tenants and of the exotic plants on his estate; of the Land League in Dingle; of stone walls lost under a profusion of fuchsia; of the profusion of local autobiographies induced by the endless curiosity and example of visiting scholars and authors; of famine; of potato ridges where potatoes are no longer grown; of houses ruined and houses built; of trade and smuggling; of war and massacre, of shipwrecks, salvage and drowning sailors; of the evacuation of the Great Blasket in 1953; of heritage centres, photography, coffee shops, potteries and tourism; of rain and mist and stray shafts of sunlight; of those who felt they had no choice; of those who wanted to leave; of the French language that our mother loved as well as Irish, of the love of Shakespeare’s language that Professor Daniel Corkery21 transmitted to her and her fellow-students, and of the many languages that are now to be heard in West Kerry; of once finding kangaroo meat on the menu in a short-lived restaurant not far from where Ó Ríordáin chatted to my father; of how useful an exercise it is to flip a map around and look at it again. But no matter what I think, or think of, or want to think, it seems impossible not to feel, intermittently perhaps but almost always with a sense of renewed or renewable wonder, that the journey west has in fact been a journey away from the continent of Europe, that Ireland is indeed an island beyond the island of Britain, and that nothing can make that islandness more real than the journey out to the end of this narrow peninsula, with its own last scatter of islands that mark the very edge of the knowable world, where it meets the power and expanse of the Atlantic.


The literary ideologue of post-Independence Ireland.


“MAYBE GIRLS NEED AN ISLAND”: DESERT ISLANDS AND GENDER TROUBLES IN LIBBA BRAY’S BEAUTY QUEENS SARA K. DAY This essay considers the use of the desert island setting as a liminal space in which to explore experiences of gender in Libba Bray’s 2011 satirical young adult novel Beauty Queens. Over the course of the novel, a group of teenage pageant contestants who have survived a plane crash must navigate not only the literal challenges of the desert island but also the possibilities it offers them to reconsider, reimagine, and in some cases reject strict gender roles and expectations of femininity. In particular, the novel explores three central dichotomies related to adolescent womanhood: feminine/feminist, congenial/competitive, and virgin/whore. Drawing on the theories of Judith Butler and Michel Foucault, among others, this essay argues that the island setting provides a unique and crucial space in which to examine performances of gender.

In the wake of a terrifying plane crash that strands them on an uncharted island, a dazed group of survivors struggles to stay alive. They seek shelter, explore the mysterious jungle, and hope to be rescued soon. As time passes, some find themselves forming uneasy alliances, while others seem to thrive on conflict – and one strongwilled survivor sets off alone, determined to make it on her own. The island, meanwhile, slowly reveals a number of unwelcome surprises as the survivors face animal attacks, discover another group of stranded souls, and uncover a secret government conspiracy. None of these challenges, however, deters the survivors from their goal: to be the next Miss Teen Dream. Playfully engaging with the conventions of desert islands in literature, film, and television, Libba Bray’s satirical young adult novel Beauty Queens1 follows the trials and tribulations of twelve 1

Libba Bray, Beauty Queens, New York: Scholastic, 2011 (all references given in parentheses in the text).


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teenaged beauty pageant contestants who find themselves stranded on what appears to be a deserted island. Although the contestants are all beautiful, Bray also insists upon their individuality: she populates the island with contestants who range from the seemingly stereotypical big-haired Miss Texas and dim-witted Miss Mississippi to token ethnic minorities Miss Colorado and Miss California to initially closeted sexual minorities, transsexual Miss Rhode Island and lesbian Miss Michigan, as well as undercover feminist Miss New Hampshire who plans to write an exposé of the Miss Teen Dream pageant. When confronted by an increasingly bizarre set of challenges – their lack of food and supplies, the surprising arrival of a set of shipwrecked reality-show pirates, and the discovery that the entire island is the secret headquarters of the evil Corporation that runs American media – the diverse group of Miss Teen Dreamers must rely on both the skills they have developed as pageant contestants and on their growing awareness of their own agency. In the process, the young women engage with questions about femininity, objectification and empowerment, an engagement that Bray suggests is made possible by the island itself. According to Godfrey Baldacchino, “an island can be both a paradise and a prison, both heaven and hell”. This paradoxical description sheds light onto the more general understanding of the island “as a contradiction between ‘here and there’”,2 a metaphor which has certainly been explored to great effect in works ranging from Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe to the recent television series Lost. As I will argue in this essay, Bray capitalizes upon the liminal nature of the island setting in order to interrogate assumptions about adolescent womanhood, especially in terms of the binaries that dictate young women’s experiences and expectations of femininity. In particular, Beauty Queens is concerned with three central dichotomies associated with adolescent womanhood in general and pageantry in particular: feminine/feminist, congenial/competitive, and virgin/ whore.3 At the outset of the novel, the characters seem not only to 2

Godfrey Baldacchino, “Islands, Island Studies, Island Studies Journal”, Island Studies Journal, I/1 (May 2006), 5. 3 Though this essay will limit its focus to questions of gender, it is important to note that the island setting also allows Bray to deal with issues relating to race, class, and sexual orientation.

Maybe Girls Need an Island


embody but willingly accept these binaries. By the time they escape the island, however, the apparently clear distinctions upon which these pairings depend have been questioned, challenged and blurred, rendering the binaries themselves unstable and allowing the young women the opportunity to reconsider, reimagine or reject social expectations and their own performances of gender. “Until the grownups come to fetch us”: islands in literature for young readers Whether fictional castaways find themselves alone, like Robinson Crusoe, or as members of small bands of survivors, as in Swiss Family Robinson, The Blue Lagoon and Lost, their navigation of islands as both literal and metaphorical spaces have provided insights into experiences of isolation, survival and human nature. The desert island has, furthermore, become specifically useful as a setting in works for young readers. The metaphorical use of the island as a liminal space aligns neatly with literary treatments of childhood and especially adolescence, particularly as regards notions of independence, increasing agency and the transitions from youth to adulthood. Works such as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883), Carol Ryrie Brink’s Baby Island (1937) and Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins (1960), as well as the TV series Flight 29 Down (2005-2007) and Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy (which figures the isolated, inescapable arena as a sort of Panoptic island) portray young people as they navigate both the literal and metaphorical discoveries made possible, at least in part, by their experiences on islands.4 Perhaps the most famous and useful example of islands in literature for adolescent readers is William Golding’s 1954 novel The Lord of the Flies which chronicles the unfortunate events that befall a group of young boarding-school students. The young men, who find themselves stranded after a plane crash, decide to make the most of their experience – Ralph tells the rest of the boys: “This is our island. It’s a


For a more detailed discussion of islands in literature for young readers, see Diane L. Gunstra’s article, “The Island Pattern”, in which the author notes that Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe “emphasizes equally the themes of adventure for survival and of gaining greater self-awareness through simplicity and a closeness to nature” (Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, X/2 [Summer 1985], 55).


Sara K. Day

good island. Until the grownups come to fetch us we’ll have fun”5 – but quickly devolve into savages. Meanwhile, the rest of the world is caught up in a nuclear war, which highlights both the paradisiacal nature of the island and the seeming inevitability of the conflicts among the boys. Golding’s novel provides the most obvious literary inspiration for Bray’s contemporary satire: like Lord of the Flies, Beauty Queens begins with a plane crash and presents the challenges faced by a seemingly ill-equipped group of young people who, over time, form alliances and fight battles. In the course of the novel, it also becomes clear that the world has become largely corporatized and teeters on the verge of a war engineered by Ladybird Hope, a Sarah Palin-esque figure who runs the Miss Teen Dream pageant. Bray’s novel is also clearly informed by a larger body of works, however, as she incorporates myriad references to some of the most famous cultural representations of islands. For example, when the girls uncover the secret government headquarters on the island, Bray clearly draws inspiration from the conspiracy at the centre of Lost. Indeed, the characters in the novels draw attention to the use of the island as space by commenting, not infrequently, on desert island tropes. As works such as these indicate, islands are ideal for exploring themes of isolation from and navigation of social constructs. At the same time, however, because they offer limited space and mobility, islands can be understood as useful locations in which to consider surveillance and power, as demonstrated by famous prisons such as Alcatraz, literary works such as Battle Royale (1999) and reality TV shows such as Survivor. In such cases, castaways must work not only to survive but also to navigate systems of surveillance. As a result, Michael Seidel notes, “At the centre of the famous island fictions of Western literature are notions of craft, ingenuity, and power”.6 For young people, who are often the constant objects of surveillance by parents, teachers and other authority figures, the desert island setting thus both challenges and reinforces the relationship between surveillance and power. That Bray’s novel removes pageant culture – and, ultimately, an abbreviated version of the pageant itself – to an 5

William Golding, The Lord of the Flies, New York: Penguin, 1954, 35. Michael Seidel, Robinson Crusoe: Island Myths and the Novel, New York: Twayne, 1991, 37.


Maybe Girls Need an Island


island that is eventually revealed to be a secret government headquarters covered with hidden cameras leads to questions about not only independence and coming of age but, more specifically and importantly, the role of performance and surveillance in young women’s understanding of themselves and gender roles more generally. “Gender is always a doing”: intersections of the panoptic and performativity In order to consider the roles of surveillance and gender in Beauty Queens, it is helpful to recognize the intersections of Michel Foucault’s treatment of the Panopticon and feminist theory, particularly that of Judith Butler. In his discussion of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon – a prison that is designed with a central tower from which an unseen warden can observe all of the prisoners at once – Foucault explores the controlling power of the gaze. Prisoners in such a space, he argues, submit to expectations of correct behaviour because they must always assume that they are being observed. More generally, the concept of the Panopticon may function on a larger social level: if citizens understand themselves to be under surveillance by a central warden, they are more likely to perform as society demands or expects. Ultimately, then, the Panopticon provides a useful means of considering the role of surveillance in dictating behaviours. As critics such as Sandra Bartky and Susan Bordo have remarked, furthermore, Foucault’s theories prove particularly relevant to discussions of gender because they can help illuminate the ways that “Women internalize the feminine ideal so profoundly that they lack the critical distance necessary to contest it and are even fearful of the consequences of ‘noncompliance’”.7 Foucault also explains that, in general, “the authorities exercising individual control function according to a double mode; that of binary division and branding … and that of coercive assignment, of 7

Monique Deveaux, “Feminism and Empowerment: A Critical Reading of Foucault”, Feminist Studies, XX/2 (Summer 1994), 226. Deveaux correctly recognizes that these and other discussions of Foucault and feminism often ignore or obscure differences in women’s lived experiences, but these conversations are nonetheless helpful for considering the implications of surveillance and objectification as regards gender in a more general sense.


Sara K. Day

differential distribution”.8 While the binaries in question may vary based on historical context and circumstances, the central concepts here remain relevant inasmuch as social control enacted (literally or metaphorically) through a centralized gaze makes possible dichotomies such as those relating to gender. In Gender Troubles: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, Judith Butler interrogates the traditional binaries of sex (male/female) and gender (masculine/ feminine), asserting that these false dichotomies rely on flawed assumptions about biology and behaviour alike. She argues that “gender proves to be performative – that is, constituting the identity it is purporting to be. In this sense, gender is always a doing.”9 Rather than accepting that people are innately male or female, masculine or feminine, Butler asserts that “acts and gestures, articulated and enacted desires create the illusion of an interior and organizing gender core” that serves larger social goals, including compulsory heterosexuality.10 This understanding of gender as performative relies on the more general understanding that there is a constant audience for whom those performances must be created and maintained and thus overlaps with Foucault’s concept of the Panopticon. Social expectations surrounding gender create circumstances in which all members both observe others and are themselves observed, working at all times to recognize, recreate, and reinforce notions of “masculinity” and “femininity”. The constant performance and re-performance of gender thus not only depends upon individuals’ recognition of cultural norms, but also upon the implicit belief that those norms must be upheld. While the possibilities of the Panopticon obviously have implications for everyone, young women’s relationship with surveillance is particularly pronounced and fraught. General cultural assumptions about gender hold that young women are the primary objects of a masculine gaze,11 but young women are in fact constantly 8

Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, trans. Alan Sheridan, New York: Pantheon, 1977, 199. 9 Judith Butler, Gender Troubles: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, New York: Routledge, 1999, 33. 10 Ibid., 173. 11 Laura Mulvey, in “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, Screen, XVI/3 (Autumn 1975), 6-18, argues that women are frequently objectified in film because of the male gaze that is created when the camera positions the viewer as a heterosexual male.

Maybe Girls Need an Island


being watched by almost everyone. Indeed, in accordance with Foucault’s assertions regarding the cyclical nature of the Panopticon, young women are both monitored by others and monitoring each other. Beauty Queen’s interrogation of pageant culture, which not only relies upon but celebrates the presence of an audience meant to evaluate young women’s performances of femininity, offers a particularly useful illustration of this intersection of Foucault and feminism. Meanwhile, because the island on which the girls are stranded seems to free them from the normal expectations and constraints of societal surveillance, it provides a space in which to consider women’s actions not only as products of social constructions but also – to borrow Deveaux’s words – “their own responses to (and mediations of) the cultural ideas of femininity”.12 “Not just sashes and statues”: defining feminism and femininity through pageants Since its inception in 1921, the Miss America pageant has been an annual reminder of cultural views of women. As Leora Tanenbaum notes, “Miss America teaches girls and women that to be truly beautiful, they must also be respectable, poised, blessed with sopranic vocal chords, nurturing (through a concern with social issues), and virginal”.13 The celebration of these qualities has, in turn, led to heated discussions, debate, and, in 1969, a famous protest from feminists who view beauty pageants as objectifying and antiquated.14 In contrast to the feminine traits embraced by beauty pageants, feminism has come to be associated with activity and assertiveness, the rejection of social expectations, and an emphasis on intellect over appearance. While the Mulvey’s work has inspired a great deal of critical conversation regarding the male gaze not only in film and TV but also literature. 12 Deveaux, “Feminism and Empowerment”, 244. 13 Leora Tanenbaum, Catfight: Women and Competition, New York: Seven Stories, 2002, 107-108. 14 In “The Miss USA Pageant: How Far We Haven’t Come”, Huffington Post,, 23 March 2007, Jill Filipovic articulates a general feminist attitude toward the problematic nature of these competitions: “The norms that these contests promote are unfortunately not nearly as obsolete as many of us would like to believe, and pageants continue to serve as a reflection of contemporary culture – one in which we pay lip service to women’s rights, but focus more on how good women look in a bathing suit.”


Sara K. Day

1969 protest provides the most tangible evidence of the tensions that seem to separate feminism and femininity, pageant culture more generally continues to pose questions about the potential intersections between these two terms. Bray addresses this very conflict in the novel: when Ladybird Hope is being interviewed about the plane crash, the interviewer asks her what she thinks about criticism that the pageant “rewards girls for being pretty and … values compliance and conformity”. In response, Ladybird says: “Well, frankly, that’s the sort of stuff I expect my critics to say, because they want to turn all women into sluts who can get an abortion at the drive-through while they’re off at college gettin’ indoctrinated with folk-singin’, patchouliwearin’, hairy-armpit-advocatin’ feminism” (57). Initially, Beauty Queens defines femininity in almost exclusively physical terms. For example, Miss Texas, Taylor, insists that the young women maintain their daily beauty regimen, as ladies should always look their best and be prepared for any occasion upon which they might be seen. In addition, expectations of cooperation, submissiveness and weakness colour the girls’ relationships with each other and their efforts to survive on the island. Feminism, on the other hand, is aligned with intellectual pursuit and the rejection of romance, particularly as these traits are embodied by the undercover journalist Miss New Hampshire, Adina. Even as Bray seems to establish such a binary, however, she unsettles it with other, more complicated representations of these qualities. For example, the beautiful, graceful, transgendered Petra challenges assumptions about femininity by simultaneously embodying the qualities associated with pageant contestants and possessing the physical body of a man. When her secret is discovered, Petra convinces the other survivors to overcome their confusion and fear of her physical difference by appealing to their shared sense of the value of beauty. In turn, the friendshipturned-romance between lesbian Miss Michigan and bisexual (and deaf) Miss Illinois challenges assumptions about the relationship between feminism and emotion. While both characters demonstrate strength, power and a desire for equal treatment (due, at least in part, to the differences that set them apart from their peers), they also seek and come to depend on each other as partners. Though their romantic relationship ultimately does not last, the degree to which each young

Maybe Girls Need an Island


woman allows herself to become vulnerable highlights the problematic limits created by assumptions about feminism. Indeed, all of the characters in the novel work to blur the lines that seem to separate feminine from feminist. For example, while discussing the beauty regimens they have followed – including strict diets and painful procedures – several of the young women illustrate the degree of strength and fortitude required in order to achieve success in the feminine arena of pageants (71-72). As they forge ahead, creating shelter, finding food, and eventually putting a stop to Ladybird Hope’s evil plans, these beauty queens demonstrate that they are more than the poised, nurturing sound bites they can each recite during the interview portion of a pageant. In the process, these feminine young women become increasingly explicitly aware of their own strength. The potential intersections of femininity and feminism are demonstrated most clearly when Adina suggests that “instead of some old, backassward pageant competition, we should have a con. A Girl Con!” (152). As they begin discussing the possibilities of such an event, the young women easily integrate both feminine and feminist impulses, including workshops on topics ranging from consciousnessraising and LGBT issues to makeup and makeovers. The variety of topics fielded in this conversation allows Bray to emphasize the potential flexibility of each concept as well as the intersections between them. Adina’s resistance to ideas about makeup and makeovers, furthermore, acts as a reminder that feminism can, like traditional notions of femininity, impose limitations on women’s experiences. In turn, the other contestants’ rejections of those ideas – particularly Adina’s assertion that makeup is “denigrating and objectifying” (153) – indicates a desire to incorporate both beauty and strength into the experiences of adolescent womanhood. Ultimately, the novel does not offer a straightforward solution to the potential conflicts between expectations of femininity and feminism embodied by beauty pageants. However, through the girls’ various realizations about their own relationships with gender performances, Bray troubles both the easy dismissal of femininity and the seemingly straightforward support of feminism. The island environment, in turn, provides a setting in which the overlapping experiences of femininity and feminism can be explored because it allows the young women the space in which to explore possibilities


Sara K. Day

that their typical performances of gender do not recognize or allow. Because they understand themselves to be removed from the traditional observers of both pageants and of adolescent women more generally, the characters make decisions and behave in ways that allow them to be both feminine and feminist in their own unique ways, rather than upholding distinctions they might otherwise feel obliged to enact. “A girl without a tribe is no one”: the paradox of Miss Congeniality Beauty Queens also demonstrates how the liminality of the island setting helps the contestants negotiate the seemingly impossible task of being both congenial and competitive. Early in the novel, a friendly exchange between Miss Mississippi and Miss Alabama is interrupted by Miss Texas’ reminder that “this part is not a competition” (8). This conversation reveals the underlying assumption that winning should come before friendship but that, in order to win, you have to make (or seem to make) friends. In pageants more generally, contestants must compete to be understood as the most successfully feminine without being perceived as overly ambitious; the participants even compete to be named Miss Congeniality, a concept which by definition relies on working with others rather than against them. As Tanenbaum points out: Being competitive, catty, and cunning are part of the stereotype of femininity. At the same time, however, women are said to cooperate in gentle sisterhood and to shun any ambition that might pit one against another. These stereotypes contradict each other, providing girls and women with clashing messages.15

During their time on the island, the Teen Dreamers confront this contradiction and, as with the interrogation of the feminine/feminist dichotomy, work to blur the apparent distinctions between congeniality and competitiveness. The relationship between Shanti and Nicole, the only survivors who belong to ethnic minorities, acts as the clearest representation of this dichotomy. Although it is unlikely that the pageant will ever take 15

Tanenbaum, Catfight, 27.

Maybe Girls Need an Island


place, the two young women immediately recognize that they will each be the other’s biggest competition because they “knew the Top Five would not hold both a black and a brown contestant” (74). Shanti, in particular, is associated with competition, as she has hired a stern Russian pageant coach, Mrs Mirabov, who has transformed her from an overachieving but unapproachable Valley Girl to a serious contender with an affected pseudo-British accent and false stories about her Indian heritage. When Shanti finally begins to abandon this persona, she dreams that Mrs Mirabov is yelling at her: “You are on your own! A girl without a tribe is no one. No one!” (82). While Shanti continues to struggle with her own desire to win, she eventually comes to realize that her competitive nature is preventing her from achieving other dreams, such as becoming a DJ and founding a company of her own. Nicole, in turn, recognizes that her own participation in pageants has resulted from her being too congenial. Because she wants to please her mother, Nicole has acquiesced to procedures that will lighten her skin and straighten her hair, despite her own lack of interest in this version of beauty. More generally, as an AfricanAmerican woman in a competition dominated by white women, she has become accustomed to performing a specific version of congeniality, as demonstrated by her rehearsed assertion that “The amazing thing about Miss Teen Dream is that it’s all about girls coming together – different races, creeds, ethnicities …. There is no race in Miss Teen Dream” (48). Her experiences on the island, then, help her to reclaim a sense of her own identity that does not depend on pleasing others but on understanding what she wants to achieve. The competition that initially leads Shanti and Nicole to butt heads transforms into grudging respect, growing understanding, and eventually a close friendship. Likewise, the group as a whole slowly evolves from understanding each other as competition – a belief that is best illustrated by the picking of “teams” at the beginning of the novel – to recognizing the usefulness of cooperation. At the end of the novel, after the contestants have escaped the island, Bray describes their celebration dance: It is a delightful chaos of bodies. High kicking. Hip shaking. Arm locking. Everyone contributing something … leaning into one another in affection as much as support, a great chain of girl. (389)


Sara K. Day

However, although Beauty Queens does highlight the possible benefits of working together, Bray also challenges the belief that girls should simply strive to be congenial at all times. Indeed, Nicole herself establishes a rule that the survivors will stop apologizing for things that are not their fault. And once again, the island setting – which allows Shanti, Nicole, and the other contestants to reconsider their own relationships with the congeniality/competition binary – blurs the lines between these concepts, allowing for the possibility of being at once both feminine, supportive and nurturing, as well as feminist, rejecting the kind of competition that sets young women in opposition to each other while allowing for ambition and the desire to succeed. “Honor Your Inner Wild Girl”: where virgin meets whore In exploring binaries associated with adolescent womanhood, Bray also interrogates questions of sexuality highlighted by beauty pageants. Specifically, the emphasis on the contestants’ unmarried status suggests an insistence upon maidenhood and virginity, while the physical objectification of these young “misses” strutting in swimsuits and evening gowns insists upon a willingness to be viewed as sexual objects. Other associations include jokes about pageant contestants using sexual favours to win the judges’ votes and famous scandals involving pageant winners and sexual photos and videos – Vanessa Williams famously lost her crown because of nude photographs, and more recent contestants have faced allegations of sex tapes. As a result, beauty pageants perpetuate the virgin/whore dichotomy which has traditionally reinforced double standards about women’s sexuality while restricting women’s access to sexual agency to one of two positions. Adolescent women in particular have been limited by this binary, a phenomenon which, in recent years, has manifested itself in specific, public ways. Young women who take vows to remain virgins until marriage frequently demonstrate that commitment by wearing rings that act as visible signs of their chastity, while young women who decide not to abstain from sex often find themselves labelled “sluts”. In Beauty Queens, Miss Nebraska, Mary Lou, and Adina each take on the traditional virgin/whore dichotomy. Early in her adolescence, Mary Lou learned from her mother

Maybe Girls Need an Island


… about the curse that had plagued the women in her family for generations. Wild girls, they were called. Temptresses. Witches. Girls of fearless sexual appetite.

In response to this “curse”, Mary Lou wears a purity ring accompanied by “vows that were supposed to keep her safe from her own impulses and desires” (161). When Mary Lou stumbles across Tane, an ornithologist who has been studying birds on the island, she finds herself struggling with the sexual desire that she has been taught to fear. In the absence of her usual audience, however, Mary Lou finds herself willing to act on her desires in a way that brings her pleasure rather than shame. In the course of the novel, in fact, she is able to not only accept her own desires but clearly articulate them in a manner that allows her a degree of sexual agency that the chastity ring would obscure or deny. Adina, however, strives to divorce sex and love because of her mother’s problematic romantic track record. But her dismissal of her mother’s version of femininity does not necessarily mean that Adina rejects romance and sex. Indeed, she resists Mary Lou’s decision to abstain from sex just as vehemently as she opposes her mother’s serial monogamy. In theory, then, if not in practice, Adina embraces a sexual attitude that would more clearly align her with the “whore” side of the dichotomy than the virgin. The arrival of the reality-show pirates proves to be a particular challenge to Adina in that it forces her to take action where she previously has only had to make claims. When she decides to have sex with the handsome, charming Duff, she does so because “She wanted him. She wanted this. It was her choice” (261). At the same time, she feels no small degree of guilt and shame, especially when she discovers that Duff may have taped their encounter. This event provides a clear reminder both of the ways in which young women’s behaviours are monitored and of the potential consequences of breaking from social expectations regarding gender and sex. Mary Lou and Adina challenge the virgin/whore dichotomy not in their decisions regarding sex, but in the ways that those decisions call into question the myriad assumptions and contradictions about adolescent women’s sexuality. In particular, these two characters’ experiences act as another demonstration of the performativity of gendered expectations, as both young women behave in ways that


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either maintain or explicitly reject cultural definitions of femininity. Once again, the island setting plays a crucial role in this interrogation, as both Mary Lou and Adina take advantage of the distance from their usual experiences in order to act upon their desires and ideologies in ways they might not otherwise attempt. The island, a liminal space where such actions can theoretically be undertaken with fewer risks, allows for self-discovery and abandonment of social expectations. “A place where no one’s watching them”: the impossibility of escaping gender Throughout Beauty Queens, the island setting plays a central role in calling attention to the performative nature of gender and the manner in which surveillance – in the form of real or imagined audiences – works to maintain specific expectations of femininity. In her specific investigation of three central binaries related to adolescent womanhood, Bray thus relies upon the island as a metaphorical in between space that removes traditional social controls and allows for flexibility and freedom that challenges the demands that young women be either feminine or feminist, congenial or competitive, virginal or whorish. Indeed, even the characters themselves are able to recognize the changes in their own behaviours and expectations as they navigate their experiences of and on the island. Realizing the degree to which she and her fellow survivors have changed in this isolated location, Mary Lou says: “Maybe girls need an island to find themselves. Maybe they need a place where no one’s watching them so they can be who they really are.” Bray expands on this concept further when she writes: There was something about the island that made the girls forget who they had been. All those rules and shall nots. They were no longer waiting for some arbitrary grade. They were no longer performing. Waiting. Hoping. They were becoming. They were. (177)

In this passage, and in the novel as a whole, Bray calls attention to the relationships between the girls’ performances of femininity and their fear of deviation, as well as the idea that they are able to achieve a degree of agency and actualization precisely because they no longer

Maybe Girls Need an Island


understand themselves to be observed by a culture that would punish them for challenging traditional gender roles and binaries in general. Bray complicates this point, however, by revealing that the government headquarters upon which the girls stumble is equipped with secret cameras that are constantly filming the young women. The presence of hidden cameras on the island reinforces the constancy of a Foucaldian system of surveillance that ensures the maintenance of specific social behaviours, suggesting that there is no space in which young women can truly escape from observation and the gender performances society demands. Nonetheless, Bray does offer one final challenge to the cultural dictates that attempt to sort young women into binaries: Miss Texas, who is left alone on the island after the other contestants have foiled Ladybird Hope’s plot and finally escaped, is portrayed as a sort of new Eve. Wearing a snake around her neck like a boa, she gazes around the island which is now truly deserted. Bray writes: She had a busy day ahead of her. There was an island to tame. Creatures to name. A world to build.

This is followed by, “Whatever would she wear?” (381). This tonguein-cheek question allows Bray to challenge once again the assumptions about gender that demand specific appearances and behaviours from young women, while the figure of Taylor, completely alone but far from hopeless, suggests a belief that freedom from such expectations may be possible – if only girls can find an island.

RECREATING HOME FOR THE NEW GIRL: DOMESTICITY AND ADVENTURE IN L.T. MEADE’S FOUR ON AN ISLAND AMY HICKS This essay examines the construction of home, as well as the treatment of the domestic and the adventurous, in L.T. Meade’s castaway novel Four on an Island (1892). Meade’s girl protagonist, Isabel, demonstrates how conceptions of both femininity and girlhood shifted in accordance with the emergence of the New Girl, the younger correlative of the Victorian-era New Woman, as a cultural construct. This essay argues that Meade’s novel provides readers with a couched critique of Victorian conceptualizations of home through the author’s depiction of Isabel’s creation of a domestic space by rejecting static domesticity while cast away. As a New Girl, Isabel attempts to navigate the interstitial space between present and future family domestic realms by creating a new type of home that allows space for both domesticity and adventure.

Victorian Robinsonades for girls, much like boys’ Robinsonades of this era, worked to create appropriate models of behaviour for their contemporary readerships. While much scholarship examines representations of masculinity in boys’ castaway novels,1 a relatively smaller amount of critical work explores depictions of femininity in adventure texts for and about girls. As Michelle J. Smith claims, latenineteenth-century girls’ Robinsonades depict a “modern, capable girlhood” where girls need not depend on men for survival while cast away. Rather, these Victorian-era girl castaways demonstrate how pluck and courage, combined with traditional feminine attributes, potentially make for more competent successors of Robinson Crusoe 1

See, for instance, Susan Naramore Maher’s “Recasting Crusoe: Frederick Marryat, R.M. Ballantyne and the Nineteenth-Century Robinsonade”, Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, XIII/4 (Winter 1988); Joseph Bristow’s Empire Boys: Adventures in a Man’s World, New York: Harper Collins Academic, 1991; and Richard Phillips’ Mapping Men and Empire: A Geography of Adventure, New York: Routledge, 1997.


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than their male counterparts.2 L.T. Meade’s Four on an Island participates in the broader tradition that Smith identifies, and features twelve-year-old Isabel as the novel’s champion, instead of her older brother, Ferdinand.3 It is Isabel who successfully ensures the survival of Ferdinand, her two younger cousins, and their terrier Mungo, while cast away from their mainland home. Meade’s girl protagonist demonstrates how definitions of both femininity and girlhood shifted in accordance with the emergence of the New Girl, the younger correlative of the Victorian-era New Woman, as a cultural construct. Megan Norcia explores changing conceptualizations of girlhood in Four on an Island, with the claim that Meade “patched together socially polarized archetypes – the masculinized adventure hero and the Angel of the House – thereby widening the sphere of agency and activity in which girls and women could act”.4 Norcia’s analysis primarily focuses on the ways in which Meade’s “Adventurous Angel” merges the domestic with the adventurous, which provides a pivotal grounding point for this analysis. My aim, however, is to show how Four on an Island provides readers with a couched critique of Victorian conceptualizations of home through Meade’s depiction of how Isabel creates home in accordance with New Girl ideologies by rejecting static domesticity on the desert island. When Four on an Island was published in 1892, the concept of girlhood was relatively new, and several historical occurrences affecting both working-class and middle-class girls spurred its emergence. As Sally Mitchell notes, the girl of the period, or the New Girl, purportedly had novel freedoms within arm’s reach because of opportunities for work, education, and leisure activities when transitioning into womanhood.5 While it is clear that many young 2

Michelle J. Smith, Empire in British Girls’ Literature and Culture: Imperials Girls, 1880-1915, Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, 162. 3 L.T. Meade, Four on an Island: A Book for the Little Folks, New York: Mershon Company, 1892 (all references given in parentheses in the text). 4 Megan A. Norcia, “Angel of the Island: L.T. Meade’s New Girl as the Heir of a Nation-Making Robinson Crusoe”, The Lion and the Unicorn, XXVIII/3 (September 2004), 347. 5 Sally Mitchell, The New Girl: Girls’ Culture in England, 1880-1915, New York: Columbia University Press, 1995, 3.

Domesticity and Adventure in Four on an Island


women did not fully experience these liberties because of socioeconomic status or lingering cultural and social restraints, the emergence and availability of girl’s fiction and periodicals allowed girls to read about autonomous living. Indeed, perhaps the most perceptible signalling of the cultural construct of girlhood in the late nineteenth century was the emergence of girls’ fiction and the subsequent proliferation of girls’ stories by both male and female authors alike. Meade was one such author who shaped the cultural construction of the New Girl by writing over two hundred girls’ books in the Victorian era. Described as “one of the most prolific and most forgotten writers that Ireland has ever produced”, Meade left County Cork in her twenties to pursue a writing career in London.6 After her marriage and the birth of her three children, Meade continued to have an active professional life and worked to promote women’s education and social advancement.7 Her dedication to her career and women’s rights characterized Meade as a New Woman, and what is more, her fiction often reflected her progressive views. With works ranging from science fiction to medical mysteries to school stories, many of Meade’s publications portrayed spirited female protagonists who challenged contemporary cultural mores. Meade’s depictions of plucky girl characters not only worked to question gendered constructions in the nineteenth century, they also deviated from previous portrayals of young women found in girls’ fiction. According to Kimberley Reynolds, in order to preserve the dainty, angelic sensibilities of young women, publications for girls frequently comprised only morally didactic handbooks that included unexciting storylines with prim, dull girl characters. Consequently, girls commonly preferred to read their brothers’ adventure novels. 8 Both publishers and writers, including Meade, paid heed to girls’ reading choices, and it became apparent that there was a market for literature that could satiate girls’ hunger for more adventurous tales. These tales needed to satisfy their desires but not compromise their 6

Beth Rodgers, “Irishness, Professional Authorship, and the ‘Wild Irish Girls’ of L.T. Meade”, English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920, LVI/2 (2013), 146. 7 Mitchell, The New Girl, 10. 8 Kimberly Reynolds, Girls Only? Gender and Popular Children’s Fiction in Britain, 1880-1910, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990, 93.


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femininity. Reynolds claims that “one way of doing this was to incorporate appropriate models for girls into suitable boys’ adventure stories”.9 She contends that these new girls’ adventure tales detailed clear gender roles and domesticated ventures with an emphasis on honouring and maintaining strong family relationships. Indeed, the majority of girls’ adventure stories were set in the home or, at the very least, within the characters’ homeland and, unlike preceding boys’ adventure novels, very few of these texts placed their characters in exotic locales undertaking imperial endeavours. The New Girl’s adventure tales, including Four on an Island, allowed the girl of the period to gain some sense of agency, despite the domestic qualities that often tempered the adventurous element of such fiction. Novels and the increasingly popular periodicals written specifically for girls and featuring boyish girl heroes allowed readers to imagine a new way of life, a modern existence quite unlike that of their mothers. By turns entertaining and empowering, the New Girl’s adventure stories were nevertheless grounded by their portrayal of the domestic. Home, either the family or the national, was ever present in girl’s fiction, particularly in the Robinsonade. Meade’s Four on an Island demonstrates how the concept of the home is indeed sustained, although the majority of the novel’s action occurs on a desert island. The opening words of the novel provide an evocative depiction of home, detailing its ideological and material forms: When adventures may begin no one quite knows. It is possible to wake in the morning, and think of the usual sort of things going on all day long: of breakfast and dinner and supper, and snug bed at night, and all the pleasant shelter of home; it is possible to think of these things, and to imagine they will go on forever, and yet to find one’s self in the evening in a totally different situation, everything changed, breakfast, dinner, and supper not to be had, no cozy bed to curl into, no “good-nights” to be said, no home anywhere. (1-2)

Home, according to the narrator, is a space where common repetitions ensue, a place where there are certain material comforts: beds to sleep in and meals to eat. Home and the domestic are thus equated with the 9

Ibid., 94.

Domesticity and Adventure in Four on an Island


familiar while adventure involves the unfamiliar – “a totally different situation”. The opening passage explicitly separates familiar home and unfamiliar adventure by reiterating the impossibility of being at home while engaging in adventurous acts. The opening passage depicts the home as both a spatial and ideological construction, creates a clear division between the domestic and the exploratory, and also intimates the adventures yet to come in the novel. This opening passage about home and adventurous spaces reiterates social preoccupations with the New Girl and her relationship with the domestic sphere. As Mitchell insists, “girlhood, in its archetypal form, is bounded on each side by home: by parental home on one side, by marital home on the other. In the space between the two family homes … the new girl has a degree of independence.”10 Isabel, as a New Girl, can achieve a modicum of independence by literally being away from her home on the mainland, by being away from the responsibilities of home, and by temporarily being away from social ideologies that dictate her place within the family home. After she and her family are caught in a current and swept away from shore in their shoddy brig, Isabel spearheads their attempts to establish homesteads on the island. This girl castaway does not eschew the notion of home as a place to be safe and secure, but she does consider ways to create a domestic space through adventurous acts. Their first homestead, for instance, becomes a battleground, as Isabel protects her brother and cousins from a horde of dangerous “land-crabs”. She quickly realizes that she can outwit these creatures: “I must get the better of you, you hideous little monsters!” … and she laughed so merrily, and used the branch of the tree Ferdinand had provided her with to such excellent effect, that the horrid creatures thought it best to leave her alone. (101-102)

Her merry laughter and her pledge to get the better of the crabs illustrate Isabel’s strong will, able body and aptitude to prevail in adventurous situations and over intruders. She wields a stick and strikes the crabs without trepidation in order to ensure the safety of her family, demonstrating that the woman of the house can be plucky and courageous, rather than passive and weak. 10

Mitchell, The New Girl, 9.


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Isabel’s adventurous actions demonstrate her unwillingness to play a conventionally gendered role. In their discussion of the middle-class English family, Leonard Davidoff and Catherine Hall assert: “‘Home’ was as much a social construct and state of mind as a reality of bricks and mortar.”11 A significant aspect of this social construct was the establishment of women as domestic angels, and as Davidoff and Hall contend, women were thought to be responsible for “creating and maintaining the house, its contents and its human constituents”.12 Through this creation and maintenance, ladies were considered moral custodians of the household who, as Ginger Suzanne Frost argues, “tended to the emotional and physical needs and sacrificed their own desires for others’ well-being”.13 Their care for not only the household itself, but also those who dwell there, emphasizes that women were a necessary facet of the social construct of home. Ladies figuratively sat at the centre of the domestic realm, and with their feminine sensibilities such as piety, selflessness and purity, were charged with sustaining and maintaining the household. This common ideology was given emphasis through John Ruskin’s 1864 lecture “Of Queen’s Gardens” which was published the following year in his Sesame and Lilies: “wherever a true wife comes, this home is always round her. The stars only may be over her head, the glow-worm in the night-cold grass may be the only fire at her foot, but home is yet wherever she is.”14 Ruskin’s statement reflects Davidoff and Hall’s claim that home was not necessarily a static place and a social construct, since a woman could move beyond the four walls of home and still have the aura of home about her. Four on an Island often echoes these Victorian conceptualizations of home, but actively recreates these notions, rather than passively reproducing them. While Ruskin’s idea that home is an intrinsically gendered sphere holds, Isabel’s adventurous activity on the island necessarily makes their multiple homes there something quite different from traditional domestic places. Tellingly, when the castaway characters move to a cave to establish a homestead, 11

Leonard Davidoff and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850, London: Routledge, 2002, 358. 12 Ibid., 360. 13 Ginger Suzanne Frost, Victorian Childhoods, Westport: Praeger, 2009, 11. 14 John Ruskin, Sesame and Lilies, Chicago: A.C. McClurg and Co., 1897, 145-46.

Domesticity and Adventure in Four on an Island


Ferdinand names this space, but does not claim the space as his own. Rather, he establishes his sister as its namesake when he christens the cave “Isabel’s Bower”. Indeed, he determines that their new home belongs to Isabel, and his motivation to name the cave after her is tied to both the literal meaning of the term “bower” and the type of homestead that he intends to found. The OED’s entry describing “bower” as a dwelling place dates the usage from the tenth century, but by the seventeenth century, the term was being used in a more poetic way to refer to an idealized, not actualized, dwelling. Yet, an alternate definition in nineteenth-century lexis designates the term to mean a specifically feminine space – “a lady’s private apartment [or] boudoir”.15 This different denotative meaning places a specific emphasis on the nature of the cave itself. Ferdinand, acting in accordance with social dictates of the Victorian era, feminizes and genders their new home through his choice of name, Isabel’s Bower, for the space. Their home is, by name, truly a girl’s space, although it is outdoors, unfamiliar, potentially dangerous, and in an adventurous setting. Moreover, once the cave is ascertained to be a proper place for their sleeping quarters and Ferdinand proclaims it to be “[their] bedroom”, Isabel commences to quite literally set up house (122). A proper bedchamber must be conducive for rest and relaxation, and with her ostensibly feminine ways, Isabel sets out to “clean it properly” so that the space will also feel akin to their rightful rooms on the mainland (125). But as Norcia rightly claims, even these traditionally feminine activities “become adventures” within the context of the island.16 The cave is a safe and secure space and, moreover, this crevice in the rocky cliff initially simulates a close, protective womb, further emphasizing how home is traditionally gendered as feminine. Yet, the children’s appropriation of the bower as a womb-like space for themselves is denied by a wild mother cat. Just as the dangerous, barren plateau was home to crabs, the cave houses another type of animal prepared to defend its territory. It is significant that this danger occurs at night, when darkness impedes the children’s watchful observance of any movement on the island. Isabel infers that the experience “is a most unpleasant adventure: to feel yourself in the 15 16

“bower, n.1”, def. 2b, OED Online (accessed September 2014). Norcia, “Angel of the Island”, 348.


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presence of an enemy that you cannot even catch a glimpse of” (155). Yet, after cleaning the cave and discovering that it does have homelike elements, Isabel likens living in the bower to that of an exploratory activity. The natural stone walls, crooks, and crannies, can literally conceal adventure, and these hidden possibilities entice Isabel to remain in the cave. Although the cave has already been appropriated by the cat and her kittens and does not seem to be a proper home for the children, Isabel wishes to stay in it, ostensibly in the spirit of adventure. When Ferdinand voices his wish to establish a homestead elsewhere, his sister is adamant in her reply to stay in the bower. She responds: “‘But surely, Ferdinand, when wild puss goes out, as she presently will for breakfast, we have it in our power to take the kittens, and prevent her coming back’” (160). Isabel thus determines to not only assert her will but also perpetuate their escapades by seizing opportunities wherever they present themselves. Her zest for undertaking and manipulating precarious situations for the sheer excitement of it is underscored by her plan to physically remove the animals. Her proposal emphasizes her daring nature, but Isabel is also actively attempting to integrate adventure with domesticity while staying in the bower. Although Isabel acts in the spirit of enterprise, it is significant to note that her plan is far different from the one she employed with ridding the plateau of the land-crabs. Isabel quite literally squashed the crabs with a stick, indicating that she is a powerful girl who cannot be overtaken by intruders, while also emphasizing that the island is a space to be managed and created by girls. Her strategy to carefully remove the cats from the cave, however, suggests that she values the sanctity of this family unit, and by extension, all family units. While the cats’ claws could do greater damage to the children’s bodies than could the land-crabs’ pinchers, Isabel wishes to displace these animals without harming them. Ultimately, she wants to supersede possession of the island not as a mother’s space, but as a girl’s space. Her displacement of the mother cat emphasizes that Isabel is not ready to be restricted completely to a life of confinement and static domesticity. Norcia’s claim that Meade “challenges the exclusivity of the spaces gendered as masculine” is seen clearly when Isabel constructs home on the island through adventurous acts and as a space for a New

Domesticity and Adventure in Four on an Island


Girl.17 As alluded to earlier, Ferdinand’s statements and actions function as ways to safely mitigate the numerous instances in which Isabel challenges social and cultural principles of the Victorian era. Ferdinand is used as, what Norcia calls, “the representative of patriarchal power”, a move which signifies that Meade can object to Victorian ideologies dictating gender roles, but she cannot fully upset them through her New Girl character, Isabel.18 In a textual moment that seemingly negates Isabel’s power and ability to claim the island as a space for the New Girl, Ferdinand draws attention to how adventurous spaces are typically gendered as masculine. After discovering an abandoned ship wedged between two trees, he decries his mastery over not just their new home, but also the entire island: “With these [guns and supplies] I shall become king of the island, for all living creatures, down to the land-crabs, shall fear me; and with these” – pointing to the pots and pans – “Bell shall reign as queen; for, after all, what can a girl do better than know how to cook a good dinner?” (176)

Drawing on the tropes of earlier castaway fiction, Ferdinand establishes himself as monarch and master of all he surveys.19 He relegates Isabel to a conventional role in the home and, in the same breath, belittles her earlier contributions to establishing homesteads and protecting the family. Yet, it is Ferdinand who later sprains his ankle, and Isabel who takes charge of the guns and supplies in order to save Mungo from the vicious crabs. Isabel, time and again, embodies courage and determination, and the moments in which she switches gender roles further emphasizes her true role as heroine. As heroine, she demonstrates her competence but, above all, her ability to traverse seemingly static gender roles and defy the exclusivity of gendered spaces. In a final attempt to mitigate Isabel’s perhaps too adventurous qualities and actions, Ferdinand proposes that they build a traditional home on the island. For Ferdinand, the building of a home – a 17

Ibid., 347. Ibid., 354. 19 For a more detailed analysis of this trope, see Rebecca Weaver-Hightower, Empire Islands: Castaways, Cannibals, and Fantasies of Conquest, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007. 18


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structure with four walls, a roof, windows, and an entry way – seems the most logical way for the children to feel at home and remain safe while on the island. Using four pine-trees as the corners of a structure, the young castaways, driven by Ferdinand’s commands, build four walls out of fallen timber. They also retrieve two windows from the ship, pieces of the deck to create a floor for their new home, and the stove from the ship’s cabin. Constructing the home allows for movement and action, which satisfies Isabel’s desire for adventure. Indeed, the characters’ constant movement from the ship to the home with four walls stresses that physical activity is a necessary aspect of adventure. It is this steady transferring of goods that allows Isabel and her family to continue not only to survive, but also to truly thrive on the island. When the building and relocation of materials is complete, the created space is like a conventional home in both an aesthetic and emotive sense: When the children paused on the threshold of the home which they had made with their own hands, the sight which met their eyes was a very pleasant one. Through the round porthole windows the setting sun was sending some cheerful rays; the old stove … contained a cheery and welcome fire. On the floor of the house was laid a rough carpet …. The round table in the center of the floor was made gay with some more of the famous crimson cloth. (236-37)

This home not only looks like a traditional home with its threshold, windows, fire, floor, and furnishings, but also projects a feeling of pleasantness, cheerfulness, and gaiety. The fire in the stove is welcoming, drawing the children in to feel its warmth and cosiness. While the house is not of a refined or sophisticated design, its four walls act as a protective shelter for the children, reminiscent of their home on the mainland. After finding refuge in their traditional home, Isabel is met with another challenge: staying active on the island. While she does continue to move about by killing and skinning goats as well as procuring enough food to last through the rainy season, staying in one home has an ill effect on the story’s young heroine. Left with little adventurous activities to engage in – no homes to build, little land left to explore, no animals to ward off – Isabel becomes accustomed to remaining static in their traditional home. While the other homes were

Domesticity and Adventure in Four on an Island


dangerous because of treacherous creatures and torrential storms, a stable home in this adventurous setting, for Isabel, is the most dangerous place of all. Her former housekeeping was propelled by her desire to move about in new and adventurous ways, but household duties in the traditionally constructed home quickly lose their appeal. Isabel has become a conventional matron in this conventionally domestic site, and most notably, she has been driven into this space by her brother’s own wish to establish the island as a boy’s space. The danger of the home as a place of rest and stasis is underscored in a telling moment near the end of Four on an Island. When rooted to the domestic sphere, Isabel’s health declines when she catches fever. The fever, a sickness “which was too mighty even for her brave, resolute spirit to fight against”, leaves her extremely weak and bedridden (246). This valiant New Girl has seemingly atrophied and wasted away to the point that her determination is defeated by the sickness brought about by her confinement within four walls. As Norcia notes, in girls’ fiction, “Adventurous activity had to be carefully couched so that it would not disrupt, repudiate, or threaten the social domestic values embodied by the Angel of the House”. 20 Isabel’s sickness can be interpreted as a punishment inflicted to bring about the reform of the heroine. Reynolds’ argument about the reformation of girl characters clarifies Norcia’s claim further: “the bold, verbally precocious, challenging, and therefore ‘bad’ (in terms of the feminine ideal) heroine is, as the result of accidents or emotional crisis, led to enlightenment and converted into the perfect domestic angel.”21 Indeed, Isabel’s sickness immobilizes her adventurous body, upsets her New Girl activity, and acts as a precautionary lesson for Victorianera girl readers. Yet it becomes clear that it is the physical structure and social implications of the home itself that have caused Isabel to become ill. Her health continues to deteriorate, and even Ferdinand attributes the home as a factor in his sister’s sudden weakening. He tells Isabel: “‘this awful damp weather and damp house are killing you’” (250). This poignant statement reaffirms the primary cause of her condition. While the wet weather and the moisture in the home have not caused any of the other children to become ill, it is Isabel .

20 21

Norcia, “Angel of the Island”, 346. Reynolds, Girls Only?, 128.


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who gets sick and is subsequently trapped in the home. Without adventurous excursions and activities to undertake and the ability to move about freely, she is literally made sick by home. Moreover, the danger of static domesticity is reinforced by the fact that Isabel’s mother is dead. It is significant that this ultimate representative of domesticity and womanhood is quite evocatively made angelic through her death. As Reynolds insists: “alive or dead, mothers in [children’s books of this period] are always martyrs to the domestic ideal.”22 Although Isabel’s mother may be considered a martyr, Isabel’s own sickness emphasizes that domestic ideals, for the New Girl, must be balanced by adventurous activities taking place outside of the home. When girl readers turned to their brothers’ bookshelves to find stories that would satiate their literary hunger for adventure and entertainment, writers of girls’ adventure and castaway novels had to conceal adventurous activities in the midst of girls’ domestic ventures. Meade’s depiction of Isabel tellingly emphasizes how social perceptions and representations of girlhood could change, yet remain questionable. This novel depicts girlhood in a specific manner: the girl castaway character that survives and thrives on an island is able to not only negotiate the land successfully, but also to navigate, appropriate, and discard tenuous and shifting feminine ideals in order to create a representation of girlhood that can entertain and inspire girl readers. Meade’s textual representations of girlhood reflect adult anxieties surrounding this liminal space between childhood and adulthood. Indeed, Four on an Island allows modern readers to understand the fluctuating nature of girlhood as a girl castaway character both upsets and maintains feminine ideals while away from her family home. The island in Meade’s novel, then, serves as an apt place to experiment with and critique conventional notions of home, as it, too, exists in a liminal space. As Maher contends, the island setting functions as “an archetypal laboratory for a society’s ideology”.23 This claim indicates that the island works as a testing site for social beliefs, a place in which experiments can be conducted in order to investigate and assess pervasive belief systems. Although Meade effectively moderated the proto-feminist qualities of Four on an Island, the many 22 23

Ibid., 96. Maher, “Recasting Crusoe”, 169.

Domesticity and Adventure in Four on an Island


instances that emphasize Isabel’s New Girl strengths and independence demonstrate how the traditional concept of home could be questioned and challenged. Examining the island as a liminal space in which new models of girlhood could be tested provides critics with another perspective with which to examine not only Four on an Island, but also Robinsonades for girls, more broadly.24


Acknowledgments: many thanks to Eric Tribunella, Molly Clark Hillard and Nicolle Jordan for their thoughtful and conscientious feedback on the early drafts of this essay.

LADY CASTAWAYS IN THE GILDED AGE IN EDITH WHARTON’S THE HOUSE OF MIRTH SHAWN THOMSON Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth reflects the degradation of Robinson Crusoe as an ennobling model of heroic individualism in the intense stratification and complexity of modernity. In using the trope of the castaway alone on his island to depict Lily Bart’s fall from high society, Wharton reflects a cultural devaluing of the arc of progress of the Crusoe story. Wharton exploits the castaway to express Lily’s pronounced fear of her isolation from the centre and circumference of urban culture and its requisite material refinements. To Lily and her kind, the castaway represents an existence stripped of the artifices and trappings of high culture, and removed from the industrial infrastructure. The castaway as a figure of stoic suffering and hard won lessons becomes a fearful symmetry of want and privation. The failed heroism in The House of Mirth reveals the failure of the magic verisimilitude of Robinson Crusoe that had captivated young men up until the end of the nineteenth century.

In The House of Mirth, first published in 1905,1 Edith Wharton exploits the trope of the castaway to signal a shift from the antebellum era, when heroic individualism was vaunted, to the Gilded Age, when fashion defined and elevated women to a realm of status above the world of work and toil. The novel takes place during the prosperity of the 1880s and 1890s, when second-tier millionaires from railroads, banking, steel, clothing, meat-packing, banking, real estate, publishing, and law sought to climb the social ladder and create a society separate from the concerns and dictates of the working world. Wharton exploits the figural castaway as a bridge between the physical suffering of the castaway and the dazzling privilege of the wealthy. Hermione Lee writes that during this period: “Americans’ fascination with the ostentation of the post-war big spenders was beginning to sour, and a campaign of criticism and attacks on ‘the 1

Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth, New York: Penguin, 1985 (all references given in parentheses in the text).


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Trusts’ for rapaciousness and exploitation began in the muck-raking journals.”2 In 1894 a New York Times article entitled “The Unattached Females” expressed this criticism in its description of the “enormous hordes of unattached females living on interest and dividends” that block “the pavements in front of fashionable shops” when “it used to be an argument against frivolity and idleness that to them must be ascribed the hard lot of the Cinderellas and the Fantines – that mere fashion was essentially unproductive, except of castaways, victims high and low to the craze for enjoyment”.3 This attack on young women shielded from the world of work and domestic duty by their trust funds characterizes women as no longer animated by feminine models of humility, poverty and work, as exemplified by fairy-tale characters like Cinderella or fictional ones like Fantine in Les Misérables, but rather by the frivolity of high fashion. The author exploits the image of the castaway as an icon of the self-made man who mastered the island through his hard-won knowledge and practical know-how to emphasize these young women’s alienation from the founding labour and sacrifice that supports their privileges and wealth.4 The wealthy women of New York high society seem worlds apart from the figure of the lone shipwrecked being on a desert island, but the power of the castaway as a figure of sympathy and an ethos of self-reliance is used both to heighten this difference and to highlight the humanity of the individual’s suffering and misfortune. In Wharton’s use of the lady castaways of the Gilded Age, women from high society do not meet with good fortune if they happen to fail in any way. Unlike their male counterparts, they do not fantasize about gaining from a felix culpa, a fortunate fall – the idea that “God allows evil to happen in order to bring a greater good therefrom”. 5 2

Hermione Lee, Edith Wharton, New York: Knopf, 2007, 49. “The Unattached Females”, The New York Times, 9 November 1894, 5: 9D94659ED7CF. 4 See Shawn Thomson, Fortress of American Solitude: Robinson Crusoe and Antebellum Culture, Cranbury: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2009, 34. 5 See St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III, 1, 3 (rpt. in The Library of Original Sources, Vol. 5: The Early Medieval World, ed. Oliver J. Thatcher, Milwaukee, WI: University Research Extension Co., 1907, 359-63). 3

Lady Castaways


Indeed, for men, such a fall may constitute a test of their innate skills and self-mastery. Instead, in The House of Mirth, Wharton uses the shipwreck and castaway figures as tropes to suggest the endpoint of aspects of two female characters, Gerty Farish and Lily Bart, and the emotional ruin and social abandonment they experience. The world of The House of Mirth certainly presents no heroic characters. The terrain of this novel is concerned with the strategies and manoeuvres used to both protect and secure one’s position in the social hierarchy, hence the real possibility of condemnation after simply a hint of a mistake. Lily is cast out of high society by rumours of sexual indiscretions, and is henceforth perceived as a fallen woman. As a result, the wreckage of Lily’s reputation brings her isolation from the patriarchal realm of individual perseverance through trial and suffering. For male castaways, the island serves as an armature for spiritual growth. As he faces a discrete set of obstacles, the male castaway develops his innate characteristics and builds new skills to rise in this microcosm. Lily, in contrast, cannot remake or reconstitute her self once she has been rejected by her peers. She is made by her environment and reflects the limits and potentialities of her social position. Rather, as she falls from the heights of privilege and wealth, she finds that she does not possess the perseverance to adapt to the challenges of a new domain. She cannot exist outside the supporting structure and artifices that elevate her value in a market of things of exquisite rarity and vitality. As Jessica Lyn Van Sooten observes, the idea that Lily “retains [her] inner sel[f] separate from social display is a problematic theoretical concept”.6 Gerty is never offered the chances presented to Lily, chances of a wealthy marriage that Lily in fact sabotages due to her hesitation between her desire for a luxurious existence (which she could have obtained with Percy Gryce) and a relationship based on love (which she thought she could achieve with Lawrence Selden). In contrast to Lily, therefore, Gerty functions socially with fewer expectations. However, Wharton also exploits the metaphors relating to shipwrecks and castaways to evoke her devastating emotional ruin and sense of 6

Jessica Lyn Van Slooten, “Fashion, Money, and Romance in The House of Mirth and Sister Carrie”, in Styling Texts: Dress and Fashion in Literature, eds Cynthia Kuhn and Cindy Carlson, Youngstown, NY: Cambria Press, 2007, 251.


Shawn Thomson

abandonment. Gerty’s dream of romance and companionship with Selden, who really loves Lily, indeed breaks up when she confronts the hard fact that she is unmarriageable as a woman of no value in the arena of courtship in New York. Before the alluring presence of Lily, Gerty recognizes her ceaseless toil in a loveless world without the hope of rescue and restoration. Yet, she is the one who will continue to be a friend to Lily in her darkest hour: She [Lily] rose, stretching her arms as if in utter physical weariness. “Go to bed, dear! …. All I want is to feel that you are near me.” She laid both hands on Gerty’s shoulders, with a smile that was like sunrise on a sea strewn with wreckage. (165)

Lily is a little braver in Gerty’s company, or pretends to be. Both women are well aware of their powerless position in their hostile and even dangerous surroundings. This anti-heroism is also seen earlier in the novel in Wharton’s description of Mrs Peniston’s motives for taking in Lily after she is orphaned: “It would have been impossible for Mrs. Peniston to be heroic on a desert island, but with the eyes of her little world upon her she took a certain pleasure in her act” (36). By alluding to Robinson Crusoe’s heroism in his rise from battered castaway to master of the island, Wharton reveals the loss of traction of the ethos of the heroic individual at the turn of the century. Wharton thus undermines the fantasy of Robinson Crusoe as a figure whose struggle to erect the remnants of civilization manifests his innate talents. In this world of trusts, artifices and luxury, where gossip is sovereign, heroic individualism is no longer a workable construction of selfhood. Mrs Peniston does not act out of selflessness to aid her niece but rather out of self-interest – to appear heroic in the minds of her family and to take pleasure in the impression of selfsacrifice. The complexity of human relationships of New York’s high society and the characters’ dependence on material wealth and its abiding privileges function to highlight the distance between the rough environment of Robinson Crusoe and the exquisite world of Lily Bart. To Lily and her kind, social exile represents an existence stripped of the artifices and trappings of high culture, and removed from the industrial infrastructure. The castaway, epitomizing stoic suffering and hard-won lessons, can then become a fearful symbol of want and privation.

Lady Castaways


Heroic individualism connotes an internal principle or essential spirit that directs the individual to overcome obstacles. As young men sought to achieve the moral clarity of Crusoe alone on his island and to build a base of skills and character traits to enable their own rise in antebellum America, Crusoe’s lessons of self-mastery and his progression of individual achievement became a model of male energies directed into productive pursuits and satisfying activities.7 In examining the meaning of Robinson Crusoe for a new age of great wealth and complex markets, Wharton’s use of the castaway trope reflects fundamental changes in the organization of labour, the incorporation of identity, and the power of objects. Wharton here employs Lily and Gerty as forms of female castaways who reveal the perils of navigating the affairs of the heart in a world in which beauty, affluence and refinement are the only measures of worth. Gerty lives a simple, secluded life outside of high society. In the opening chapter, Lily describes Gerty to Selden as a hapless object of pity: “.… she has a horrid little place, and no maid, and such queer things to eat. Her cook does the washing and the food tastes of soap. I should hate that, you know.” (7)

This description of Gerty’s home suggests basic means of domestic upkeep associated with a level of economy that excludes Gerty from the heights of Lily’s sophistication and stature. That one should be able to taste soap in her food reveals the toil of her daily life. The signs of her labour are imprinted in the coarse texture of her clothes and the plainness of her quotidian routine. Gerty’s flat, in its reliance on a single cook and its spare furnishings, can be seen as akin to Crusoe’s fortress of solitude. The Crusoe ethos of self-containment underlies Gerty’s situation and Lily’s downfall – especially as she will find refuge in Gerty’s flat –, and points to the grim reality of the castaway in a modern world. Gerty’s life of good works speaks of her ethos of self-sacrifice. It also helps her draw attention away from her lack of wealth and social position. In her meeting with Selden, however, Gerty’s home is described as a setting for intimacy. 7

See Thomson, Fortress of American Solitude, 33.


Shawn Thomson Gerty’s little sitting-room sparkled with welcome when Selden entered it. Its modest “effects,” compact of enamel paint and ingenuity, spoke to him in the language just then sweetest to his ear…. Gerty sparkled too… (154)

Yet the feast that Gerty has prepared for Selden as a prelude to romance is soon destroyed by the latest Lily gossip. During their conversation, Gerty quickly realizes Selden’s lack of interest in her own meagre existence before the brilliance of Lily: The little confidential room, where a moment ago their thoughts had touched elbows like their chairs, grew to unfriendly vastness, separating her from Selden by all the length of her new vision of the future – and that future stretched out interminably, with her lonely figure toiling down it, a mere speck on the solitude. (156)

Gerty recognizes her isolation within this ethos of self-containment. The sense of intimacy she created with Selden as something tangible within her personal space turns suddenly awkward and impenetrable. The room itself becomes vacant of companionship, an empty horizon of perpetual grind and self-sacrifice with no measure of restitution. Gerty and Crusoe could be compared as both existing in fortresses of solitude. Indeed, Crusoe’s cave, like Gerty’s ingeniously fitted out interior, is furnished with handmade chairs, table and shelves, which represent his own investment in his island domain. However, Crusoe vests himself with a kingly power over his court of cats, dog, and Poll that compete for his favour. Compared to Gerty’s lucidity, Crusoe’s story is just a pitiful fantasy of male autonomy. As Lily becomes the central subject of the talk at the table, Gerty’s desire for true intimacy with Selden becomes a distant reality. Her secret love for Selden will be forever unstated as her life becomes a cycle of ever-diminishing return upon her good works. Lily’s attraction inhabits this “confidential room” and becomes an insurmountable obstacle. Wharton describes Gerty’s emotional landscape as akin to a shipwreck: He had come to talk to her of Lily – that was all! There had been a third at the feast she had spread for him, and that third had taken her own place. She tried to follow what he was saying, to cling to her own part in the talk – but it was all as meaningless as the boom of waves in

Lady Castaways


a drowning head, and she felt, as the drowning may feel, that to sink would be nothing beside the pain of struggling to keep up. Selden rose, and she drew a deep breath, feeling that soon she could yield to the blessed waves. (156)

Wharton uses the image of Gerty as an ocean castaway clinging “to her own part in the talk” as one would to the floating debris from a shipwreck to convey the catastrophic ruin of her imagined closeness with Selden. Wharton conveys Gerty’s sense of emotional abandonment through the image of struggling in the open sea without the possibility of being saved. As the conversation shifts to Lily’s life of fashion and intrigue, Gerty realizes she lacks a hold upon Selden. She cannot overcome Selden’s fascination with Lily, and Lily’s alluring artifice is the wreck of Gerty’s romantic aspirations. She can neither bear her loveless isolation nor relinquish her friendship to the woman who has ruined her dream. Wharton exploits the shipwreck as a symbol of the failed idealism of Gerty’s belief that her intrinsic qualities and charity work could save her from the isolation of her middling reality. In contrast, Wharton’s description of Lily’s plight as a castaway from the high-class circles of old New York highlights her own dependence and entrenchment in the exquisite refinements and luxuries of high culture. Crusoe’s crude pottery stands as a physical representation of his development and hands-on connection to the underpinnings of daily life. In acting alone on his island, building his own sovereign domain outside the public gaze, Crusoe finds contentment and purpose in making the things he uses in his alternative routine, often at great mental and physical cost in learning the skills to which craftsmen normally devote years of apprenticeship and practice. Yet, Lily has no connection to the Peniston home nor to the objects of her room: “She had always hated her room at Mrs. Peniston’s – its ugliness, its impersonality, the fact that nothing in it was really hers.” Besides, Lily is served her usual “breakfast tray, with its harmonious porcelain and silver, a handful of violets in a slender glass, and the morning paper folded beneath her letters” (148). This arrangement describes her relationship to a world over which she has no sense of ownership, yet a world of luxury and delights that structures her relationships and aspirations.


Shawn Thomson

The view of women as being mere creatures of fashion, incapable of acting out in a world devoid of the supporting edifice of wealth and privilege, characterizes the world of the novel as distinctly anti-heroic. Katherine Joslin interprets Lily as “the product of American industry and commerce, the ultimate piece of material culture, a finely crafted woman formed into a seemingly futile shape”.8 Lily Bart recognizes herself that her value in society only holds as long as her beauty and vitality is prized. The world of the novel reflects the ruling class of New York and its insular competitions and marriages among the old money families. The novel portrays the intense stratification of New York high society as Lily attempts to negotiate the hazards of being a marriageable girl in the currents of scandal and innuendo that can ruin an unprotected woman. In an early scene in the novel, Lily Bart speaks of her individualism: “We are expected to be pretty and well-dressed till we drop – and if we can’t keep it up alone, we have to go into partnership” (12). Crusoe, in his goatskin jacket, pantaloons and conical cap, embodied a certain buoyant optimism as a self-made man for antebellum America. This image, which appeared on the frontispiece of Robinson Crusoe, provided young men with a belief in the manifestation of innate talents in the struggle to overcome obstacles in their rise as individuals. However, for Lily Bart, clothes have a different significance. They represent a certain cost-benefit analysis wherein she weighs the pressures in providing the means to dress in the highest fashion and the value she gains as a marriageable girl versus the economic security of marriage to a wealthy suitor, causing limits on her freedom and relationships with the world through this unassailable union. Her fear of appearing dingy, or unable to stand apart from the enormous crowd of city-goers, reveals the vast interdependencies within the market supporting her social position. Her personal maid, dressmakers and jewellers prop up her value on this market for eligible bachelors. Her clothes call attention to the pressure she faces, maintaining her hold on a certain station in life and the precariousness of her reputation as an unmarried woman. This need to secure partnerships becomes a central element in the novel as Lily is cast out of the protective inner sanctum of the Trenors and 8

Katherine Joslin, Edith Wharton and the Making of Fashion, Durham: University of New Hampshire Press, 2009, 76.

Lady Castaways


Dorsetts, falling from her position as the most prized, marriageable girl to a woman ruined by scandal and gossip. In using the trope of the castaway to depict Lily Bart’s fall from high society, Wharton reflects a modern alienation from the arc of progress of the Crusoe story and, instead, imagines the castaway as regressing to a solitary and pathetic figure outside the bonds of human society. This comes to a head when Gus Trenor lures Lily to his home in the absence of his wife and demands payment in kind for the money he has lent her. Because she had believed that the payments were legitimate profit from investments in the stock market that Gus had invested on her behalf, Lily becomes overwhelmed by the sudden realization of the true nature of her relationship to Gus. Wharton evokes the image of the newly landed castaway to suggest Lily’s newfound standing in her world: Over and over her the sea of humiliation broke – wave crashing on wave so close that the moral shame was one with the physical dread. It seemed to her that self-esteem would have made her invulnerable – that it was her own dishonour which put a fearful solitude about her. (146)

Lily’s mental battle recalls Crusoe’s struggle for his life after surviving the shipwreck and fighting against the ceaseless onslaught of the waves to reach the safety of the shore. This momentous time in Crusoe’s life history signifies a drastic change of fortune – being stripped of all his wealth and possessions and starting over with nothing to his name. But Crusoe had more opportunity to recover from his reduced vantage point. Wharton here exploits the radical reversal of the castaway to express Lily’s “fearful solitude” as she stands now exposed as an unmarried woman, unprotected from the waves of gossip and scandal. Lily’s ignorance of the stock market and her lavish spending led to this compromised position. She must finally face the wreck of her former self under the double force of her mounting debt and diminished value as a marriageable girl. Lily’s position will soon be exploited by ill-intended acquaintances. On a cruise with the Dorsetts, she is again exposed to gossip after returning alone to the yacht with George Dorsett. Bertha Dorsett accuses her of seducing her husband. Bertha uses Lily’s damaged reputation to protect herself from any rumours of her affair


Shawn Thomson

with a young man she has been entertaining throughout the cruise, and thus further exposes Lily’s precarious position as an unmarried young woman in the company of a married man. After the scandal of the alleged affair has circulated in high society, Lily meets the Trenors’ party in a French restaurant. As Judy Trenor leads Simon Rosedale – a former suitor of Lily’s – and her retinue away from Lily’s table with only the slightest and perfunctory salutation, Lily recognizes her perilous social position between high society and the world of work and toil: It was over in a moment – the waiter, MENU in hand, still hung on the result of the choice between COUPE JACQUES and PECHES A LA MELBA – but Miss Bart, in the interval, had taken the measure of her fate. Where Judy Trenor led, all the world would follow; and Lily had the doomed sense of the castaway who has signalled in vain to fleeing sails. (229)

In imagining Lily as a castaway resigned to her solitary life on the island, Wharton collapses the geographical distance between the desert island and the home country. Thus, as Judy Trenor deliberately ignores Lily’s presence in the restaurant and makes sure her closed circle follows suit, the vertical hierarchy likewise separates Lily’s careful and prudent existence of scrimping to pay her debts, and her correspondingly paltry new social life, from the unassailable excesses of the ruling class. Judy and her society are now a world apart from Lily’s reality. The presence of Simon Rosedale under the sway of Judy Trenor signals that all hope of being restored to high society is lost. Rosedale, part of the new money from the stock and real estate market, saw Lily as a means to climb the social ladder at the outset of the novel and proposed to her, offering the security of his wealth in exchange for Lily’s connections. Lily’s refinements would temper and restrain Rosedale’s vulgar habits, crude manners and unsophisticated tastes. She would be his trophy wife to open the doors of the best houses of New York. But in the face of the rumours circulating about her relationship with George Dorset and debt to Gus Trenor, Lily would now be an impediment to Rosedale’s rise in society.

Lady Castaways


The use of the castaway trope at pivotal scenes of Lily’s fall in the novel suggests Wharton’s evoking of the Crusoe story as a counterpoint to Lily’s misfortune. The world of Robinson Crusoe has a spiritual dimension, wherein Crusoe’s shipwreck marks his fortunate fall as an opportunity to reconnect to God through his achievements in raising himself from a castaway to the lord of the island. In contrast, Lily’s fall is determined by her nature – there are no accidents, and characters cannot change the course of their lives. Thus, Lily’s world at bottom exposes the groundlessness of any idealism or spirituality. Finding herself deep in debt and with her name in tatters, Lily takes a job as social secretary to a disreputable woman and works in a millinery shop but is so weak and unsteady that she is let go. Lily is unable to find a skill in this world of work or to find any meaning in her misfortune. Her only saving grace is to clear the red from her account book before falling into laudanum-induced death. Being in the black is her only immutable and providential act – an endgame devoid of heroic individualism and meaning beyond its zero balance restitution. Wharton uses the castaway trope to emphasize the material weight of circumstance upon the lives of these female castaways. Gerty and Lily are powerless in their social sphere. As lady castaways in late nineteenth-century New York, they are trapped in the world closed in upon them and moving to death in slow and painful measures of grief and horror.

ISLANDS TO GET AWAY FROM: POSTCOLONIAL ISLANDS AND EMANCIPATION IN NOVELS BY MONICA ALI, ANDREA LEVY AND CARYL PHILLIPS SANDRA VLASTA Postcolonial fiction dealing with the experience of migration often focuses on both the place left behind and the new home. In the case of British fiction, both of these spaces can be islands. This essay concentrates on the novels Small Island (2004) by Andrea Levy, The Final Passage (1985) by Caryl Phillips and Brick Lane (2003) by Monica Ali. In the first two books islands are highly significant, both in terms of the structure of the texts and in terms of the motifs, such as social interactions, colonial past and postcolonial present, climate, food, etc. In Brick Lane the concept of the island as interpretative figure is central. The title of the book refers to an “island” within the city of London, an area mostly populated by Bangladeshi immigrants. In the three novels, we observe a movement away from islands which, in different ways, represents a process of female emancipation.

Postcolonial fiction dealing with the experience of migration often focuses on both the place left behind and the new home. In the case of British fiction, both of these spaces can be islands not only emblematizing centre-periphery relations but also unsettling colonial history. As Paul Smethurst shows in his study of postmodern texts such as Michel Tournier’s Friday, J.M. Coetzee’s Foe, Caryl Phillips’ Cambridge and Marina Warner’s Indigo, the Caribbean islands, in particular, have been used as postcolonial island chronotopes.1 With these considerations in mind, the present essay will concentrate on postcolonial texts which are set both on the island left behind and in the old motherland, yet new homeland, of Great Britain, and which examine the movements between the two from a feminine perspective.


Paul Smethurst, The Postmodern Chronotope: Reading Space and Time in Contemporary Fiction, Amsterdam and Atlanta, GA: Rodopi, 2000, 219-66.


Sandra Vlasta

The islands in the novels Small Island (2004) by Andrea Levy and The Final Passage (1985) by Caryl Phillips are highly significant, both in terms of the structure of the texts whose chapters alternate between the “old” home and the “new”, and in terms of their comparability on various levels: social interactions, societal structures, colonial past and postcolonial present, climate, geography, fauna and flora, food, etc., which all serve to create a contrast between the two worlds of island and “mother country”.2 Although islands in Monica Ali’s Brick Lane (2003) are not present in a geographical sense, the concept of the island as interpretative figure is central to the novel. The title of the book indeed refers to an “island” within the city of London, an area mostly populated by Bangladeshi immigrants. In the three novels to be discussed, we observe a movement away from islands which, in different ways, represents a process of female emancipation. Islands … and islands Levy and Phillips situate their novels in the British West Indies, whose islands are naturally small compared to Great Britain, the largest European island. In Ali’s text, Britain is the only actual island present in the book. Islands are therefore defined here not only in a geographical sense, but also as spaces of confinement, with borders that are difficult to cross for the protagonists. These limits take many forms: they can be natural and physical, such as oceans or constructions, but also social and personal, such as rules, traditions, economic circumstances, or even inhibitions. Such restrictions are acceptable to some of the characters, while others have the desire to overcome them. In Levy’s and Phillips’ novels, the motif of islands and the movements between them are already alluded to in the titles: Small Island and The Final Passage. Small Island refers to Jamaica where two of the main protagonists, Hortense and Gilbert, come from. For Gilbert, as for many other young men after their experiences abroad during voluntary service for the RAF in the Second World War, the 2

In reports from immigrants from the West-Indies, similar issues, such as the weather, the climate, the landscape but also racism are mentioned as making it difficult to get used to the life in Great Britain: see Robert Winder, Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain, London: Little, Brown, 2004.

Islands to Get Away From


island has become too small: “Oh, there were plenty men like me, wandering this small island, their head cluttered with the sights they had once looked on.”3 Although he is aware that English streets are not paved with gold, Gilbert decides to go back to Great Britain. The Final Passage refers to the colonial connections between the Caribbean and Great Britain, to the various passages (first, middle and final) which denominated the journeys within the triangle of the slave trade between Great Britain, Africa and the Caribbean.4 These historical and cultural relations are essential to understand the problems faced by the protagonists in both novels. In his first novel, The Final Passage, Caryl Phillips tells the story of Leila, a young woman who, in the 1950s, leaves a small island in the Caribbean (which remains anonymous) with her son Calvin and her husband Michael in order to settle in London, where Leila’s mother has been living for some time (in this way, the mother country becomes a literal reference to her mother’s country too). However, following her mother’s death and after five months in London, Leila takes the decision to go back to her Caribbean island. She prefers the inevitable drudge on familiar territory to the continuous struggle she has experienced in hostile England. Whilst the structure of the novel alternates between the two islands, the order of the chapters is not chronological: it starts with “The End” (the departure for England), which is followed by “Home” (a description of Leila’s life on the Caribbean island), “England” (her English experience) and “The Passage” (on her arrival in England). It ends with the chapter entitled “Winter” which represents the actual end of the story. These divisions continue on a stylistic level within each chapter, expressing the impossibility of both spheres ever joining harmoniously from the protagonist’s perspective. For instance, when Leila and her family arrive in England, in the penultimate chapter of the novel, the new home country is depicted in contrast to the one she has left behind: Leila looked at England, but everything seemed bleak. She quickly realized she would have to learn a new word; overcast. There were no 3

Andrea Levy, Small Island, London: Headline Book Publishing, 2004, 209. On the “final passage”, raw material from the colonies was brought to British industries.



Sandra Vlasta green mountains, there were no colourful women with baskets on their heads selling peanuts or bananas or mangoes, there were no trees, no white houses on the hills, no hills, no wooden houses by the shoreline, and the sea was not blue and there was no beach, and there were no 5 clouds, just one big cloud, and they had arrived.

This description of the arrival in England produces the reverse image of the scene of Leila’s departure from her island: the light, the landscape and the people missing here all remind the reader of the description of the Caribbean harbour in the first pages of the novel: At 6.30 the harbour had been a blaze of colour and confusion. Bright yellows and brilliant reds, sweet smells and juices, a lazy deep sea nudging up against the land, and looking down upon it all the mountains ached under the weight of their dense vegetation. Leila watched as the women sold their food, cursing, pushing, laughing.6

The contrasting parallels between the two passages, built on semantic similarities (mostly based on the senses) and the long enumerations denoting, in turn, disappointment and nostalgia, serve to express Leila’s cultural shock. England here is revealed as a place characterized by absence. Leila’s first impression is rendered by what she expected to see, but is not there. In Andrea Levy’s Small Island the arrival in England is also described as a shock to the “Jamaican boys”. However, Gilbert here describes the scene with some irony as it is not the first time he has arrived in the mother country: And, let me tell you, the Mother Country – this thought-I-knew-you place – was bewildering these Jamaican boys. See them pointing at the train that rumbles across a bridge .… Come, they had never seen houses so tall, all the same. And what is that? A chimney? They have fire in their house in England? No! And why everything look so dowdy? Even the sunshine can find no colour but grey .… Man, the 7 women look so glum.


Caryl Phillips, The Final Passage, London: Vintage, 2004, 142. Ibid., 9. 7 Levy, Small Island, 212. 6

Islands to Get Away From


In contrast to the description in Phillips’ novel, in this scene of arrival, England is not characterized by lack, but rather by impressions hitherto unknown to the Jamaicans.8 Gilbert’s ironic distance, in the way he excludes himself from the group of newcomers and formulates questions for them, translates his own experience some years previously. Throughout Phillips’ novel, the small home island and the big mother country island are implicitly compared to each other on various levels, such as climate and weather, descriptions of city life and inhabitants, aspects of colonialism and racism. Though not always presented in straightforward parallels, the description of the two spheres invites the reader to read them in a contrastive manner. The climate and the weather are almost always present in the chapters on England. On arrival, Leila sees the “cold grey mist of the English channel”9 on the train from the coast to London. The rain begins to fall and continues all night long. It seems as if the bad weather never stops in England, as reiterated descriptions show: “the night was wet after rain”, “She had heard it rain”, or “the driving rain lashed down”.10 In winter, the wet weather turns cold too. Thus, on a December morning, “a cold wind burrowed down the road”, and Leila feels the chill on leaving the house: “The bitter December air bruised Leila’s face.”11 The weather is also a major topic in the rare conversations Leila has with other people in London. The only time the weather is portrayed positively happens towards the end of the novel when, on an evening in December, Leila and Calvin are about to arrive home and it starts to snow: Then the snowflakes began to spin, first one, then tens of them. Leila watched spellbound. Then she fled into the house and locked the door behind her.12


Although, for instance, rail transport was introduced on the island in 1845. Phillips, The Final Passage, 137. 10 Ibid., 159, 200 and 169. 11 Ibid., 200 and 204. 12 Ibid., 204. 9


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Although for a moment Leila is enchanted by the snow, she cannot fully enjoy this experience as she has already made the decision to leave England and to return to the Caribbean. Clearly, too few positive impressions of the motherland cannot manage to counterbalance all the negative ones.13 In Phillips’ text, it is not only the English climate that is characterized in a negative way. Whereas in London the cold and the rain are omnipresent, the heat and humidity make life difficult for the inhabitants of the Caribbean island. Because the island is constantly under threat of desiccation, there is dust everywhere. In addition, there is always the potential danger of heavy thunderstorms. As on the island of Great Britain, there are few moments where the climate brings relief, such as cool winds or the warm air in the evening. The landscape of the island has been shaped by men just like that in England where the fields seem empty – “The fields had little in them save a few sheep here and there” – and are quickly replaced by roads, houses and busy traffic on Leila’s train journey towards London – “The houses and the streets and the cars seemed to be going on for ever”.14 Similarly, the main road which encircles the Caribbean island provides unattractive views on the fencing of sugar cane or on the mountains, giving the impression of a tunnel: … the low vegetation to her right was immediately replaced with the familiar high fencing of sugar cane. Sometimes the road between Sandy Bay and St Patrick’s was fenced in on one side, sometimes on 13 Bénédicte Ledent in her monograph on Caryl Phillips, however, does not read the snow in a positive manner, but as a final symbol for the dominance of a white world. She compares the passage to a scene from Strange Fruit (1981), an earlier play by Phillips: “Although the characters bear different names and the situations are not exactly the same nor match chronologically, both works chart the confrontation of Caribbean migrant women with the ruthlessness of the white English world, symbolised in both cases by the snow that starts to fall as the two heroines reach the lowest point of their migratory experience” (Bénédicte Ledent, Caryl Phillips, Contemporary Word Writers, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2002, 11). Still, I would argue that as Leila is described as being “spellbound”, this is an instance of being positively surprised by a hitherto unknown phenomenon which she finds beautiful, if only for a moment. Still, this short spell of beauty cannot make her change her mind about leaving Britain and returning to the Caribbean. 14 Ibid., 143 and 144.

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both, sometimes neither, but more often than not the mountain side of the road offered no view and it was like riding through a partially constructed tunnel.15

Just like the novel’s title, the descriptions here show how the two islands are linked to each other. Their shared colonial history is visible also in the island’s landscape, shaped by man: the sugar cane fields refer to a past when sugar was produced on British-owned plantations in the Caribbean. In Levy’s Small Island, Jamaica not only becomes too small for the protagonist, but the landscape and climate of the island become unbearable for some of its inhabitants. After his return from the US and Britain where he served during the war, Gilbert says: I was a giant living on land no bigger than the soles of my shoes. Everywhere I turn I gazed on sea. The palm trees that tourists thought rested so beautiful on every shore were my prison bars. Horizons my tormenting borders.16

Although not described in as hostile a way as in Phillips’ novel, here also the size of the island becomes one of the reasons to leave for the big one. Gilbert’s reflections emphasize an essential part of the perception of islands: a sense of restriction. What may be appreciated by visitors to the island becomes synonymous with jail-like conditions to some Jamaicans. On this point, the geographical and cultural meanings of the concept of island present in Phillips’ and Levy’s texts are complemented by the metaphorical meaning found in Ali’s text. In Brick Lane, the main protagonist finds herself on an “island” in the city of London, an island also defined by its limitations. The novel starts in the 1980s, when Nazneen, aged eighteen, arrives in London. She has just been married to Chanu who, like her, is from Bangladesh, but being a lot older than her, has been in London for a long time. The couple lives in Tower Hamlets, a district where at the time a high number of immigrants from Bangladesh settled, and where Brick Lane is located. Confined to her apartment block, Nazneen is isolated during her first years in Britain. She hardly ever leaves her flat, at 15 16

Ibid., 31. Levy, Small Island, 209.


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least never on her own, and experiences the exterior mainly by looking out her windows: Nazneen waved at the tattoo lady. The tattoo lady was always there when Nazneen looked out across the dead grass and broken paving stones to the block opposite. Most of the flats that closed three sides of a square had net curtains and the life behind was all shapes and shadows. But the tattoo lady had no curtains at all. Morning and afternoon she sat with her big thighs spilling over the sides of her chair, tipping forward to drop ash in a bowl, tipping back to slug from her can. She drank now, and tossed the can out of the window. 17

The motif of the window is here evoked in several ways, through actions and objects related to vistas. Nazneen’s first impression is a rather negative one: she sees “dead grass” and “broken paving stones”, and the “tattoo lady” herself is not very inviting – although she is the only person who does not hide behind curtains and thus allows Nazneen to observe her. She can only watch from a distance, and is thus presented to us in a solitary, castaway position. The window forms a barrier which prevents her from getting into contact with the outside world, accentuating her insular situation. As the protagonists in the other two texts, Nazneen could in theory leave her confined space, but her husband’s rules, as well as her own timidity and fear, at first, make it impossible for her to dare go out. However, the borders of her island progressively become manageable. In the beginning, the idea of leaving the apartment, going downstairs, crossing the yard in order to knock at the tattoo lady’s door only remains a thought which sometimes crosses her mind. Afraid she could end up in an unpleasant situation, Nazneen does not dare to put it into action: Strangers would answer if she knocked the wrong door. The tattoo lady might be angry at an unwanted interruption. It was clear she did not like to leave her chair. And even if she wasn’t angry, what would be the point?18

17 18

Monica Ali, Brick Lane, London: Doubleday, 2003, 12. Ibid., 14.

Islands to Get Away From


Later, however, the window becomes a means of contact with the outside world. Nazneen opens it and immediately the distance to the outside world is minimized: “She opened the window and leaned into the breeze.”19 Slowly, through the open window, Nazneen connects with the block of flats. The window is no longer a barrier, and, through it, she discovers what is going on in her surroundings, she is able to communicate: Through the open window drifted wafts of music and snatches of curry. It was the shift work. Main meals were cooked at all times of day or night .… Voices were raised in the courtyard and she looked out at a group of Bengali lads.20

This contact with the outside world is another step away from the island on which she found herself before. Eventually, the window becomes Nazneen’s means of communication with her lover, Karim. Through certain signs at the window, she signals to him if she is alone and whether he then can come up to see her or not. The window is an important motif throughout the text. Nazneen looks out of the window on her own as well as together with other characters (her husband, her daughters, her friend Razia). She observes single persons and groups of people, and how the seasons have their effect on the panes, for instance. By the end of the novel the window has completely lost its negative connotation and the isolated position of the flat is dissolved. As the text follows Nazneen’s gaze, the perspective has changed: From the edge of the courtyard she glanced up to see how the window boxes looked from down here. Over the edge of the long white tubs a few dark green leaves were visible. She had bought winter pansies and they would soon be in flower.21

Nazneen is no longer on the island, but has left it and can look at it from a different point of view. Furthermore, by planting the flowers, she has used the window to consciously communicate to others (and to herself) that she has made the decision to stay in London, although 19

Ibid., 31. Ibid., 189. 21 Ibid., 404. 20


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her husband has left to travel back to Bangladesh. By the end of the novel, she is thereby portrayed as an active and self-determined character, no longer insulated on a socially determined, urban island. Islands and female emancipation In all three texts, leaving the island signifies both crises and new beginnings. For the female protagonists in Brick Lane and The Final Passage, leaving their respective islands is the starting point for a process of emancipation, of gaining agency. Only by leaving the alienating space are they able to start a life of their own, to develop independent personalities. However, the male characters – Chanu in Brick Lane and Michael in The Final Passage – seem unable to undertake the movements on the new island which, for the female protagonists, are part of the emancipation process: the search for new places to live, the exploration of their surroundings, and the appropriation of space. Nazneen’s progressive departure from Brick Lane represents a movement towards the centre.22 Her outings start with her leaving the flat in order to visit her friend Razia. Although Nazneen’s husband, Chanu, asked her not to leave the house, she establishes her own rules: “Staying on the estate did not count as going out.” Eventually, Nazneen starts to communicate with others on her way to Razia:


Sara Upstone also refers to the movements in the novel in her reading of the book “through the concept of protest, in which movement into public space is the central metaphor of Ali’s novel” (Sara Upstone, British Asian Fiction: Twenty-First-Century Voices, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2010, 173). However, I would like to argue that Nazneen’s movement is as much a conscious political act of appropriation as a conscious “commitment to citizenship”, as Upstone puts it (ibid., 178). But Pirjo Ahokas analyses how transnational, female identities are created in Ali’s novel. He states that Nazneen, throughout the book, is “yearning for a fluid and mobile identity”, a yearning which is associated with “the weightless movements of ice-skaters” whom she watches on TV (Pirjo Ahokas, “Constructing a Transnational, Postmodern Female Identity in Bharati Mukherjee’s Desirable Daughters and Monica Ali’s Brick Lane”, in Transcultural Localisms: Responding to Ethnicity in a Globalized World, eds Yiorgos Kalogeras, Eleftheria Arapoglu and Linda Manney, Heidelberg: Winter, 2006, 178). Although the motif of the ice-skaters does indeed support the idea of Nazneen’s gaining of agency, it is hard to see her as a character longing for a fluid and mobile identity, but rather for stability in a place which she eventually declares to be her new homeland.

Islands to Get Away From


Nazneen, on the short journey from Seasalter House, began to strike up acquaintances. She nodded to the apoplectic man in vest and shorts who flung open his door every time she passed it in the harshly lit corridor. She smiled at the Bengali girls who chattered about boys at top volume on the stairs but fell silent as she passed. Razia introduced her to other Bengali wives on the estate. Sometimes they would call and drink tea with her.23

Later, she starts to explore the streets close to where she lives. Although she has been there before with Chanu, she gets lost. However, losing her way eventually becomes a way of appropriating the streets, of becoming part of them. In the end, a passer-by approaches her, presumably to ask for some information: Someone tapped her on the shoulder …. He came round to the front. A brown-faced man in a dark coat and tie .… He said something. Nazneen recognized Hindi when she heard it, but she did not understand it. He tried again, in Urdu. Nazneen could speak some Urdu, but the man’s accent was so strong that she could not understand this either. She shook her head. He spoke in English this time .... She shook her head again and said, “Sorry.” And he nodded solemnly and took his leave.

Here, Nazneen is taken for a Londoner by another passer-by and, although she is unable to answer, she feels that she has dealt positively with the situation: … she began to feel a little pleased. She had spoken, in English, to a stranger, and she had been understood and acknowledged. It was very little. But it was something.24

Later, Nazneen enters a pub to use the toilet and a Bangladeshi restaurant in order to ask for directions. By this self-determined movement away from the island, Nazneen becomes progressively more independent and confident. She is now aware of her ability to find her way on her own, that is to manage her life in her new home, London. This process of emancipation is further 23 24

Ali, Brick Lane, 36. Ibid., 48.


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expressed by closer and closer movements to the very centre of London. Towards the end of the novel, after a family outing which takes them to major sites such as Buckingham Palace, Nazneen takes the decision to meet Karim in Covent Garden. On this trip to the very centre, Nazneen confidently finds her way around, and she also becomes more secure about her decision to leave Karim, although she will stay in London and not leave for Bangladesh with Chanu. Her emancipation as a process of gaining agency is therefore expressed in two ways: by her self-determined decision to finish the relationship with Karim and, at the same time, to start properly her relationship with her new homeland and, in particular, London as the place where she and her daughters will continue to live.25 Both in The Final Passage and Small Island, an actual movement away from the island takes place as the protagonists leave their respective islands in the Caribbean. As opposed to Leila in The Final Passage, Hortense, the female protagonist who leaves Jamaica for England with her husband Gilbert in Levy’s Small Island, already seems to be rather confident before her departure: it is she who proposes to give Gilbert the money for his passage to England provided that he marries her and, eventually, takes her to the “Mother Country” with him. Although on arrival, England does not seem like the promised land to her – she describes it as cold and “cheerless”, the room she and Gilbert stay in is “pitiful” and has “filthy secrets”26 – Hortense, in the end, is the one who presses Gilbert to look for another place to live and decides to stay in Britain. She is even prepared to raise their former, English, landlady’s child there, thus forming a new family unit. In contrast, in Phillips’ novel, Leila mainly gains agency once she is in Great Britain, albeit through a difficult process. Though she leaves her island in order to follow her husband, who does not see any future in staying in the Caribbean, and to see her ill mother, once in England she realizes that others’ decisions will prevent her from leading a fulfilled life. At the same time, as her husband neglects her and her mother dies, she grows quite lonely: “Leila looked at England, 25 This process has led some critics to call the novel a Bildungsroman. See Michael Perfect, “The Multicultural Bildungsroman: Stereotypes in Monica Ali’s Brick Lane”, The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, XLIII/3 (September 2008), 109-20. 26 Levy, Small Island, 225.

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but everything seemed bleak.”27 Both here and in the chapters set on the Caribbean island, the focus of the narrative perspective is hers. This allows the reader to note her personal progression, from passive to active stance. First, she is described as constantly waiting, especially for Michael. Then, after they have arrived in England, she is on the move: on the train from the harbour to London, on the bus going through the city of London, looking for a flat to rent, looking for work, etc. These moves, however fruitless, are in fact part of a long process towards Leila’s self-determined decision to leave England again, as expressed at the very end of the novel: Leila would take a boat and leave Michael …. England, in whom she had placed so much of her hope, no longer held for her the attraction of her mother and new challenges. At least the small island she had left behind had safety and two friends, and if the price to be paid for this was a stern predictability from one day to the next then she was ready to pay it.28

Her husband more or less disappears in London. Leila hardly ever sees him, but she knows that he has affairs and, eventually, has a child with another woman. Leila has to take care of their son on her own and keeps her second pregnancy secret. Finally, she takes the decision to move back to the Caribbean and leave Michael behind: “His footsteps became more distant, the echoing of his shoes lighter, missing first one beat and then another, until they finally faded altogether.”29 The motif of the island in the three novels examined here is not only directly linked to women’s emancipation but also, in a postcolonial context, to a reconsideration of British history from the perspective of immigrants from former colonies. Interestingly, Andrea Levy’s novel was received by critics as a book which “unmasks the instabilities of linear historical narratives, exposing the fiction of an insular ‘British (= white)’ culture” and counteracts the fact that, “Although the presence of Caribbean peoples, Asians and Africans in the metropolis 27

Phillips, The Final Passage, 142. Ibid., 203. 29 Ibid., 198. 28


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changes its politics, its intellectual traditions and cultural ideologies, at the same time, that presence has not been sufficiently represented, not to mention validated”.30 Maria Helena Lima argues that novels such as Levy’s pivot “the centre, for very little of hegemonic whiteness is left at the novel’s end”.31 From a sociological point of view, as Harry Gouldbourne reminds us, immigration from the Caribbean, South-Asia and Africa, between 1940 and 1970, became the basis for a fundamental change of British society.32 Caryl Phillips also called the immigration to Britain in the 1950s “the most important change in the social fabric of Britain in the second half of the twentieth century”.33 The emancipation of Levy’s, Phillips’ and Ali’s female protagonists illustrates therefore the next step in this profound shift in modern British society.

30 Maria Helena Lima, “‘Pivoting the Centre’: The Fiction of Andrea Levy”, in Write Black, Write British: From Post Colonial to Black British Literature, ed. Kadija Sesay, Hertford: Hansib, 2005, 57-59. 31 Ibid., 80. Other postcolonial texts have been read in similar ways: see for instance A. Robert Lee, Other Britain, Other British: Contemporary Multicultural Fiction, London: Pluto Press, 1995, and Isabel Santaolalla, “‘This Island’s – Also – Mine’: New Expressions of a New Britishness”, in Nationalism vs. Internationalism. (Inter)national Dimensions of Literatures in English, ed. Wolfgang Zach, Tübingen: Stauffenburg, 1996. 32 Harry Gouldbourne, Race Relations in Britain since 1945, London: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1998, 25. 33 Ledent, Caryl Phillips, 18.


DRIFTING AND FOUNDERING: EVOLUTIONARY THEORY IN KURT VONNEGUT’S GALÁPAGOS SHIELA PARDEE For the setting of his 1976 novel, Kurt Vonnegut chose the Galápagos Islands, the world’s best-known evolutionary laboratory, with a nuanced understanding of evolutionary theory, including controversies in the discipline and their political implications. His satire exposes social Darwinist myths of “survival of the fittest” and overturns conventional wisdom about human progress by portraying clever hands and human brainpower as an evolutionary mistake. He invokes the supernatural presence of a ghost to narrate the million-year evolution of his shipwrecked subjects. Midtwentieth-century theories of punctuated equilibrium, genetic drift, and the founder effect all emphasized the role of contingency in evolution. This essay demonstrates Vonnegut’s awareness of the conditions necessary for rapid evolution as he exploits every possibility for genetic mutation in the service of his satire.

In the seafaring tradition, unscheduled stops on remote islands represented the deprivation of civilization and privilege. As travel has become easier and more luxurious for those who can afford it, the remote, barely inhabited island more often signifies a welcome respite from civilized responsibility, a reward for accomplishment. It was in this spirit that Kurt Vonnegut went with his wife, Jill Krementz, on a trip to the Galápagos Islands in the spring of 1982 to celebrate completion of his novel Deadeye Dick.1 More than a whim, however, the Galápagos destination was the result of his long-standing interest in the islands.2 The 1985 novel inspired by the trip, Galápagos,3 is strongly marked by Vonnegut’s continuing interest in evolutionary theory. 1

See Loree Rackstraw, Love as Always, Kurt: Vonnegut As I Knew Him, Philadelphia: Da Capo, 2009, 91. 2 See Peter Freese, The Clown of Armageddon: The Novels of Kurt Vonnegut, Heidelberg: Druck, 2009, 563. 3 Kurt Vonnegut, Galápagos: A Novel, New York: Delacorte Press, 1985 (all


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Placing his characters in the extreme situation of a shipwreck in the world’s best-known evolutionary laboratory allows the author to demonstrate how natural selection could correct the course of human development and restore the health of the planet. Vonnegut allows his imagination full range to exaggerate human folly, but his optimistic presentation of evolutionary power is supported by an updated scientific understanding of natural selection, especially the circumstances under which evolutionary change can be accelerated. This essay will examine how Vonnegut crafts his fictional island experiment to test the elasticity of twentieth-century notions about what defines maternity and humanity, what constitutes progress, and what is implied by changes in evolutionary theory itself. Vonnegut had composed an approving mental image of the Galápagos Islands’ wildlife before he ever saw it, as shown in his 1979 novel Jailbird when Walter Starbuck describes the waitresses and cooks of a coffee shop as “unjudgmental as the birds and lizards on the Galápagos Islands”.4 Some of his impressions could have been gathered from a 1978 National Geographic article and some National Geographic film footage as well. He was certainly aware of the Galápagos Islands from his reading of Darwin, who famously stopped there in 1835 during the voyage of the Beagle and gathered specimens that helped him formulate his theory of evolution. Vonnegut’s fictional references to Darwin are found at least as early as Billy Pilgrim’s offhand comment in Slaughterhouse-Five (1969): “Charles Darwin – who taught that those who die are meant to die, that corpses are improvements.”5 The satiric quality of this skewed summary reflects Vonnegut’s conflicted engagement with Darwin and the interpretation of his ideas. In a 1973 Playboy interview, he demonstrates a more nuanced understanding of such attitudes as “social Darwinism” which makes people “crueler” by implying that “those who are in trouble must deserve to be in trouble” and “any man who’s on top is there because he’s a superior animal”.6 Vonnegut references given in parentheses in the text). 4 Kurt Vonnegut, Jailbird, New York: Delacorte Press, 1979, 123. 5 Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five or The Children’s Crusade: A Duty Dance With Death, New York: Dell Publishing, 1991, 210. 6 Kurt Vonnegut, Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons (Opinions), New York: Random House Dial Press, 2006, 237-38.

Evolutionary Theory in Vonnegut’s Galápagos


rightly distinguishes this attitude from Darwin’s theories of natural selection. In keeping with its setting, Galápagos tells a story of evolution towards specialization, taking it further than Darwin by speculating on the future evolution of a group of shipwrecked humans over a million years. Crafting a story from the process of evolutionary change presented a daunting technical problem, and Vonnegut was proud of solving it with a special kind of narrator, bringing Leon Trotsky Trout back from a previous novel and his own fictional death early in Galápagos. Suspended by a cosmic plot twist from moving on to the afterlife for a million years, this ghostly shipmate relates their desperate voyage and subsequent evolutionary journey. The principal characters gather in Guayaquil, Ecuador, in 1986 (slightly in the future of the novel’s 1985 publication date) to embark on “The Nature Cruise of the Century” to the Galápagos Islands. A retired and recently widowed high-school biology teacher, Mary Hepburn, chats with serial polygamist James Wait, who is looking for his next victim in the bar of the Hotel El Dorado. Computer genius Zenji Hiroguchi, inventor of the hand-held electronic translator called Mandarax, is there with his pregnant wife Hisako, wondering why he accepted the invitation of wealthy investor Andrew MacIntosh, who has brought his blind daughter. Captain Adolph von Kleist is promoting the cruise while his first mate, Hernando Cruz, prepares the ship. Extreme economic instability results in the outbreak of war just before their departure. Zenji Hiroguchi and MacIntosh are killed, and the rest barely manage to escape on the looted and crippled ship along with six adolescent girls from the nearly extinct Kanka-bono tribe, who have slipped on board during the chaos. They arrive by luck on Santa Rosalia, an entirely made-up island placed conveniently by the author in the Galápagos Islands, cradle of the theory of evolution. Hisako Hiroguchi gives birth to Akiko, who is covered with fur from a genetic mutation. Through Trout’s omniscient commentary, the past lives of the characters are revealed along with the tale of their abandonment on Santa Rosalia, while the rest of the world’s population is wiped out by disease. Only Trout, who remains the same for a million years, can describe their evolutionary transformation into sweet, seal-like creatures whose genes select and pass on Akiko’s fur, and whose tendencies to violence are restricted to eating raw fish.


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The travellers are blasted off course by unrestrained greed and destructive impulses, and Vonnegut deliberately portrays this apocalypse as the logical result of an evolutionary wrong turn. Assumptions about human progress are systematically challenged as the narrator insists throughout that an overdeveloped human brain is the evolutionary mistake which caused twentieth-century society’s catastrophic failure. In the tradition of a few futurists including William Morris and H.G. Wells, Vonnegut dares to suggest that intellectual achievement might properly be abandoned in favour of a simpler, more just and harmonious mode of living. Further, he suggests that discarding intellectual complexity could be a biological rather than a social process. Using recent refinements of evolutionary theory, which could account for rapid evolution in extreme conditions, Vonnegut gives scientific plausibility to this scenario. A complete social collapse creates the conditions under which the survivors in Galápagos can evolve, however. Beginning the novel in the port of Quayaquil, Vonnegut projects such a catastrophe in the South American economy based on the region’s instability at the time Vonnegut was writing. The confidence of United States banks seeking new markets for investment had enabled Latin American countries to borrow heavily. As a result, their debt more than doubled, increasing from $159 billion to $327 billion between 1979 and 1982.7 Bankers were “roaming the world in herd-like fashion, marketing huge loans”8 until they began to perceive that their exposure was unsustainable. Their loss of confidence led to shorter repayment periods, higher interest rates, and less available credit.9 Eventually, after Mexico announced that they would not be able to pay the interest on their debt


Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation Division of Research and Statistics, 1997, “The LDC Debt Crisis”, History of the 80s, Volume I: An Examination of the Banking Crises of the 1980s and Early 1990s, Part 2: Sectoral and Regional Crises, Chapter 5, 199: 8 Robert Devlin and Ricardo Ffrench-Davis, “The Great American Debt Crisis: A Decade of Asymmetric Adjustment”, Revista de Economia Política, XVI/3 (JulySeptember 1995), 122. 9 See ibid., 126.

Evolutionary Theory in Vonnegut’s Galápagos


in August 1982, Ecuador and Bolivia also requested debt restructuring in the fall.10 It was largely a crisis in confidence or, in the words of Leon Trout: “It was all in people’s heads. People had simply changed their opinions of paper wealth” (16). In the more extreme fictional scenario, “Ecuadorian paper money could be traded for food, shelter, and clothing in one moment and line the bottom of a birdcage the next” (17). Although their situation was less dramatic, the real South American people experienced real suffering: “The economic and social consequences of the lost decade of the 1980s were appalling: Gross Domestic Product per capita, investment ratios, and real salaries experienced a dramatic decline; so did the quality of life. The gap between rich and poor increased by 50 per cent between 1976 and 1983 alone.”11 Vonnegut’s devastated “future” Guayaquil also includes war, child prostitution, starvation, and rioting in the streets. The Hotel El Dorado, where the few remaining prospective passengers for “the Nature Cruise of the Century” are staying, is barricaded. Mobs are stripping everything of value from stores, buildings, boats, and the people they meet. The bus taking the passengers to the airport is attacked, and the luxury cruise ship is “picked clean” (117). Given the orgy of greed and sinfulness in Guayaquil, which forces the characters to find refuge on the open ocean, a comparison with Noah’s Ark is inevitable. Vonnegut invites rather than dodges this association with numerous examples: Trout entertains the idea of naming his chronicle on the voyage “A Second Noah’s Ark” (4), and observes, as the ship finally heads out to sea, that “the Bahía de Darwin wasn’t just any ship. As far as humanity was concerned, ‘she was the new Noah’s ark’” (132). Mary Hepburn remembers teaching about the Galápagos in her high-school biology class, musing that ancestors of the Galápagos finches could “have arrived on Noah’s Ark” (80) and, later, when she asks Captain von Kleist what island might be nearby, he answers “Mount Ararat” (154). For Freese, the 10

Saori N. Katada, Banking on Stability: Japan and the Cross-Pacific Dynamics of International Financial Crisis Management, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2001, 124: 11 Patricia Miranda and Nuria Molina, “Debt Crisis and Austerity Policies in Latin America: Lessons for Europe”, The Citizen, Issue 4 (September 2011):


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“references to Noah’s ark in Galápagos consistently debunk the Old Testament narrative as an explanation disproved and replaced by the Darwinian theory of evolution” with the boat’s name of “Darwin’s Bay” making “this rejection sufficiently obvious”.12 Mustazza also notices the parallel with Noah’s ark, noting that this ark was launched without God and without a suitable patriarch. Mary Hepburn is “the matriarchal counterpart to the patriarchal God …. the maternal overseer of creation …. directly responsible for the establishment of the new humanity.”13 These unwitting biological trailblazers are headed by an incompetent captain, in good seafaring tradition. A dictionary of quotations in the Mandarax translator provides humorous and ironic counterpoint to their situation, including lines from a nineteenthcentury song: No gale that blew dismayed her crew Or troubled the captain’s mind. The man at the wheel was taught to feel Contempt for the wildest blow, And it often appeared, when the weather had cleared That he’d been in his bunk below. (162)

Blind faith and human incompetence are both suggested here, but Vonnegut exaggerates the stereotype of the incompetent captain, thereby suggesting a ship without guidance and a natural world abandoned to chance by an absent God. According to his narrator, the captain of the Bahía de Darwin “did not know shit from Shinola about navigation, the Galápagos Islands, or the operation and maintenance of a ship”; he had been completely dependent on his first mate who deserted the ship at the last minute to take food to his family. Trout speculates that this shipwreck should have had all the elements of “a tragicomedy starring the vain and incompetent Captain Adolf von Kleist” lasting only months before “the marooned persons … were noticed and rescued” (144), but the apocalyptic scenario unfolding in 12

Freese, The Clown of Armageddon, 576. Leonard Mustazza, Forever Pursuing Genesis: The Myth of Eden in the Novels of Kurt Vonnegut, Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1990, 175.


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the rest of the world consumes everyone’s attention before they are physically eliminated by a virus that halts reproduction. This leaves “one blatantly inept male plus nine females, eight of them fertile (and all of them uninfected by the virus because of having been totally isolated)”.14 It is a “ship of fools” indeed, as Trout’s father called them when inviting his son to abandon his ghostly post to join him in the afterlife (154), but hardly the microcosm of human life we find representing humanity on many a literary ship. Before they even get on the ship, the businessman, Andrew MacIntosh, and the computer genius, Zenji Hiroguchi, are killed by the paranoid schizophrenic soldier, Geraldo Delgado. Morse points out that Vonnegut swiftly eliminates those we would usually consider the most fit, “such as a successful businessman, inventive con man, and brilliant computer man”,15 thus obliterating the logic of the survival of the fittest. Vonnegut’s narrator, Leon Trout, makes this clear: MacIntosh and Hiroguchi “were dead now, and the sun was going down on a world where so many people believed … that only the fit survived” while Delgado, “the survivor”, went looking for “more enemies to outsurvive” (92-93). This dangerously unfit specimen even finds time at the end of the world to rape a woman and father one of the last children born on the mainland. The riots have transformed “The Nature Cruise of the Century”, to which the most intelligent, beautiful, talented and fit of contemporary society were invited, to a random, motley, and incompatible crew. These include a serial polygamist, six adolescent Kanka-bono girls who speak an unknown language, one congenitally blind woman, and another whose mother had been exposed to radiation at Hiroshima, causing a mutation in her unborn child. The captain thinks he might have inherited the gene for Huntington’s chorea, an extremely debilitating defect of the nervous system for which there is no cure. The only person in this wildly unrepresentative gene pool who might be considered normal for Vonnegut’s readers is Mary, the biology teacher who is actually interested in nature study on the Galápagos. But everyone on board, including Mary, has been so warped by grief, trauma and hunger that we can gain nothing by analysing their 14

Donald E. Morse, The Novels of Kurt Vonnegut: Imagining Being an American, Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2003, 134. 15 Ibid.


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behaviour as typical of human weakness and psychological patterns. The narrator does not think this is significant. Whether Mick Jagger or Dr Henry Kissinger or the foolish Captain “did the impregnating”, after they were stranded, he believes, “the survivors would still have been not the most ferocious strugglers but the most efficient fisherfolk” (111). Freese relates how deliberately Vonnegut shows that the survivors were not only the most randomly diverse set imaginable, but also that they made their way to the ship by the most implausible chains of chance: Consequently, a degenerate alcoholic, who happens to be the grandfather of one of the girls, becomes an ‘ancestor of all humanity’ (158), and it is due to a ‘paranoid schizophrenic’ (149) that the species survives: “If he had not burglarized that shop, there would almost certainly be no human being on the face of the earth today.” (148)16

The chance appearance of this paranoid soldier opens the door for the starving girls from a near-extinct indigenous people to dominate the future human gene pool. In Susan Farrell’s words, “Survival in this case occurs strictly by chance; although other races and peoples thrived over the globe and the Kanka-bonos were reduced to six remaining members, it is the Kanka-bono genes that survive”,17 and thus they become, as the narrator says, “the mothers of all modern humankind” (93). Regarding the extremes of chance that have brought such a biologically unlikely group together, Freese writes: To make the atrocity of Hiroshima a decisive contribution to the survival of the race demands an outrageous inventiveness and would certainly be sufficient to disprove Spencer’s theory of the survival of the fittest. [But Vonnegut also] outlines the ludicrous reasons why these very people made it to Santa Rosalia …. This unbelievable chain of (un)lucky coincidences permeates the novel, and it is the hallmark of Vonnegut’s structural ingenuity … that each seemingly disjointed


Freese, The Clown of Armageddon, 585. Susan Farrell, Critical Companion to Kurt Vonnegut: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work, New York: Facts on File, Inc., Critical Companion Series, 2008, 144. 17

Evolutionary Theory in Vonnegut’s Galápagos


strand is finally worked into a tightly organized pattern that entirely relies on arbitrary concurrences.18

Thus, even though Mary is doing what a recent widow with a lifelong interest in biology might plausibly do, Vonnegut’s expanded chain of circumstances reveals that she is there because her husband’s brain tumour led to impulsive behaviour before his death, and one of his last acts was to sign them up for the cruise on a whim. Far from an enthusiastic participant, she is contemplating suicide when the novel opens. She is also beyond childbearing age, so she lacks the usual credentials for the role of Earth Mother and Fertility Goddess. “The world as depicted by Vonnegut, then, is characterized by randomness and contingency”;19 a deterministic world where people act not from choice but “because of their malfunctioning brains, those monstrous evolutionary mistakes that people carry around in their heads”.20 That these misfits create an “island of fertility in a sea of sterility might strike many readers as wildly implausible”,21 but paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, not unsettled by an evolutionary scenario, thought Galápagos “was a wonderful roman à clef about evolutionary theory”.22 More specifically, in his book Wonderful Life, Gould gave Vonnegut’s novel his approval as an illustration of “contingency”, the role played by chance in evolution, and he even assigned it in his courses.23 Vonnegut maintains that Galápagos, as contemporary science fiction, “had to be responsible in terms of the theory of evolution, the theory of natural selection [since good science fiction will] make people think intelligently about science and what it can or cannot do. That’s what we must do now.”24 In thinking intelligently about Darwin, Vonnegut insists on the distinction between scientific and social Darwinism. In Harper’s Magazine (1972), he characterized the latter as “a harsh interpretation 18

Freese, The Clown of Armageddon, 585. Ibid., 585-86. 20 Mustazza, Forever Pursuing Genesis, 171-72. 21 Morse, The Novels of Kurt Vonnegut, 134. 22 Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut, eds William Rodney Allen and Paul Smith, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001, 253. 23 Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, New York and London: W.W. Norton, 1989, 286. 24 Morse, The Novels of Kurt Vonnegut, 133. 19


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of Darwinism, which argues that it is the will of the universe that only the fittest should survive”, and teaches that a Winner “must behave heartlessly toward Losers, if one hopes to survive”. He considers social Darwinism “as brutally inhuman and an excuse for winner-takeall social and political practices”,25 to which Morse adds: … the basic irony in the novel rests on the elimination of the fittest, as defined by social Darwinism, and the survival of the fittest, as defined by Darwinian evolution. Judged by the ability to adapt to changing conditions that Darwinian evolution emphasizes rather than the ability to “get ahead” that social Darwinism values, fur is more important than brilliance to survival in Galápagos. Akiko, the furry mutant, therefore becomes the new Eve rather than her rich, successful father becoming the new Adam.26

Humans are improved by shedding the evolutionary mistake of their big brains, and Vonnegut refuses to call this de-evolution, insisting that it is a “perfectly intelligent change in the right direction”.27 He cites the Galápagos penguins and flightless cormorants who had abandoned flight for better fishing as examples of similar evolutionary lightening. Ironically, hellish tools wrought by defective brains helped to bring about this transformation. In 1982, speaking at the Cathedral of St John the Divine, Vonnegut said: “It may be that we are here on Earth to blow the place to smithereens .… We may be Nature’s way of creating new galaxies .… Perhaps we should be adoring instead of loathing our hydrogen bombs. They could be the eggs for new galaxies.”28

International cooperation is achieved in Galápagos, not by the United Nations or Transcendental Meditation, but through the negotiations of international arms dealers. It takes the big brains, strong arms and clever hands of the whole world to wage the war that destroys Guayaquil: eight new French fighter-bombers, each carrying 25

Vonnegut, Wampeters, Foma & Granfalloons, 185-87. Morse, The Novels of Kurt Vonnegut, 139. 27 Allen and Smith, Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut, 292. 28 Vonnegut quoted in Mustazza, Forever Pursuing Genesis, 170. 26

Evolutionary Theory in Vonnegut’s Galápagos


an American air-to-ground missile with a Japanese “brain” to home in on radar signals or engine heat and destroy the target with an Israeli explosive (88). Also instrumental in human transformation after this final war was the part played by Paul W. Tibbets, the pilot of the Enola Gray who dropped the atomic bomb near Hisako Hiroguchi’s mother, causing the genetic mutation that gave Akiko a pelt of soft fur. Trout explains: “People would probably be as furry as they are today, even if Tibbets hadn’t dropped the bomb. But they certainly got furrier faster because of him” (95). In both war and peace times, on Santa Rosalia human regeneration is assured by unnatural copulation. Trout relates how the tremendous rocket-propelled bomb “was madly in love with the radar dish atop the control tower at Guayaquil International Airport” (114) and starts World War III when “that Peruvian rocket put the tip of its nose, that part of its body most richly supplied with exposed nerve endings, into that Ecuadorian radar dish” (116). In synch with his weapon’s urges, the young pilot feels an enhanced version of sexual afterglow: Reyes wasn’t crazy to feel that what he had done was analogous to the performance of a male during sexual intercourse. A computer over which he had no control, once he had turned it on, had determined the exact moment of release, and had delivered detailed instructions to the release machinery without any need of advice from him. He didn’t know all that much about how the machinery worked anyway.… The launching of the missile, in fact, was virtually identical with the role of male animals in the reproductive process. (115)

This attack forces the group to begin their voyage despite the captain’s ignorance and their lack of supplies. On Santa Rosalia, Captain von Kleist, who does not know much about machinery either, contributes his sperm to the continuance of the human race without even knowing it until his son is about to be born. Mary has been sleeping with him, and her big brain is still functioning. It prompts her to experiment with the seminal fluid the Captain leaves inside her, collecting it for deposit in the young, fertile Kanko-bono girls, extending human life at least one million years. Vonnegut felt that it was important to get the science right as he set down this tale of accelerated natural selection. In an interview with


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Peter J. Reed in 1982, he described his progress on the novel, including the latest research: … what’s interesting now is that the scientists are beginning to question it more and more and more, because the fossil record does not bear out evolution as described by Darwin. At the same time, they’re not about to go public with this because they’d give aid and comfort to all these religious fundamentalists who want to go all the way back to the book of Genesis. And this is a comical situation where the scientists are having to keep their voices down as they discuss what really did happen. Apparently there would be sudden changes – that’s what the fossil record does show. But the scientists … continue to insist, that if we dig enough and keep digging deeper …, sooner or later we’ll find all these gradual transitions when in fact they don’t seem to exist.29

Instead, the fossil record was suggesting “long periods of stasis followed by brief periods of rapid change”, a phenomenon that Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould called “punctuated equilibrium”.30 This is generally interpreted as evidence that speciation events have typically taken place in small populations over relatively short periods of time, although it sometimes happens more gradually. Vonnegut speculates on extremes of adaptation for satirical effect, but his fiction reflects awareness of contemporaneous tweaks of evolutionary theory, including genetic drift and the founder effect. In the phenomenon known as genetic drift, genes occurring at a certain frequency in the larger population will occur at a different frequency – more or less often – in a smaller subset of that population. Often associated with disease occurring within a smaller gene pool, the existence of genetic drift debunks the notion that all adaptations are selected because of their utility. On the other hand, it helps to explain how evolution can proceed rapidly in certain groups when a particular trait occurs with a greater than expected frequency. The “founder effect”, the name for more extreme manifestations of genetic 29

The Vonnegut Chronicles: Interviews and Essays, eds Peter J. Reed and Marc Leeds, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1996, 13. 30 See Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould, “Punctuated Equilibria: an Alternative to Phyletic Gradualism”, in Models in Paleobiology, ed. T.J.M. Schopf, San Francisco, CA: Freeman Cooper, 1972, 82-115.

Evolutionary Theory in Vonnegut’s Galápagos


drift, explains how evolutionary change can become more rapid and constrained when the gene pool is drastically restricted, as in the case of a small number of isolated island survivors. On-going investigation of this effect was a focus of genetic research in the 1970s and 1980s preceding publication of Vonnegut’s novel. An issue of the journal Biotropica in 1970, for example, adds detail to the recognized scenario of more rapid evolution and speciation following migration in the situation of the Hawaiian archipelago, similar to that of the Galápagos: “A population founded by a single fertilized female”, the summary of research reads, “would be expected to provide an opportunity for an extreme case of random genetic drift, with the result that only a small sample of the gene pool of the donor species reaches the new site” as in the founder effect put forward by Ernst Mayr in 1954. The population can then increase rapidly in “a new open habitat”, released from the usual constraints of natural selection. During this period of “population flush …., it is expected that a number of odd and biologically disparate recombinants may be formed [and] new species may result”.31 For the Santa Rosalia survivors, rapid adjustment to their environment includes the growth of thick fur from a single chance mutation, along with rapid changes in intelligence and digital dexterity. The evolution of language occurs swiftly and efficiently in the reduced population where Kanka-bono was the majority language from the beginning and soon becomes the only language (103). Although Vonnegut’s fictional scenario is far from realistic, there is a scientific basis for its possibility under the conditions described. In his imagined evolutionary course, Vonnegut reversed or eliminated the traits previously assumed to define the human, which were fairly standardized in general education in the 1970s and 1980s. In the textbook Introduction to Evolution (1979), these differentiating qualities are laid out in the subheadings of a chapter on “Human Evolution: Tools and Culture, Intelligence, and Language”.32 Vonnegut provides a dismissive take on the first two when the remains of James Wait, the criminal predator who died shortly after 31 Hampton L. Carson, “Chromosomal Tracers of Founder Events”, Biotropica, II/1 (June 1970), 5. 32 Fred A. Racle, Introduction to Evolution, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1979, 138-40.


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their arrival, are described in anthropological terms by Trout: “He was some kind of male ape, evidently – who walked upright, and had an extraordinarily big brain whose purpose, one can guess, was to control his hands, which were cunningly articulated” (166). That human brains first evolved to take on greater and greater tasks does not impress the narrator, Klinkowitz observes.33 Octopi have large brains, too, Trout indeed remarks, as needed to control their arms, and he adds: Presumably, their brains could do other things with their arms and brains than catch fish. But I have yet to see an octopus, or any sort of animal, for that matter, which wasn’t entirely content to pass its time on earth as a food gatherer, to shun the experiments with unlimited greed and ambition performed by humankind. (112-113)

Klinkowitz reminds us that Vonnegut’s respect for the power of downsizing had already been shown in Slapstick (1976), with its futuristic miniaturized Chinese people.34 “Truth be told”, Leon Trout advises his readers, “the planet’s most victorious organisms have always been microscopic. In all the encounters between Davids and Goliaths, was there ever a time when a Goliath won?” (112): “The near extinction of mighty land tortoises by little rodents [who ate their eggs] was certainly a David-and-Goliath story” (99). Uninhibited intellectual growth is presented as a cancerous ravager, while a virus that causes infertility spreads throughout the rest of the world, demonstrating that energetic mutations do not always select for human survival. The most unexpected aspect of Vonnegut’s rejection of human superiority stereotypes is the insistence that the evolved humans of Santa Rosalia are better off without their fancy hands and opposable thumbs. Besides making the point that flippers made them stronger swimmers, Leon Trout delivers a running commentary on all the morally reprehensible human acts that could not be done with flippers. Slavery and torture would be impossible, for instance: “It is hard to imagine anybody’s torturing anybody nowadays. How could you even 33

See Jerome Klinkowitz, The Vonnegut Effect, Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2004, 185. 34 Ibid., 184.

Evolutionary Theory in Vonnegut’s Galápagos


capture somebody you wanted to torture” (88). Later, Trout continues: “How could you ever hold somebody in bondage with nothing but your flippers and your mouth?” (107). Eliminating people’s hands also reduced the problem of mentally ill people who might be a danger to themselves and others, like the soldier who shot MacIntosh and Zenji Hiroguchi. Although there are “still plenty of hallucinators” on Santa Rosalia after a million years of evolution, “people like that can’t get a hold of weapons now, and they’re easy to swim away from”. And if they did find a weapon, “how could they ever make use of it with just their flippers and their mouths?” (91). After a million years, “all the people are so innocent and relaxed … because evolution took their hands away” (113). In compensation for the hands they did not need, natural selection transformed the islanders from “naked apes” into fur-covered beings with sleek, aerodynamic heads too small to house the freakishly large brains which had tortured their ancestors because “the more streamlined the skull, the more successful the fisher person” (113). Akiko “was protected from sunburn, and from the chilly water when she swam, and the abrasiveness of lava when she chose to sit or lie down” (36), and she passed this fortunate trait to her descendants. The Babel of languages they began with, necessitating the wonder translator Mandarax, is reduced to common use of Kanka-bono language in less than two hundred years (103). Trout, disgusted by the verbal performance of James Wait as he sizes up Mary to be victim number eighteen of his psychopathic schemes, says: “How people used to talk and talk back then!” And “what could most of that blahblah-blahing have been, both night and day, but the spilling of useless, uncalled-for signals from our preposterously huge and active brains?” (105). On the island, Mandarax is useless as a translator because it does not know Kanka-bono, but it continues to spout uncalled-for aphorisms which are amusing if not relevant, until Captain von Kleist decides “to cast the Apple of Knowledge into the deep blue sea” (62), a reversal of the Biblical Adam’s mistake of eating from the tree of knowledge” pointing to the possibility of reclaiming a “lost Eden … through retrogression”35 and recapturing “innocence through


Freese, The Clown of Armageddon, 576.


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ignorance”.36 As for other tools, the narrator comments that their absence was one of the keys to the “perfect happiness” of the islanders: “If the Captain had had any decent tools”, he argues, “he surely would have found a way, in the name of science and progress, to clog the spring” (167) which had worked perfectly for thousands of years (166) and continued to provide their only source of fresh water. Overall, one must accept Vonnegut’s assertion that the uncomplicated life of his furry neo-humans is an improvement. Although Santa Rosalia exists only in Vonnegut’s novel, the descriptions of animal life there are based on observations during his cruise to the islands. As he told interviewer Hank Nuwer: “if you saw the seals and sea lions on the Galápagos islands, that’s the life you would want … an incredible, amusing life … they’re quite smart, and they’ve got a lot of time on their hands.” Their only enemies are sharks and killer whales, and they are only dangerous to others during the mating season when the males get territorial.37 Throughout, Vonnegut’s disaffected narrator insists that the big brains and dexterous digits we value so highly are handicaps which cannot prevent the destruction of the majority of the world’s population by a sexually transmitted virus and the prompting of big brains and idle hands to create abstract, unsustainable economies and ever-more spectacular and destructive explosions. Galápagos “extrapolates a radically altered humanity based upon perfectly plausible scientific models” and nature refashions the human species through evolution, “thereby correcting its own mistake”.38 While this process stays surprisingly near to biological models, Vonnegut also employs expanded meanings of evolution, using Trout to multiply its metaphorical possibilities. Thus, Trout discusses the evolution of Madarax from a previous version and gives the soldier Delgado, along with all other soldiers, as “a harrowing example of quick evolution” in crisis (92). Loree Rackstraw has written that Vonnegut’s “overarching concern” is that “life is often a cruel accident; the dilemma of humanity is how to stay alive with decency

36 Leonard Mustazza, “A Darwinian Eden: Science and Myth in Kurt Vonnegut’s Galápagos”, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, III/2 (1991), 62. 37 Hank Nuwer in Allen and Smith, Conversations with Kurt Vonnegut, 258. 38 Mustazza, Forever Pursuing Genesis, 167.

Evolutionary Theory in Vonnegut’s Galápagos


in the face of that reality”.39 Evolution is amoral, based on chance, but Vonnegut insists that life be evaluated critically in a moral framework. However different Santa Rosalians are from us, Vonnegut insists on their humanity. Instead of the commonly accepted characteristics for distinguishing humans from animals, including opposable thumbs, increased brain capacity and language, Vonnegut proposes a different trait, suggested by Mary’s husband before he died of a brain tumour following months of hallucinations and unpredictable craziness: ‘I’ll tell you what the human soul is, Mary,’ he says. ‘Animals don’t have one. It’s the part of you that knows when your brain isn’t working right …. There wasn’t anything I could do about it, but I always knew.’ (27-28)

Vonnegut puts forward, along with sound evolutionary science, the optimistic proposition that soul, which he defines in Timequake as “human awareness”,40 might comprehend our own mental incompetence, opening up the chance for nature to redirect us. This is a choice he offers the reader in a world he clearly judges as insanely off course. Vonnegut weaves solid science and humanistic optimism to sketch a scenario where an imperfect crew of mixed nationality survives the catastrophic meltdown of the modern world to evolve into a healthy, well-adapted population. Their superiority to previous humans is emphasized, but it is never equated with social Darwinist dominance. He demonstrates how natural selection uses chance mutations and extreme conditions, theoretically possible under similar circumstances, as they adapt to local conditions, and shows how we might be forced to survive the flood by jumping off the artificial ark of technology and returning to the sea.


Loree Rackstraw, quoted in John Tomedi, Great Writers: Kurt Vonnegut, Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2004, 95. 40 Kurt Vonnegut, Timequake, New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1997, 214.

“YOU TURN WORLDS UPSIDE DOWN”: THE POLITICS OF REVERSAL IN TERRY PRATCHETT’S NATION MARIA BŁASZKIEWICZ Terry Pratchett’s novel Nation (2008) offers potential interpretative reversals of the motifs of island and shipwreck. The novel’s plot is dominated by two islands and three shipwrecks, the importance of which depends on the perspective imposed by the cartographic representation, which becomes only apparent with the reversal of cardinal directions on a map placed on the book’s last page. One island, Great Britain, belonging to the political centre of the world, is juxtaposed with the tiny island of Nation which, as a result of a momentous reversal of fortune of both the heroes and the nations they represent, becomes the world’s centre of science, incidentally occasioning a partial destruction of the traditional dichotomy of science and religion.

This essay explores the possibilities offered by the interpretation of Terry Pratchett’s alternative history novel Nation1 in terms of its pattern of structural, symbolic and ideological reversals centred on the motifs of island and shipwreck understood both literally and allegorically. Nation differs from the majority of Pratchett’s novels in several ways. Firstly, unlike practically everything else published in the last fifteen years, it does not in any way refer to his sprawling Discworld series. Secondly, it is significantly less comic (but not less ironic) and more directly involved in various ideological concerns of the real world than anything he has ever written. Thirdly, unlike most, especially later works, Nation is very consciously and artistically structured. It is also the only2 novel by Pratchett set in an alternative version of our own world.3 1

Terry Pratchett, Nation, London: Doubleday, 2008 (all references given in parentheses in the text). 2 While Pratchett’s most recent novel, Dodger (2012), shares Nation’s disentanglement from the Discworld series, it appears to be a historical novel. 3 It is the middle of the nineteenth century. Small details suggest a slightly different


Maria Błaszkiewicz

From the very beginning, the narrative alternates between several focalizers stressing the polyphony of perception to settle down later into a duet of two main character-focalizers (Mau and Ermintrude/ Daphne), concluding with a modern coda offering an evaluation of the earlier events narrated from the point of view of Mau’s descendants. The novel focuses on two main characters whose development will be shaped by the reversals of fortune they share with their two home islands, Great Britain and Nation, otherwise called “The Island Where the Sun Is Born”, in the Mothering Sunday Islands. The importance of these two locations, placed practically on opposite parts of the globe, as will transpire in the course of the novel, depends on the perspective partially imposed by the cartographic representation. Moreover, the novel’s plot is dominated by three shipwrecks, two metaphorical ones and a literal one, which in a variety of ways contribute to the two islands’ more and more intertwined fates. Ermintrude Fenshaw departs from Great Britain to join her father, a newly appointed governor of Port Mercia, the capital of Rogation Sunday Islands. As a result of an exceptionally powerful tsunami and a most spectacular shipwreck, she becomes a castaway on one of the Mothering Sunday Islands. There she encounters Mau, the only survivor of the local population which was wiped out by the same giant wave. Due to an unexpected turn of events she later succeeds her father on the British throne to be returned to the tiny island only after her death. This short summary focuses on the important events from the point of view of Ermintrude’s imperial homeland she initially unquestioningly shares. Her stay on the island she learns to call sequence of historical events: On the Origin of Species has just been published, which would suggest that it is the year 1859, but “The Royal Navy Hymn”, composed a year later, is already well known to every sailor. There is, however, nothing to indicate that this alternation is supposed to influence the interpretation of Pratchett’s novel. Geographically, there are not many differences between Nation’s world and Earth and with only marginal consequences for the story, for example the map features such places as the Russias or The ReUnited States, countries that remain practically names on the map. In the final section of the book the heroine’s formidable grandmother becomes an ambassador to the ReUnited States, which serves as a dignified way of getting rid of this highly disagreeable character. The actual destination does not really matter as long as she is away from London. A notable exception to this rule is Pratchett’s Pacific, the Great Southern Pelagic Ocean with its archipelagos named after more obscure liturgical calendar names, and Australia, split into two separate giant islands evocative of a major natural disaster in the past.

Politics of Reversal in Terry Pratchett’s Nation


Nation, and especially her contact with the uniquely powerful personality of Mau, results in a complete re-formulation of her world view. When a rescue expedition led by her father reaches Nation, he too benefits from the experience in a similar way. Ermintrude’s metamorphosis is heralded by her decision to cast away her hateful name, “her wrong name ... exactly the kind of name that would ... mess it all up” (69-70), and choose another, Daphne. This re-naming cannot be final, as in all probability she would rule as Ermintrude I. The Daphne/Ermintrude dichotomy reflects the reversible focus imposed by the emergence of another focal point on the globe enforced by the sudden shift of historical and scientific perspective brought about by the discovery that the island of Nation was once a highly advanced civilization, and the island’s subsequent joining of the Royal Society. The seemingly obscure little island becomes not only a testing ground for three future leaders – Mau, Ermintrude and her father – and the coronation and burial site of a king and a queen of Great Britain, but also a world centre of scientific research and cultural exchange. The story seen from Mau’s perspective concentrates on his personal tragedy and resulting transformation enabling him finally to save his island from cultural and political absorption into the British Empire. On his return from the initiation trip he alone manages to survive the tsunami to undergo a deep spiritual crisis, and later to build anew Nation’s nation out of a haphazard and growing group of survivors from the archipelago, and finally to confront and circumvent the British imperialistic expansion. He discovers that the meaning of one’s experience is reversible. This is reflected in his realization that Nation is both the Island of the Rising and the Setting Sun – a notion expressed in his decision to wear a reversed version of the customary tattoo pointing to its double meaning (sunset/sunrise wave). His transformation would not be possible without Daphne who leads him to the ultimate scientific discovery, is able to interpret it and acts as a mediator between him and the British Empire. The first chapter, most significantly called “The Plague”, presents all three catastrophes dominating the novel, the flu outbreak in Great Britain, the cataclysm destroying the Rogation Sunday Islands and the shipwreck of the “Sweet Judy”. This structure makes it possible to see the focal points in the history of the two islands in terms of the


Maria Błaszkiewicz

allegory of the ship of state. Placed between the two more lengthy descriptions of allegorical shipwrecks, the last moments of the vessel carrying Ermintrude serve as a thematic link spanning the fates of the two islands. The British ship bound for the southern archipelagos providentially saves the royal heir from the outbreak to bring her to Nation where it shares the predicament of the tiny island. The victims of the wreck of the British ship of state rejoice in Ermintrude’s absence from England and find additional reasons for hope in the fact that she is in the “safe hands” (11) of the schooner’s captain. Daphne’s presence on Nation saves Mau from madness, despair and inevitable death, just as his help saves her when she is left as the only survivor of the wreck of the “Sweet Judy”. The central theme of fruitful reversal is also epitomized in the first chapter. The shipwreck is absolutely exceptional as the tsunami carries the “Sweet Judy” over the island: “in the light of the burning sky [there] was a gap, a valley or cleft in the wall of rock, like the miracle of the Red Sea, thought Captain Roberts, only, of course, the other way round” (12). The pious captain hastily reworks the words of the “Royal Navy Hymn”: And so it was that the schooner Sweet Judy sailed through a rainforest, with captain Roberts … making up a new verse explicably missing from the original hymn: “Oh Thou who built’st the mountains high, To be the pillars of the sky –” He wasn’t totally certain about “built’st”, but “bidd’st” was apparently acceptable – “Who gave the mighty forests birth” – branches cracked like gunshot under keel, thick vines snatched at what remained of the masts – “And made a garden of the Earth” – fruit and leaves rained down on the deck, but a shudder meant that a broken tree had ripped away part of the hull, spilling the ballast – “We pray to Thee to stretch Thy hand” – Captain Roberts gripped the useless wheel tighter, and laughed at the roaring dark – “to those in peril on the land.” (13)

This reversed shipwreck, by virtue of its eerie character, introduces very early in the novel the tone which makes it possible for Pratchett to handle very serious, and occasionally threadbare, themes in a refreshingly new way. The fantastic, even bizarre, image of a schooner carried over the tropical forest encapsulates the central idea of the book, the revelation that the total instability of human life is a

Politics of Reversal in Terry Pratchett’s Nation


potential source of the positive creative energy which is able to “turn the worlds upside down” (365). Pratchett manages to successfully navigate between the Scylla of stating the obvious and the Charybdis of parody, also because he is able to combine pathos with humour: “Captain Roberts went to Heaven, which wasn’t everything that he’d expected”; “His last thought was ‘Perhaps who raised the mountains high would have been a better line in the circums –ʼ”. Captain Roberts, “inspired to instant creativity” (13), is the figure of a leader who is able to adapt to the circumstances and evolve while maintaining his inner integrity. He does not survive the tsunami but, after all, in the words of a popular adage attributed to Plutarch, navigare necesse est, vivere non est necesse.4 Captain Roberts is totally unable to navigate, or sail, while carried on top of a giant wave, but his unconventional, yet fervent and imaginative, piety steers him directly into the eternal haven. It is therefore not merely the nautical skill, but the recognition and pursuit of the superior goal that make this figure so impressive, if at the same time endearingly funny.5 Those qualities were earlier tested by the novel’s villain, First Mate Cox, who did his best to break the Captain’s convictions and integrity and most impressively failed. Such is the ideal to which the present or future leaders, Mau, Henry Fenshaw and his daughter Ermintrude/ Daphne, are taught to aspire by the dramatic and quizzical reversals of fortune they experience on the island of Nation. The vicissitudes of the “Sweet Judy” illustrate this process. Designed and used as a most reliable ship, as a wreck it becomes an invaluable source of raw material, tools and weapons for the survivors of the tsunami to be finally saved from total destruction and converted into a town hall. The same pattern of reversal is applied to all the novel’s motifs, touching also the plot structure as the promising romance between Daphne and Mau develops into a frighteningly sober and lifelike resolution which, in turn, reverses into an even more touching finale.6 This pattern is practically endlessly repeated on a 4

“There was a necessity to sail, but no necessity to live” (Plutarch, Lives, ed. Arthur Hugh Clough, trans. John Dryden, New York: Random House, 1992, II, 110). 5 He is known as “old ‘hallelujah’ Roberts”, who “makes the crew do all their swearing into a barrel of water in the hold” (11). 6 They part. Mau stays on Nation to become its legendary leader. Daphne (or, again, Ermintrude) returns to England, marries “a very nice gentleman from Holland. A prince” (397) and becomes a very good Queen. But when she dies, her body is


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smaller scale, becoming clearly the principle of the novel’s structure. Daphne learns that the real hero is not the one who indulges in noble tasks but, instead, the one who will wallow in the stinking mud to suckle a drunk and dirty sow if it is the only available way of acquiring milk for a starving child.7 The use of objects is equally reversed: a portable coffin can become a lifeboat; spitting into poison transforms it into excellent beer, etc. The novel starts with three images which produce irony in repetitive patterns of reversal. The first is the deck of a ship which “st[inks] of … disinfectant” (3) but is not, as it seems both to its captain and the reader, “infectious”. Against expectations, it is not the ship but the island of Great Britain Daphne returns to that is the source of danger. The reversal affects the semantics: the “salvation suit” (an ingenious portable disinfecting tent) is worn not for the protection of its user but of those he approaches. This dramatic turn of the wheel of fortune leaves the centre of the world hovering on the brink of chaos forestalled only by the fact that “at this moment … most people are too scared to venture out.” (5) As a result of this unlikely plague, the person who will become the next ruler of the British Empire is Daphne’s father, a conscientious, meek nobleman, currently a governor of an obscure archipelago on the other side of the world. Perhaps against the misapprehensions of his subjects, he is bound to become a very good king. This auspicious prognosis can be formulated on the basis of the results of his brief stay with his daughter on Nation, an experience of staggering significance for his personal development. This is, surprisingly, not diminished by the revelation that the actual person of the king is in fact much less significant than the popular belief would have it, due to the very littleknown existence of the Gentlemen of the Last Resort who, while remaining in the shadows, serve the Crown since the ratification of the ratified version of the Magna Carta,8 safely navigating the ship of state regardless of the current ruler’s potential follies. brought to Nation and buried in the sea according to the local customs. Thus she is united with Mau who has never married and has recently died. 7 Before Mau approaches an animal as dangerous as a wild sow, he ensures its comparative immobility and stupor by leaving large quantities of beer on its path. 8 “You don’t think barons who could hardly write their name could come up with a complete set of sensible rules for the proper running of a large country for the rest of history, do you? Their clerks put together the full working Magna Carta a month later.

Politics of Reversal in Terry Pratchett’s Nation


The parallel events on Nation (apart from the sylvan shipwreck) leave Mau not only as the sole survivor, but as practically a nonperson, additionally ridden by despair and guilt. The total annihilation of the population of Nation, although the fact is neither openly stated nor even implicitly recognized by Mau, is partially caused by the fact that everybody left the higher regions of the island to await his return from the Boys’ Island. The disaster terminates the celebration of his initiation in an untimely manner, leaving him as if “between souls”, a person of no established identity, which forces him to re-invent himself in the process of a most unusual maturation. In his presentation of the disasters affecting Great Britain and Nation, Pratchett is clearly capitalizing on a well-known allegorical framework – the national history represented as a sea voyage. As old as Plato’s Republic9 and taken on by Horace,10 the allegory of the ship of state has become a rhetorical commonplace. Pratchett’s handling of the theme highlights most forcefully the topos’ symbolic potential, while at the same time bypassing its present banality by means of a characteristic mixture of seriousness, even earnestness, with irony and dark humour – “It is a book that threatens to slide into clichés but somehow avoids them.”11 Great Britain suffers a metaphorical shipwreck, as a flu outbreak wipes out almost the entire Royal Family. It is possible for the Fenshaws to ascend the throne because of this major disaster. However, it is due to another shipwreck, this time a literal one, that Ermintrude (and later her father) come into contact with Mau, while he is forced to evolve into a charismatic figure of a leader after his ship of state has been crushed by the inexorable forces of nature. The events on the island of Nation and the revolutionary re-formulation of the world view of the royal pair contribute to the future well-being of Britain. It is never openly stated, but can be easily guessed that Ermintrude will be a great monarch. Because of what happened on It’s seventy times bigger, but it is foolproof. Unfortunately, the French have a copy” (9). 9 Plato, Republic, trans. John Llewelyn Davies and David James Vaugham, Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 1997, 194. 10 Horace, “Ode 1.14”, in The Complete Odes and Satires, trans. Sidney Alexander, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1999, 22. 11 Craig Cabell, Terry Pratchett: The Spirit of Fantasy, London: John Blake Publishing, 2011, 128.


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Nation, both insular countries may enjoy happiness and prosperity. To pursue the cliché which the allegory of the ship of state has become, the events on Nation avert the ultimate keel-over of the respective countries. In the words of Longfellow’s poem: Thou, too, sail on, O Ship of State! …. Fear not each sudden sound and shock, ’Tis of the wave and not the rock; ’Tis but the flapping of the sail, And not a rent made by the gale!12

The most meaningful reversal is also visible in the cartographic ambiguity dominating the novel’s graphic design, especially the attached maps. Pratchett is here clearly experimenting with a convention he has exploited in his previous books13 – the fantasy map. As stressed by Hills, it “allows for the projection of a moral order rather than an empirical or scientific one”.14 This statement is also true for Nation. In a work of fantasy, the primary function of the map is to contribute to the inner consistency of a secondary, imaginary world.15 Therefore, perhaps paradoxically, however easier it makes it for the reader to comprehend and/or follow the plot and however conventionally designed, such a map augments the feeling of strangeness by heralding the fact that the world it depicts is not to be found on any ordinary charts. The maps in Nation direct one’s attention not only to the differences between Pratchett’s Earth and the 12

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “O Ship of State”, ll. 1 and 12-15, in The Complete Poetical Works, ed. N. John McArthur, Kindle Edition, Lexicos Publishing, 2012. 13 In his Discworld series Pratchett clearly ridicules the convention by making it practically impossible to map his world because its depiction is extremely inconsistent and vague. In one of his early novels, Sourcery (London: Corgi Books, 1988), Pratchett actually announces: “This book does not contain a map, please feel free to draw your own” (5). Ironically, The Discworld Mapp Being the Onlie True and Mostlie Accurate Mappe of the Fantastyk and Magical Dyscworlde (London: Corgi Books, 1995), duly appeared in the course of time, designed by Stephen Briggs and Pratchett himself. After that, the geography of the Disc became more stable. 14 Matthew Hills, “Mapping Narrative Spaces”, in Terry Pratchett: Guilty of Literature, eds Andrew Butler, Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn, Baltimore, MD: Old Earth Books, 2004, 230. 15 J.R.R. Tolkien, “On Fairy-Stories”, in The Monsters and the Critics and Other Essays, London: Harper Collins Publishers, 2006, 132.

Politics of Reversal in Terry Pratchett’s Nation


real one. The major reason why those maps are included in the book is clearly the insistence on the arbitrariness of their design indicating the enormity of their influence on one’s perception of and attitude towards the world’s politics, economy and, most importantly, morality. After all, “the exertion of intellectual and instrumental power over territory through maps is an act of self-empowerment”.16 The book contains three maps. Two conventionally (and naturally) appear at the very beginning, one featuring the entire globe, the other a detailed representation of the island of Nation. The last one, quite unusually, is placed at the end. It appears to be the reversed twin image of the first. Closer analysis, however, reveals interesting differences, mostly in the surrounding ornaments, which in both cases concentrate on the imagery associated with representations of shipwreck. Both images bear the name “Map of the world”, written on top of the page. The first map presents the world according to the established cartographic conventions, with north at the top, names in English and an abundance of cartouches, which at first glance serve merely to create an old-world ambience. A closer look reveals the drawing’s tendency to support the dominance of the northern hemisphere expressed by the northern orientation. As the top of the page is embossed with a European-looking crown, the bottom features a cannon, a flotilla and typical maritime implements, a chest, an oil lamp, charts, tools, a log, a compass and the inevitable parrot cage (empty) marooned on a deserted beach. Recalling the novel’s main motifs, they stand firmly in the foreground highlighting not only the exotic character of the surroundings, but also their subdued primitivism. While clearly depicting the site of a shipwreck, they also suggest that the castaways will be able to survive, even prosper, due to their technological superiority enabling them to conquer the hostile environment.17 The way the sun and the moon in the top left and right corners are drawn also contributes to the image of the world conquered by 16

Matthew H. Edney, “The Irony of Imperial Mapping”, in The Imperial Map: Cartography and the Mastery of Empire, ed. James Akerman, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009, 32. 17 Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island (1874) is perhaps an extreme example of what a European mind can imagine on this theme (trans. Stephen W. White, Blacksburg, VA: Wilder Publications, 2008). There, a crate of tools and applied science transform a tropical desert island into a thriving industrial site (ibid.).


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Western civilization: the stylized face of the sun is seen behind the furled sail whereas a realistic and detailed drawing of a full moon against a night sky is in the context clearly reminiscent of maritime navigation. This, combined with other details, seems to be an example of “colonisation of space”18 characteristic of the imperial perspective, an “imperial map”. Not only does it strive to depict “a rational and ordered space that could be managed and governed in a rational and ordered manner”,19 but is “an important part of national propaganda”.20 In other words, the rendering of this map clearly implies that it depicts a world in the process of a very energetic and successful colonization, a process not to be thwarted by occasional misfortunes indicated by the allusions to shipwrecks. However, Nation belies this design since the imperialistic expansion it depicts is thwarted, if only locally, by the outcome of the shipwreck of the “Sweet Judy”. Significantly, although most of the implements from the cartouches are to be found on the deck of the schooner, most of them remain useless, partially because of Ermintrude’s ignorance, but mostly due to the fact that, though a castaway, she is not really focused on her return home. Great Britain, as the centre of the British Empire, is the centre of the world from the point of view of this map, and its position is quite unnecessarily marked by a conspicuous flag. The other island, Nation, is so tiny that its location is not even indicated. Interestingly, though, after reading the book, one may come to realize that a group of unnamed islands dwarfed by a large and ornate label “The Great Southern Pelagic Ocean” might in fact be the Mothering Sunday Islands. A further analysis of the cartouches reveals that a spear, leaning against the cannon, actually points unobtrusively to one of those islands, which therefore may be Nation after all. This seems to be confirmed by the fact that the reversed map which closes the book features the same spear pointing to the same location. Due to the reversal of directions, the spear (and the islands) appearing on the first 18 Karl Offen and Jordana Dymm, “Introduction”, in Mapping Latin America: A Cartographic Reader, eds Karl Offen and Jordana Dymm, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011, 9. 19 Matthew H. Edney, Mapping and Empire: The Geographical Construction of British India, 1765-1843, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997, 34. 20 David Buisseret, The Mapmakers’ Quest: Depicting New Worlds in Renaissance Europe, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003, 111.

Politics of Reversal in Terry Pratchett’s Nation


map on the left (and looking clearly out of place), are shifted to the right on the second one in more than one sense. A psychological and cultural significance of directions more universal than the merely cartographic supremacy of the north is the dichotomy of left/right. The spear (and the islands) are therefore “right” when presented in the context of the reversed map. That the first map endorses a specific geopolitical order inherent in the cartographic conventions generally accepted by Western civilization becomes especially apparent with the reversal of cardinal directions on a map which is placed on the book’s last page. The captions are also southern-oriented, which curiously underlines the inversion. In all other aspects the map is drawn with the same emphasis on the drastic optical change. The identical layout of the cartouches allows for the emergence of the telling differences. The ornaments surrounding the name of the map differ only in the bottom design, which displays tropical flowers instead of roses. The bottom cartouches are dominated by a dolphin, an animal of immense religious and moral significance for the inhabitants of the Islands, which gracefully vaults over shark fins – symbols of death. The marooned boat of the blood-thirsty raiders on which a grandfather bird triumphantly perches corresponds with the image of the shipwreck on the right. Contrary to the parallel image from the first map, it is the wildness and otherness of the island that is stressed. The crate washed on the shore is dominated by the islanders’ traditional weapons, a spear and an axe, both of profound significance in the novel. Mau kills Cox with an axe auspiciously found in the debris washed out by the tsunami wave, so the weapon stands for the indigenous population’s ability to defend themselves. At the same time, it might also be interpreted as a sign of a most unorthodox and ironic providence Mau clearly comes to acknowledge after his dramatic religious crisis. The spear is also a symbol of responsibility and vigilance as it is the weapon Mau has come to be associated with so closely that it becomes part of the legend of his ghost-guarding Nation. The vigil emulating his custom has come to constitute a vital part of the new initiation rite on the island, carried on to modern times. To pursue the analysis of the cartouches of the reversed map, it is interesting to note that the contents of the crate in the sand are not shown, so it remains an unknown factor, a possible blessing if it


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contains useful tools or a useless load of water-soaked rubbish. Thus this civilized implement may become an asset or a nuisance depending on its relevance for the inhabitants of the island. Likewise, the upper corners of the map display the image of the sun and the upturned moon drawn in the same way as their counterparts from the first map, yet here they are visible through palm leaves. As a result the reversed map seems to represent the islanders’ point of view; in fact, the leaves clearly belong to two trees whose lower trunks frame the bottom of the picture. This makes the cartouches of the reversed map form a coherent picture of one well-represented place whereas the set of symbolic images from the first map seems more random, thus lacking the stability or safety of one firm point of view. Moreover, the reversal of the map focuses the attention on the broken Australia. Due to the psychological tendency of attributing moral values to the top-bottom orientation (top better than bottom), the split continent becomes the centre of the globe. This reflects a profound change of perspective resulting from the discovery Mau and Daphne make in the Grandfathers’ cave on Nation. What has been interpreted for thousands of years as a sacred burial place of the island’s most venerable male inhabitants, the guardians of changeless tradition, turns out to be a repository of proofs that Nation is a remnant of a continent housing a most advanced civilization dating before Neolithic times, wiped out by the melting of ice deposits at the end of the Ice Age. The myth of Atlantis is transformed here, emphasizing the technological advancement and geographical expansion of the ancient culture to which Mau belongs. The map, seen through Nation’s trees, is therefore “the right map” in terms of precedence – thus was the world perceived by the great explorers and scientists when Daphne’s ancestors huddled in mammoth-bone huts. The spear pointing to Nation’s location from outside of the map, by virtue of being the only means of the island’s identification, in both cases seems to imply the role this place will play in the impending revision of the basis of the current cartographic conventions. However, while on the first imperial Western map the spear emphasizes also the island’s exotic unimportance, on the second, the

Politics of Reversal in Terry Pratchett’s Nation


presence of the spear seems to incorporate the map in the order much older than the “Ptolemaic grid”.21 This, however, is not the final reversal of meaning the novel offers. Firstly, both maps are crowned by the same crown, and both are drawn according to the Western cartographic conventions (after all, if one calls the second a “reversed map”, it means that subconsciously one still assumes that the first is the “right one”). The map of Nation, although oriented towards the Grandfather’s cave, is drawn in the same manner. The cardinal directions are indicated by a compass which, although slightly lopsided, is nevertheless most conspicuously present and seems to play the same appropriating function as the cartouches on the first map. One may argue that the island manages to defy conventions by the supreme importance of the cave, and this may prove the most disquieting aspect of the novel. Contrary to a more radical stance exhibited in his earlier works, Pratchett’s more recent novels tend to develop a disturbing tendency to justify the condemnation of prejudice or appropriation by the insistence on its object’s apparent supremacy which, in fact, confirms the very foundations of the supposedly criticized attitude.22 The island of Nation, it is argued, deserves respect because, firstly, it is valuable to science (with an ironic undercurrent of Mau’s gift of ancient cave doors which are made of several tons of solid gold) but, secondly, because its inhabitants used to be the first explorers and colonizers. The same argument permeates Daphne/ Ermintrude’s argument seemingly in favour of a genuinely egalitarian attitude: “It’s a long way from anywhere important, though ….” “No, Papa. This is the important place. It’s everywhere else that is a long way away. Anyway, that wouldn’t matter to the Royal Society. They would swim up here in lead boots!” “Down here, dear, I think,” said her father.


Ibid. In the last two of Pratchett’s Discworld novels, Unseen Academicals and Snuff (both published after Nation), the downtrodden species are discovered to possess astonishing abilities or talents, which is decisive in the radical change of the popular attitude. 22


Maria Błaszkiewicz Daphne pushed the globe. It rolled a little way and the continents danced. But now the world was turned upside down. “It’s a planet, Papa. Up and down are just ways of looking at it.” (339)

Ironically, therefore, the message of Nation seems to be that, if the world is really round, it can revolve by 180 degrees.

SHIPWRECKS AND DESERT ISLANDS: ECOLOGY AND NATURE – A CASE STUDY OF HOW REALITY TV AND FICTIONAL FILMS FRAME REPRESENTATIONS OF ISLANDS PAT BRERETON While fiction film remains more prescribed and predetermined, both in the ways the actors perform their lonely island roles and in terms of audience engagement with their troubles, reality television posits a more direct experience of being on a deserted island. Physical and mental games are used to test the mettle of the performers against a backdrop of an exotic isolated island, a space which remains a touristic nirvana for most audiences. Unlike the literary classic Robinson Crusoe, however, the island merely presents the illusion of isolation, with a film crew and sometimes “visiting natives” tempting the hungry inhabitants or playing some other games on them. Meanwhile, Hollywood films like Cast Away (2000), The Beach (2000) or even The Truman Show (1999) follow a similar if more self-contained formula, providing a deep if somewhat unsubtle ecological critique of conspicuous consumption.

In an episode of the reality television series Treasure Island (RTÉ 20021), one of the contestants speaks about “poor Tom Hanks” who endured a desert island alone for over four years. In contrast with the fictional scenario, he concluded: “It’s not so bad here on Treasure Island.” The formula for this highly commercialized docu-soap – riding on the success of “Reality TV” concepts like Big Brother, I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here and other island-based series – is a psychological/voyeuristic exploration of how groups and individuals interact and compete in a controlled environment over a period of time. I will explore how fictional film remains more prescribed and predetermined, both in the ways the actors perform their lonely island roles and the audience engage with their troubles, while reality television posits a more direct experience of being on a deserted island. Physical and mental games are used to test the mettle of the 1

Treasure Island, television series, Coco Television, RTÉ 1, screened 2001-2002.


Pat Brereton

performers against a backdrop of an exotic isolated island, a space which remains a touristic nirvana for most audiences. Unlike the literary classic Robinson Crusoe,2 however, the island merely presents the illusion of isolation, with a film crew and sometimes “visiting natives” tempting the hungry inhabitants or playing some other games with them. Meanwhile, Hollywood films like Cast Away (20003), The Beach (20004) or even The Truman Show (19985) and their useful DVD bonus features follow a similar, if more self-contained, formula, providing a deep, if somewhat unsubtle, ecological critique of conspicuous consumption which can be measured against Treasure Island’s televisual game playing. Reality TV programming has evolved as a product of, and has been fuelled by, what Biressi and Nunn call a “therapeutic culture”6 which consists in framing a subjective experience and in eroding any boundary between public and private evocation of identity and community. Such programmes, they argue, provide valuable insight into the desires, fears and aspirations of their contestants and, by extension, of their viewers. Meanwhile, the documentary pact with audiences is based on the false premise that documentary can tell the truth in the first place.7 Audiences thus apply a heuristic measure across a fact/fiction continuum in their engagement with factual programming and have developed varying viewing strategies for different types of genres within factual television.8 Slavoj Žižek suggests that the wreck of the Titanic made a tremendous impact on public consciousness not just because of the immediate material dimensions of the catastrophe but because of its symbolic over-determination as an iconic embodiment of 2

Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, New York: Barnes and Noble, 2005. Cast Away, dir. Robert Zemeckis, perf. Tom Hanks, Helen Hunt, DreamWorks, 2000. 4 The Beach, dir. Danny Boyle, perf. Leonardo DiCaprio, Tilda Swinton, 20th Century Fox, 2000. 5 The Truman Show, dir. Peter Weir, perf. Jim Carrey, Ed Harris and Laura Linney, Paramount Pictures, 1998. 6 Anita Biressi and Heather Nunn, Reality TV: Realism and Revelation, London: Wallflower Press, 2005, 95. 7 See Brian Winston, Claiming the Real: Technologies of Seeing, London: BFI Press, 1995. 8 See Annette Hill, Reality TV: Audiences and Popular Factual Television, New York: Routledge, 2005. 3

Shipwrecks and Desert Islands: Ecology and Nature


sophisticated modernity and as a result of the broad-ranging ideological meaning invested in it. This most famous instance of a shipwreck has consequently been read as a “symbol” and as “a condensed metaphorical representation of the approaching catastrophe of European civilization itself”.9 The metaphysical wreck also precipitates a story and enables protagonists to find/discover their chosen “island” in several of the films discussed in this article, while remaining true to the perennial literary ur-text Robinson Crusoe. Reminiscent of numerous classical painting allegories, Robinson Crusoe clearly exemplifies a work in which three basic uses of the situation coincide, after this most famous of castaways is wrecked on his desert island as punishment for his sins. He proves himself worthy through his trial and finally becomes a true Christian10 – a clearly devised “Old Testament” morality tale, using the metaphor of the life journey with the shipwreck as its modern intonation, in whose narrative one perceives a series of diametrical oppositions. Most prescient according to this classic Christian statement of the topos, if we fail to survive the journey, the cause must lie entirely with us. 11 Contemporary variations of this narrative appear to have lost this very uni-directional morality tale trajectory. Nonetheless, many core elements survive, as an examination of contemporary films will now demonstrate.


Slavoj Žižek, Cynicism as a Firm Ideology: The Sublime Object of Ideology, London: Verso, 1989, 70. The wreck of the Titanic, in Žižek’s view, allowed society to live out a configuration of ideological meaning, the existence of which preceded the wreck. Žižek demonstrates this prior existence of the ideological (the promise of which is, in a sense, actualized by the material reality of the wreck itself) by considering a seemingly perverse coincidence (see ibid., 9). 10 See George P. Landow, Images of Crisis: Literary Iconography 1750 to the Present, Boston: Routledge, 1982. 11 “As Iain Chambers argues, historicizing displacement leads us away from nostalgic dreams of ‘going home’ to a mythic, metaphysical location, and into the realm of theorizing a way of ‘being at home’ that accounts for the myths we know to be myths yet continue to cling to, cherish and dream alongside other stories, other fragments of meaning and traces of time” (Caren Kaplan, Questions of Travel: Postmodern Discourses of Displacement, Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 1996, 7).


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Natural consumption: The Beach and Cast Away Driven by the search for a hidden paradise, the character in Alex Garland’s novel The Beach12 in particular is motivated by classically Romantic yearnings for solitude and escape, especially from conspicuous consumption and waste. Like all desert island fantasies, the border between land and sea signifies freedom. If it were not for the Lonely Planet tourist guide, The Beach implies, Thailand would be the perfect destination. The film adaptation of the same name, Lenček and Bosker argue, represents “both a colonizing of an English novel by American capital (20th Century Fox) and the American cultural priorities that accompany that finance (particularly in having DiCaprio play Richard as an American instead of the Englishman Garland imagined), and by including a love scene between Richard and Françoise”.13 This tale of the environmental destruction wrought by the production on Thailand’s Maya Bay only serves to heighten the notion that the making of the film played out many of the tensions evident in the novel.14 Furthermore, the “food goodies” ordered from the mainland dramatize how the castaways have not escaped at all and, in fact, want to maintain familiar luxuries and their resultant residue of waste, rather than stoically living in ecological harmony. Critics generally gave the film a hammering, but while some, like Roger Ebert, regarded it as a “seriously confused film” (The Chicago Sun-Times),15 others took a somewhat more reflexive stance. Todd McCarthy, for instance, compared the film to the novel and noted how the film makes much more of how “Richard’s head (and by extension, those of others in his age group) were full with pop culture detritus and its related techno/virtual/faux-experimental components” (Variety).16 He consequently had rather more to imply about the 12

Alex Garland, The Beach, New York: Viking Press, 1996. Lena Lenček and Gideon Bosker, The Beach: The History of Paradise on Earth, London: Penguin, 1999, 553. 14 Cast Away was written as an original screenplay by William Broyles Jr. and filmed on Monuriki, a member of the Mamanuca Island off the coast of Fiji. The island became a tourist attraction following the film’s release. Note that the same idea became a successful TV series called Lost produced by USA ABC network. 15 Roger Ebert, “Review of The Beach”, The Chicago Sun-Times, 11 February 2000: 16 Todd McCarthy, “Review of The Beach”, Variety, 7 February 2000: 13

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motives for Western “trespass on ever more exotic turf”. For McCarthy, the film is content to suggest that no earthly paradise can presume to remain immune from the mix of good and evil, and of the constructive and destructive growth in the world at large. At a more macro-ecological level, anxieties and hopes about the future of the planet becoming polluted and being pushed out of harmony due to wasteful human agency are quickly approximating endemic crisis, and this dilemma is finding its way into mainstream film, including this somewhat flawed adaptation. In a deleted scene filed on the DVD bonus features, for example, we are afforded an “alternative opening” to the film, in which the protagonist carries out a Google search for the word “paradise” (a new media convention for discovering information, which has become normative and de facto intuitive for new generations) to uncover details of an exotic island. Meanwhile, the voice-over frames the film’s opening exposition and remains somewhat reminiscent of the more traumatic journey in Apocalypse Now (1979), with the protagonist “looking for something more dangerous”. After a long flight and three “dumb movies” (presumably not any of Boyle’s oeuvre), he finally touches down in Bangkok, which is celebrating New Year. Everyone appears to be having innocent water fights on the street, displaying a non-threatening form of Bacchanalian excess. A local taxi-man teases Richard that he is like every other tourist – “you want it all the same; just like America”. But Richard takes such criticism on the chin and undertakes the challenge to “never resist an invitation; never outstay your welcome. If it hurts, it’s probably worth it.” This memorable opening scene – a strategy Danny Boyle excels at and uses in almost all of his films – is bookended with the final deleted scene of the film, as highlighted also in the bonus features. The co-founder of the commune, Sal (Tilda Swinton), refuses to leave the island, while all the other inhabitants and tourists flee on a makeshift raft. As she remains totally “committed” to her purist version of island life, this development proves too much for her and, after the others are all gone, she is shown in close-up shooting herself. Not surprisingly, this violent dénouement was not kept in the final version of the film, and it is left to audiences to decide if she survives or not on her own. Earlier Sal had displayed her “moral imbalance” by


Pat Brereton

dramatizing her pathological urge to protect her island living. On discovering that he had shared knowledge of the island with others, she had instinctively put a gun to Richard’s head and actually pulled the trigger, which demonstrated the lengths she would go to to protect her island dream. In the final version of the film, the idea of the journey to a paradisiac island really takes shape in Proppian tradition with an encounter and a gift. Robert Carlisle’s character, Daffy (reprising the role of Mad Begsby in Trainspotting), as both storyteller and provider of a map, is indeed key to the progression of the story. He recounts to Richard his own experience of the famous beach and how the island of his dreams is by all accounts perfect, thus convincing him that it has to be tried. Unlike the allusive references to literature, commercial cinema in this instance most crudely underpins this sublime notion, by force-feeding the audience a kitsch “calendar image” of the beautiful lagoon, sealed off totally from the outside world. The thrill of mystery is enhanced by the recommendation that nobody on the outside can ever see the island, as the obviously psychotic messenger informs his more-than-willing listener. Next morning the messenger’s room is covered in blood, with his dead body on the ground and his throat slit, conveniently leaving Richard with the infamous map and passport to “the promised land”, affording him the modus operandi for his forthcoming journey to the ultimate exotic reality televisual island space.17 “There are infinite worlds out there”, Richard eulogizes, while trying to seduce a French tourist (Françoise) to take the perilous journey with him. She responds that this is the kind of pretentious bull Americans use to sleep with a French girl. Finally, however, he persuades her and her French boyfriend to accompany him on his voyage. After a fraught journey, at last they and we the audience can personally witness the ultimate sublime “money shot” and the visualization of natural perfection, displayed by still green azure water surrounded by nurturing and protective mountains. In an emotional 17

“To map is in some way to own the landscape; to render the world is to make it conform to a practice of representation and therefore to exert a measure of control over its otherwise excessive alterity” (Michael Titlestad and Mike Kissack, “‘I have always known shipwreck’: Whiteness in Sheila Fugard’s The Castaways”, A Review of International English Literature, XXXVI/1/2 [2005], 5).

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response, they laugh together after their long and difficult pilgrimage, prosaically and inelegantly pronouncing: “It’s so fucking beautiful, man”, as they look on in awe and seductive satisfaction. After he has met with the community living on the island, in the voice-over, Richard refines his first impression: “I settled in, I found my vocation; the pursuit of pleasure. Sal was the leader, but there was no ideology: a beach resort for people who didn’t like beach resorts.” But such utopian or, more accurately, heterotopian dreams seldom last. To expedite the classic narrative disruption of events, the conflict of physical desire becomes dominant as Richard has fallen for Françoise. Like the soppy calendar portrait of the romanticism of nature, their first kiss and embrace takes place as they swim underwater, totally at one with nature. The scene evokes all the old stereotypes around the ideal of an exotic island space where civilized roles based on ethical behaviour can be abandoned, as they are continuously played out in reality television programmes. As a result of his immoral action, particularly prescribed by the new islanders’ mores, he is ostracized – reminiscent of Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. All too quickly he appears to go “mad with nature”, just as Daffy earlier described could happen. Some more unsavoury aspects of this apparently easy-going epicurean island lifestyle come to the fore, such as attitudes regarding illness and the fear it might involve bringing strangers onto the island to help: “in the perfect beach resort, nothing is allowed to upset the pursuit of pleasure – not even dying.” The idea of an island space where humans can recreate an idealized community is effectively tested and problematized. Rather than getting away from it all, we discover that human nature finds it all but impossible to leave their “civilized” nature at the shore of their newfound space. While The Beach is based on an original novel, Cast Away successfully taps into a current reality television fixation, through observing celebrities and more ordinary folk on desert islands as they cope with surviving in such tightly controlled yet otherwise wild environments, again calling to mind the perennial literary classic Robinson Crusoe.18 However, rather than constructing an artificial 18

“If the structure of imperialism made its mark on the inner forms and the structure of modernism, as Jameson asserts, then the critical project does not consist in determining the representation of imperialism in modernist representation, but in


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community of diverse personalities, Cast Away goes back to basics and illustrates the struggle of one man as he tries to cope with this alien eco-system where humans are no longer predefined rulers of the eco-space but have to adapt and learn how to evolve and truly survive with all the natural elements without the benefit of a community, as constructed in The Beach. A reading of the film as a back-to-nature fable allows the contention that the film affords a deep if often unsubtle ecological critique of conspicuous consumption and waste in general. The story certainly is designed to appeal to many contemporary audiences who are apparently trapped in 9-5 jobs and vicariously want to escape to a desert island. However, more stimulating discourses are evident in mass and popular narratives, when, rather than always affirming a negative ideological reading, critics adapt an openness to Hollywood’s heterotopic possibilities. At first sight Cast Away appears to be a conventional Hollywood blockbuster, which uses a star vehicle and an exotic landscape to construct a narrative around individual heroism in the face of adversity. Tom Hanks, in a role reminiscent of his Joe Versus the Volcano (1990), is again teamed up with “ideologically suspect” director Robert Zemeckis following the success of Forrest Gump (1994). Similarly to The Beach, it was initially dismissed in a review as “saccharine-sweet”.19 However, using an ecological lens, it can be read as a potent exploration of human nature within a dominant materialist capitalist environment. As I have already argued, it is very easy to be cynical concerning a film which has possibly the most explicit product placement at the heart of its narrative, since the courier company FedEx dominates the storyline.20 Adopting a positive questioning the relationship between form and content, between literature and culture and between art and politics” (Kaplan, Questions of Travel, 10). This is also evident in Apocalypse Now. 19 Mark Morris, “The Gump Grows Up”, The Observer, 14 January 2001: It is interesting to note all the academic controversy over the ideological game-play of the “best picture” Oscar-winning Forrest Gump (1994), also directed by Zemeckis, where Hanks played a “simpleton” who single-handedly saved the day in Vietnam as his company were attacked, was highly ironic/ambiguous regarding the Peace movement and most especially AIDS which infected and finally killed his “girlfriend”. 20 See Pat Brereton, “Ecology and Nature: A Case Study of Cast Away”, Film and Film Culture, II (2003), 109-14.

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outlook, one could maintain that Cast Away actually uses the occupation and preoccupation of its protagonist to ostensibly critique the material West’s overweening valuation of materialism and the controlling of time and space through the diegesis of an island habitat. Many aspects of representations of survival on a desert island have been deemed questionable in the long history of the motif, in particular a certain indulgence in evocations of pristine nature as passive spectacle, and in a more active, even sublime, engagement with human ecology. Much critical debate has also been taken up with representations of the Other vis-à-vis Western touristic experiences of nature. Witness, for instance, Edward Said’s critique of colonialism in literature symbolized by the agency of Man-Friday in Robinson Crusoe. Contradictions between getting away from it all and embracing total isolation and confronting one’s inner demons, which becomes more dramatically possible when the façade of culture is stripped away, have been explored within recognizable classics like Lord of the Flies, and more recently for new generational audiences through the postmodern aesthetic of films like The Beach.21 The phenomenon of using exotic landscapes has also become significant in TV programmes such as Ibiza Uncovered, using surrogate touristic performers to engage in the most primal forms of pleasurable pursuit for mass audience titillation. The expedition in Cast Away, however, through its unashamed evocation of boredom and solitude, framed within an open natural island environment, adds something new and challenging to this generic formula. Audiences are encouraged to experience with the transforming character of Hanks the illusion of raw nature and its physical and mental effects on the human protagonists. By capturing a number of sublime moments that have become central to Hollywood’s potency in evoking nature awareness,22 the film becomes ecologically 21 The Beach was a star vehicle for Leonardo DiCaprio, but it became contextually controversial for the way the landscape was abused in the making of the film. The phenomenon is also evidenced in Nick Roeg’s equally evocative Castaway, which promoted and exoticized the ultimate “war of the sexes” – as the protagonists pranced around, their bruised bodies remained a potent template for their reversion into primitive territory. (Castaway, dir. Nicolas Roeg, perf. Oliver Reed, Amanda Donohoe, United Artists, 1986.) 22 As I have already argued in my PhD on Ecological Utopianism and Hollywood Cinema, and in its subsequent publication (2005), a certain tendency within a large


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evocative, if not progressive. The cinematographer certainly knows how to visualize the awesome majesty of a deserted island that excites the West’s jaded desire for exotic nature.23 Climbing up to the highest point where Hanks can see all around, the camera frames and holds time and space in the moment of revelation, capturing the ripple of waves lapping the shores that protect him but also prevent him from escaping. These features of an idyllic uninhabited island seem symmetrically perfect, while framed at an overwhelming distance, augmented by the protagonist’s immediate experience of despair. What is most striking about this mise-en-scène is its lack of a conventional musical score to dramatize the majesty of the landscape – a technique certainly over-used in The Beach. This choice continues to be applied as long as the character remains alone. Thus, for most of the castaway’s time on the island, the authenticity of individual experience is apparently preserved, and the audience are able to feel the solitude of this erstwhile paradise island, without the comforting strains of extra-diegetic music. In contrast Reality TV programmes often cannot resist layering and constructing dramatic situations out of trivial scenarios. When the protagonist’s plane goes out of control in Cast Away, nothing can be done to save the situation. As in the disaster epic Titanic (1997), the natural elements conspire to defeat the high-tech machine, designed to transport humans across time and space without having to endure the vagaries and uncertainty involved with manpowered navigation through often difficult landscape. Here, everything appears to stand still as the impending plane crash is powerfully evoked and the character is no longer able to control his precarious technological environment. Suddenly, this time-based employee is confronted with the extremities of a chaotic uncontrollable nature. As affirmed by the screenwriter on the bonus features, the best thing that can happen to him is this accident, forcing

range of Hollywood movies, both thematically and aesthetically serves to promote light/dark ecological issues. (Pat Brereton, Hollywood Utopia: Ecology in Contemporary American Cinema, Bristol: Intellect, 2005.) 23 As is often noted within cultural discourse, the more Western society moves away from “primitive innocence” and un-commodified nature, the greater the potency and allure of such a “pilgrimage” and/or touristic experience.

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him to confront himself. Learning to survive first physically and then emotionally becomes the core of his character development ark. Such elemental confrontation is also dramatized, albeit to a much lesser degree and with more prescriptive opportunism, in Reality TV series like Treasure Island. The panoptical walls of Big Brother are never scaled by the inmates – except by more anarchic protagonists who eventually refuse to play the game. Similarly, contestants in such games are by all accounts unable to escape from an erstwhile deserted island. What better contestant to play a solitary game than one whose life was controlled by time and now has all the time in the world to contemplate his desert island. But unlike the foregrounding of fictive game playing in Reality TV scenario construction, where the ontological relation with nature is never fully questioned, much less problematized beyond maybe gameplay, here the protagonist’s heroic cinematic quest involves accepting nature’s sometimes chaotic rhythms and cadences, while actually learning to survive. As the advertising blurb affirms: “at the edge of the world, his journey begins.” Various survival “experts” were brought onto the project to teach Hanks and the creatives what to expect and also to explore how to authentically visualize the story, as is implicitly evident in the Reality TV format. On the bonus features, such experts affirmed how making fire was probably the hardest aspect of the survival process and spoke of the importance of developing tools, such as cutting rocks into smaller sharp elements as was done in the Stone Age. The screenwriter W. Broyles spoke of how the most important aspect of the film-making process was to correctly cast the island. Finally, they decided on the Fiji Islands, situated in a part of the largest Pacific sea mass. But, as already implied, little care appears to have been given to the fact that it was by no means a deserted island, that the inhabitants deserved an explanation regarding their fictional story and, above all, that all 80 of them ought to be asked their permission to make the film. The crew spent over three weeks at the start, just building a village for their work and everything had to be brought by boat onto the island. By all accounts there was little concern around maintaining the island’s ecological purity and pristine beauty, as in The Beach – an erstwhile laudable eco-marketing strategy, which in that case backfired as is well documented in press


Pat Brereton

reports. Like all nature filming, the crew were totally dependent on the variations of weather and the movement of the tide in particular. The oft-quoted cliché “Tide and time will wait for no man” is repeated by the creatives on the bonus features, alongside exploring contrasting notions of “modern time” as opposed to “island time”. Hanks’ character first attempt at escape confirms his immobility, being cut and savaged by the rocks underneath the water’s idyllic surface. Having acted as protector of his FedEx boxes which are carefully collected on the shore, eventually he decides to break his professional code of practice, only to discover little of real use-value inside them. In contrast to the handy prizes of food materials which the contestants in Treasure Island compete to win, his most intriguing find is a volleyball and a birthday card which pontificates: “the best thing about the world is the world itself.” Such a tautological ecological affirmation is seldom replicated within the more mundane puzzle manuscripts uncovered on Treasure Island. Later his only true conquest is his ability to make fire, an essential primary element to sustain life.24 This magical skill, eulogized by the experts discussed earlier, is effectively visualized through the use of warm ochre colour tones that were absent up to then on the island. Hanks parades his primitive glistening masculinity, reflected through the light of the fire and pontificates in only half self-deprecating tones: “look what I have created… I have made fire.” His celebration evokes a primitive hunter-gatherer’s joy at marshalling nature’s potency. The primary element of fire also remains a dominant motif in the narrative structure of Treasure Island, particularly the way contestants have to light their torches to decide who gets the power to choose who leaves the island in the weekly elimination stakes. But the mental condition and need for social interaction of Cast Away’s protagonist remain more difficult to alleviate, leading at one stage to the contemplation of suicide. He finds solace, however, in his human capability to project his communal needs, using his own blood to paint an effigy onto the volleyball, which is named Wilson. Wilson

24 Notably the philosopher Heraclitus’ four primary elements – Earth, Air, Fire and Water – remain part of the continual preoccupation within all nature films.

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helps him to maintain his sanity through the four long years of isolation and hopelessness.25 Unlike the real time addiction of the Big Brother phenomenon, which is even less effective in the more segmented Treasure Island, fiction film must pre-conceive and manipulate screen-time most creatively. The passage of time is beautifully visualized through a match-cut when Hanks uses the sharp blade of a skating boot to alleviate his growing toothache.26 The solitary islander knocks himself out with the pain of his crude dentistry work and the fire burning beside his unconscious head transforms into the glistening morning light reflected on water. We are led to believe four years have passed, assisted by breaking the actual film shoot by over a year and allowing Hanks to lose weight. He has survived while looking more like an authentic Robinson Crusoe figure with a full beard and very leathery skin. But “life finds a way”, as emoted by the chaos theorist in Jurassic Park (1993) alongside many deep ecologists. His tenacity and ingenuity finally pay off as he concocts a successful sail on a makeshift boat, made out of the foreign objects that float onto his island. The design and ingenuity displayed is reminiscent of the skill used in sailing the aerodynamically designed ship in the futuristic Waterworld (1995) – which, incidentally, has the most potent metaphor for recycling on film, when Kevin Costner recycles his own urine. At last, Hanks overcomes the controlling tides of the island. Now the first bars of a sustained musical motif with its haunting paired back melody are introduced, which reflect his transcendence over the environment. His unsolicited quest has at last been successful. While losing his beloved companion Wilson, foreshadowing his more permanent loss to come, he nonetheless succeeds in being rescued by a passing ship and is soon transformed back to his original star-self.


Not surprisingly, in the 2002 version of Big Brother no books are allowed into the house, which leads to little inconvenience, however, and serves to validate Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death (1985) notion of a post-literate society. Instead, contestants are most content to act out their conflicts under the influence of copious measures of drink, as in Ibiza Uncovered. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, New York: Penguin, 2005. 26 This is similar to the “water-works” problem Hanks has in The Green Mile, which is resolved by the healing hands of a miracle worker/death-row convict.


Pat Brereton

But rather than ending with his heroic return to civilization, the concluding section of the narrative questions the values and norms of Western lifestyle. Having survived the ordeal on the island, a party is presented in his honour. Afterwards, Hanks closely observes the mountain of food left behind and wasted. We, as audience, are positioned with him in witnessing this commodified display for what it is. Unlike the supreme effort demonstrated by his long struggle on the island to achieve basic sustenance, now the camera dwells on the synthetic nature of such food consumption, reduced to unnatural waste. Hanks slowly walks around the table laden with food, after all the guests have gone and the audience is left in no doubt at his shock and disgust, which is further affirmed when he repeatedly turns on and off the electric light in his room. No longer can he take such Western conveniences and the “benefits” of affluent civilization for granted.27 Food also plays a central role in Reality TV with, for example, the Big Brother scenario creating even more tension by producing a “food rich” contest, introducing a clear division between the competitors. Similarly, in Treasure Island, food remains a constant preoccupation, with the performers having to carry out various tasks to secure basic supplies. Meanwhile, the losing team is left on starvation rations with little except their imagination to re-constitute and re-perform the ease in which “fast food” is consumed. In one particular scene, where they simulate the pleasures of eating, the resident psychologist affirms that this makes them hungrier rather than vicariously alleviating their basic wants. The “Theatre of Cruelty” has certainly come a long way within televisual popular culture. 27 A polemical reviewer remains much more critical of the film’s ideological subtext and concludes: “Chuck Noland’s (Tom Hanks) saga ultimately amounts to an extended corporate-sponsored vacation for busy executives who need to get in touch with themselves through nature, so that they can come back refreshed and ready to produce even more for the capitalist machine. Twenty percent returns! Keep the stockbrokers happy! The unintentional message of Cast Away is that monoculture cannot be escaped, but that it’s okay so long as you’ve got a nice company like FedEx employing you. The principle that keeps Noland alive is the same one that keeps corporate culture alive: don’t open the FedEx box. Don’t open Pandora’s Box. So long as the evils contained therein don’t get examined, questioned, or discarded, then American culture (and its export, global capitalism at any cost) can continue on its merry and depressing way. It’s enough to make you want your own plane to crash somewhere over the South Pacific.” Metaphilm: detail/the_evolution_of_tom_hanks/.

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Extensive explicit psychologizing of the televisual contestants’ motivations and behaviour to discover their uniquely human traits and preoccupations is carried out in additional episodes, which re-frame incidents and behaviour to discover their latent meanings. This revealing dramaturgical strategy is more naturally evidenced by allowing private space and time for contestants to confess and speak directly to the public, revealing (or not) their inner thoughts and motivations – something that emulates the first-person narrative structure of Cast Away. Reality TV also extends and further manipulates the televisual experience by interviewing the contestants after they have left the island/house. These interviews normally focus on the private lives of the contestants and how their public personas have been affected as ordinary individuals. The subsequent discussion can almost inadvertently serve to question societal norms. For example, on the final night of Big Brother (2002), the infamous Jade was interviewed by Davina McCall who strongly suggested that the plump contestant, who found it hard to remain inside her dress, would be better off not drinking in the future. Such an aside remains highly patronizing, particularly coming from a programme which explicitly uses alcohol to heighten the drama for public consumption and whose voyeuristic exposure elevated this working-class victim and her drink-induced antics towards becoming the most sought-after celebrity for such a unique performance. Back in Cast Away, however, no such unconscious exploitation occurs. Protagonist Noland needs closure to affirm his romantic idealism, which has sustained him during his long sojourn away from home, and to counteract his ethical realization of the superficiality of conspicuous consumption. But, at a personal and emotional level, his lover has moved on, demonstrating that time and romantic love do not stand still. As in Forrest Gump, the protagonist must also learn to move on and not expect his personal needs to remain paramount. Like Gump’s enigmatic “life is like a box of chocolates” mantra, a deep (or glib, depending on your reading) philosophical message is also invoked in the film, by recalling how “you never know what a new tide might bring in”. This truism serves to underpin the newly acquired stoic nature of our protagonist. Time and space have given him the potential of becoming reconstituted through the unsubtle


Pat Brereton

agency of the film, while at the same time pricking the deep ecological consciousness of Western audiences. The romantic frisson of the lost couple who kiss in the rain, meeting outside her family home, is reminiscent of other great romances, like Casablanca (1942), and equates with a classic Hollywood narrative. The protagonists must, however, “do the right thing” and cannot simply re-live the past. Dramatizing his affirmation of professional integrity by personally delivering the only package left intact from his aborted FedEx flight, he can now finally begin again. Literally, he can choose which road to follow, having earned the right to live again in the bounteous Western materialist world. The film is primarily and cynically designed to ensure an Oscar performance, but this does not necessarily deflect from these and other deep implications and (against the grain) readings of the narrative. It would be intriguing also if successful and populist Reality TV like Treasure Island could more frequently be critically excavated to expose such deep structures – especially since the successful phenomenon has been so prolific and influential, while nonetheless waning over the last few years. Furthermore, if producers could be persuaded to more actively create and inject fruitful scenarios, which would engage with and reflect many deep human concerns that affect all our lives, it would be most useful for the promotion of environmental issues. To remain effective and actively mirroring the audience’s deep-seated connections with each other and their environment, popular film and TV, not to mention literature and all the other arts, must keep finding new ways of expressing and regenerating engagement with both human and inanimate nature. Peter Weir’s oeuvre, for example, most successfully provides effective ways of framing representations of islands and applying the techniques used in Reality TV that speak through a particularly powerful ecological lens. Cinematic Reality TV: The Truman Show The highly provocative The Truman Show serves as the urtext for the reality televisual phenomenon and presents Jim Carrey as the focus for the ultimate expression of televisual voyeurism. Most radically the character Carrey plays remains unaware that his whole life-story has become an extended docu-soap. The audience is afforded a window into the constructed artificiality of the environment in which he grows

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up and lives as an adult; an environment somewhat reminiscent of Biosphere 11, a 1.25 hectare artificial greenhouse in southern Arizona, and one which draws upon a continuing preoccupation with contrasting real and fanciful habitats within science-fiction fantasies like Soylent Green (1973) and Logan’s Run (1976), among many others. The Truman Show raises important philosophical and ethical questions regarding human nature and its habitat, particularly in the penultimate sequence of the film where Truman rows a boat across the liminal space that separates his synthetic environment and the authentic world outside, while enduring localized flooding and storms produced diegetically within the mise-en-scène of the constructed biosphere. The innocent agent finally overcomes his great fear of water – like Jeff Bridges’ character, who faces up to his fear of heights and flying in Weir’s Fearless (1993) – and escapes from the ultimate Baudrillardian simulacrum. This happens when the boat he is navigating crashes against the side of the massive glass tank that separates the two habitats and dramatizes better than fiction has ever done before divisions between the “simulacrum” and the “real”. Conventional readings of the film focus on the premise of humans living their lives for the benefit of audience titillation through modalities constructed by Reality TV. More broadly philosophical and ecological readings might focus on the ethics of agency and the constructed nature of a man-made, synthetically “real” world habitat, with the laws of nature manipulated and controlled by scientists and media producers. This is played out particularly through the initiation of a sea storm to test the mettle of this experimental victim, in a filmic re-enactment of Plato’s famous allegory of the cave, as Truman ostensibly suffers from various fears engineered to keep him within the man-made habitat of the cinematic spectacle. This realization of the falseness of his environment and the questioning of the sanctity of the laws of nature reminds us of the moment when the chief protagonist in Alex Proyas’ Dark City (1998) first realizes that his environment is totally constructed by aliens who are simply using humans for experimental purposes. Proyas’ character has to face up to


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the void of the planet/space-ship he inhabits with the imaginative and therapeutic assistance of a simulated beach.28 Master and Commander (2003),29 a conventional action adventure drama also directed by Peter Weir, furthermore applies a more direct historical evocation of island nature through a trip to the Galápagos Islands, which is initially abandoned to continue hunting the enemy; but when the surgeon is seriously wounded in an attempt to shoot down a beautiful white bird circling the boat, war aims have to be cast aside for a while.30 The terra firma of the islands is used to recuperate the crew, augmented by their uniquely British sense of relaxation and cricket playing, while the quickly healed natural scientist examines the island for its unique flora and fauna, taking samples to bring back home. The beauty and sublime nature of the island is foregrounded, as in many of the sources discussed earlier, in a similar way to how the ship has been framed against the majestic and awesome sea, particularly when fighting against a raging storm – which certainly can be contrasted with the constructed and synthetic evocation of wild nature in The Truman Show. Treasure Island: Reality TV fulfils a growing need for fantasy Finally, an Irish reality television series brings us back to what audiences want from a range of representations of islands as cautionary ecological tales. Let us begin by asking why we want to look at people in a situation defined by its privations. They are denied access to the outside world, which means Radio, TV, newspapers, mobile phones and so forth. The removal of any possibility of contact between them and us makes it seem as though they cannot see us.31 28

See Brereton, Hollywood Utopia, 191-95. Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, dir. Peter Weir, perf. Russell Crowe, Paul Bettany, 20th Century Fox, Universal, Miramax, 2003. 30 Incidentally, Charles Darwin was later to visit these same islands in 1835, but on this fictional visit the notion of colonization and war takes precedence over scientific discovery as the explorers observe the enemy anchored on the other side of the island. George Perking March, just five years after Darwin’s The Origin of Species, published his very influential Man and Nature (1864), arguing that humans are active agents effecting change in the environment. 31 Ian Buchanan, “Enjoying ‘Reality TV’”, Australian Humanities Review, XXII (June 2001), 3.html. 29

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Such a dramatic convention also encapsulates the trajectory of fictional film, as evidenced in this essay’s reading of The Beach, Cast Away and most especially The Truman Show. As an audience, we can switch on television and watch people voluntarily suffer the loss of all that we hold dear in the name of a greater good, which for all but one lucky winner is an utterly illusory hope.32 The Beach, for instance, can be usefully compared and contrasted with a more up-market BBC Reality TV show called Cast Away, where a number of people had to spend a year on a desert island off Scotland. Many of the families were by all accounts very middle class – including a doctor and his kids, as outlined by Rob Copsey: “mature types with less manipulatable personalities – and knowing of course where they were on camera and how to use their self-image.”33 In one episode, reminiscent of The Beach, several contestants escape to the mainland to a supermarket to secure fresh food. This was not perceived as sporting or playing the game – there were wellcodified rules which they had agreed to abide by.34 Meanwhile in Treasure Island (the Irish version) contestants are isolated, again on a remote Fijian island (the pilot show was filmed in Tonga) and compete for a cash prize. The format is based on a successful Swedish show called Expedition: Robinson and precedes the American reality show, Survivor. Broadcast on Sunday Nights at 8pm on RTÉ 1 from 15th July to 12th September 2001, it was RTÉ’s and Ireland’s first major Reality TV series. Whittled down from 31,000 applicants to a final of 16 contestants, these were flown to Tonga, where they were split into two teams, one on each side of the island.35 The emergence of reality television as a ubiquitous part of the schedule is, according to most 32

Buchanan draws on an analogy with the West admiring newly freed Eastern countries “discovering” democracy, while Eastern Europe functions for the West as its Ego-Ideal, the point from which the West sees itself in a likeable, idealized form, as worthy of love. The real object of fascination for the West is thus the gaze, namely the supposedly naïve gaze by means of which Eastern Europe stares back at the West, fascinated by its democracy (Buchanan, “Enjoying ‘Reality TV’”). 33 Rob Copsey, “Review of BBC’s Cast Away”, The Guardian, 11 August 2010: 34 There is some presumption that “back to nature” will open up their kids’ minds to nature and to seeing these greater truths. 35 The second series was aired in 2002 with no further series developed subsequently.


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political economy scholars, yet another strategy in the general effort to reduce costs and uncertainty.36 In The Pleasure of the Text,37 Roland Barthes explored how narrative generally whets our desire to know what happens next. In Survivor’s reality game-show, the pleasure of “what happens next” is not, however, based on the cleverness of scriptwriters or the skills of the players evidenced in Cast Away, etc. Even though the pleasure of knowing and guessing the final outcome becomes more intense and feasible as the number of variables decreases, unscripted chance can still intervene and probably explain a central aspect of audience engagement – a trope which cannot be so easily affirmed in fictional texts. The pleasure of the open-text of Survivor, as in other Reality TV formats, is based on its essential unpredictability which, in turn, encourages an active engagement with audiences that is woven into this reality show genre. Many scholars suggest that Survivor and other programmes of this type remain in fact a hybrid of game and adventure, with some drama added into the mix.38 We apparently turn on the television not to watch people starve, so much as “to bask in the reflected warmth of their longing gaze – their unrequited but omnipresent desire for everything we have to hand”. This form of advertising fantasy, feeling pleasure for consumption as if for the first time, perfects the logic of advertising, which also is “constantly trying to achieve for us the rediscovery of our taste, but cannot do so with anything like the efficiency and efficacy of Survivor”. In the imaginary eye of the survivor, “our lounge-room, however crummy it is in reality, instantly feels palatial”.39 We not only can escape to the idealized island but, at the same time, the 36 Reality TV represents three significant changes in the production side of TV: the increasing use of formats as the basis for programme production; the increasing tendency to use TV programmes as the basis for a multimedia exploitation of the creative property, and the increasing strength of European programme suppliers on the US market. 37 Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text, trans. Richard Miller, New York: Hill and Wang, 1975. 38 Mary Beth Haralovich and Michael W. Trosset, “Expect the Unexpected: Narrative Pleasure and Uncertainty Due to Chance in Survivor”, in Reality TV: Remaking Television Culture, eds Laurie Ouellette and Susan Murray, New York: New York University Press, 2004, 2. 39 Buchanan, “Enjoying ‘Reality TV’”.

Shipwrecks and Desert Islands: Ecology and Nature


diegesis of the reality televisual text allows audiences to oscillate between this form of identification with vicarious escape to pristine islands, yet at the same time calls attention to various realities and difficulties involved in such touristic escape. Žižek in particular focuses on our enjoyment of the Other: Do we not find enjoyment precisely in fantasizing about the Other’s enjoyment, in the ambivalent attitude towards it? Do we not obtain satisfaction by means of the very supposition that the Other enjoys in a way inaccessible to us? Does not the Other’s enjoyment exert such a powerful fascination because in it we represent to ourselves our own innermost relationship toward enjoyment?40

Our enjoyment comes from fantasizing that the survivors actually enjoy their deprivations; thus fantasy has strong appeal precisely because we wish we could enjoy our own version of deprivation, namely commodity lust. Žižek’s point is that “this fantasy works precisely because the Other’s enjoyment is our own; the matrix of the game itself, insofar as it hinges on deprivation, represents to us what we feel is the truth of our enjoyment – the enjoyment of lack”.41 Buchanan concludes most forcibly, affirming: “games are supposed to be watched, daily life is not.” Hence, Reality TV programmes most clearly connect on this level of interactive fantasy and help to pose a range of contradictory responses to the ideal of island living. If, as Foucault has so fascinatingly insisted, the cruel horror of the panopticon – witnessed so effectively in The Truman Show – is not the certain knowledge that one is being watched but rather the uncertainty that arises from never knowing if or when one is being watched (an uncertainty which, in Foucault’s view, exacts the cruellest toll on the inmate because it compels him to internalize the gaze), then Survivor reveals that this anxiety is relieved the minute we know we are being watched all the time.42 Reality TV legitimates and normalizes a degree of brutalization that one would prefer to think unthinkable. As shown in this essay, while fiction film remains more prescribed and 40

Slavoj Žižek, Tarrying with the Negative: Kant, Hegel and the Critique of Ideology, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993, 206, quoted in Buchanan, “Enjoying ‘Reality TV’”. 41 Buchanan, “Enjoying ‘Reality TV’”. 42 Ibid.


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predetermined, in the ways both the actors perform their lonely island roles and the audience engage with their troubles, reality television posits a more direct (albeit low-level experience) and most significantly an interactive engagement with the visceral and ontological experience of being on a deserted island. This broad comparative sampling of fictional filmic evocations of islands together with and contrasted by the exponential growth of reality television and its specific evocation of island living demonstrates the range of ideals constructed around the ecology of pristine island habitation evidenced in such texts. While more diegetically pre-conceived fictional narratives remain most provocative in problematizing the idea of getting away from it all and the effects of such perceived ideals of island living, reality television, in spite of its manipulation of audience engagement, can be read as equally reflexive in the way such texts constitute and problematize island living and the nevertheless utopic/heterotopic notions of a pristine space which can enable jaded tourists to discover a new ontological sense of eco-self and a renewed and sustainable future appreciation of community and society.43


An earlier draft of this article, titled “Ecology and Nature: A Case Study of Cast Away”, appeared in the Irish journal Film and Film Culture, II (2003), 109-14.

THE FIGURATION OF THE SHIPWRECK AS POLITICAL COMMENTARY IN HYDRA DECAPITA, AN ESSAY-FILM BY THE OTOLITH GROUP BEATRICE FERRARA This essay discusses the use of the figuration of the shipwreck as political commentary in the 2011 essay-film Hydra Decapita that focuses on the global economic crisis which erupted in 2008. The crisis is here presented as an expression of biopolitics, sustained by discourses of “economic necessity”. The artists present such a perspective by linking contemporary speculative finance to what they consider to be its historical precedent: the Atlantic slave trade. The film thus presents a series of complex resonances between the contemporary wreckage of economy and the shipwreck of slave ships. In contrast to the clichéd realism of the representation of crisis in mainstream media, Hydra Decapita uses the register of science fiction to create such a temporal switchback. By deploying a Cultural Studies-oriented interdisciplinary approach to the artwork, the essay interrogates Hydra Decapita’s conceptual kernel and aesthetic language.

Hydra Decapita (2010) is an essay-film by the British artcollaborative The Otolith Group. In the tradition of the cinematic essay firstly experimented with by film-makers such as Dziga Vertov, Chris Marker and Harun Farocki, Hydra Decapita uses the artistic language of the moving image as a self-reflexive political commentary on the present. Specifically, the artwork is a reflection on the contemporary global economic crisis that erupted in 2008, which the Group considers in its biopolitical consequences. According to The Otolith Group, the current crisis is one of the systemic economic catastrophes pertaining to what they call “disaster capitalism” (“A Sunken Trembling”).1 The quote – drawn from Naomi Klein’s The


The Otolith Group, “A Sunken Trembling Recalled Dimly”,, 16 March 2011 – 18 March 2011: SUNKEN_TREMBLING_PROGRAMME.pdf.


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Shock Doctrine book2 – refers to the capitalist recurring cycle of destruction of the existing economic order and to the ways in which companies profit from actual or virtual disasters. For the Group, the current economic crisis is a quintessential manifestation of the neoliberal link between economy and speculation, in which the ever present virtual threat of bankruptcy, work loss and debt default becomes a shortcut to introduce emergency measures such as cuts, taxations or changes to the labour regulations. These, in turn, are the biopolitical expressions of neo-liberalism: if biopolitics, in Foucault’s definition, is the “power to foster life or disallow it to the point of death”,3 then the uneven way in which these measures affect the population can be seen as biopolitical. However, adhering to the tradition of the essay-film, the political commentary on the current situation is not expressed in a straightforward manner. On the contrary, the temporality of the present is juxtaposed with other temporal lines, which recall the links between present, past and future. Indeed, to add to the film’s original take on the global crisis, the artwork associates the present-day linkage between biopolitics and financial speculation with earlier moments in history. Specifically, Hydra Decapita reverts to the times of slavery during the Atlantic Trade as an important forerunner of contemporary times. By addressing the infamous story of the Zong slave ship, The Otolith Group returns to a time when the insurance system of the human cargo of slave ships – a very early example of economic speculation – often induced ruthless trade companies and ship captains to drown all the slaves on board in the likelihood of a shipwreck, so as to obtain a refund from the insurance companies. In these circumstances, a virtual risk could be used to the slave-trade companies’ advantage, thus obeying an economy- and money-driven impulse to maximize the profits of a few at the expense of others. This link between past and present economy, speculation and biopolitics is expressed in Hydra Decapita through the reiterated use of an allegory – that of the shipwreck, with its aligned figurations of wreckages, maritime tempests and drowning. 2 Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, New York: Picador, 2007. 3 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, New York: Pantheon, 1978, I, 137-38.

Shipwreck as Political Commentary in Hydra Decapita


This article unfolds a critical exploration of the multiple manifestations in the essay-film of the recalls between the global economic wreckage and the shipwrecks in the days of slavery, in order to foster the discussion on the ways in which contemporary and urgent issues may be addressed, reflected upon and tackled by way of images. The Zong affair in Hydra Decapita: linking the present with the past One of the first international presentations of Hydra Decapita was held in March 2011 in Frankfurt (Germany), a city perceived as the symbol of European finance. The Otolith Group was asked to organize and conduct a three-day screening event, in which issues of international relevance would be addressed through the language of the moving-image. The communiqué for the event, entitled “A Sunken Trembling Recalled Dimly”, opens as follows: To live and work … in 2011 is to be exposed to an experience of social, cultural, political, financial, educational, economic, public and aesthetic crisis …. We find ourselves walking, dazed, appalled, exhilarated, through an ideological junkyard, strewn with the discredited rubble of market fundamentalism. Around us lie the shards of business ontology; the wreckage of capitalist realism that has possessed us for thirty years and that destroyed itself in the banking crash of September 2008. [With these films we] will explore different … methods and operations … >that] share the desire to contaminate economic discourse with other modes of thinking.4

These lines graphically sketch the profile of a tormented landscape – a landscape after a hurricane, or a piece of land where the remains of a shipwreck have come ashore. Here, the wrecked remains are all that is left of the 2008 explosion of the economic bubble: the collapse of world economy and the eruption of the crisis of global capitalism, its turbulent fluxes and venture logic – a precursor to a global reassessment of international politics towards austerity and pauperization.


The Otolith Group, “A Sunken Trembling Recalled Dimly”.


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In addition to this, these lines also help the spectator make sense of Hydra Decapita as an artwork specifically referring to the contemporary context. In fact, this film is otherwise particularly elusive and hard to interpret. Indeed, none of the artworks realized by The Otolith Group have so far presented a clearly framed narrative. This is especially true of Hydra Decapita, whose fragmented and multiple narrative lines result in the artwork being particularly cryptic. It consists of a series of juxtaposed images (black and white images of sea waves, marine caves and numerical diagrams) whose coherence must be reconstructed by the spectator. To add to this elusiveness, the film’s soundtrack presents a few lyrical passages interspersed with samples of electronic music, with no apparent connection with each other. In this way, the spectator is summoned to find his/her own key to disclose the artwork’s conceptual nodes, and encouraged to make sense of its core points in a critical way. In the face of this intentionally cryptic construction, to try and retrospectively reconstruct in an essay the motivations of the authors and the aspirations they have invested in the film is a complex procedure. In fact, one faces the risk of betraying the artwork’s methodology: its ambition to pose questions and not to give answers. Nevertheless, a possible way to approach Hydra Decapita is suggested by The Otolith Group itself. The name by which the Group calls the modalities into which its artwork is organized is “constellation”,5 to allude to the lack of linearity of its films. As the Group explains: … once you have a constellation, you can begin to rotate its sides, deemphasizing and foregrounding other aspects, bringing certain elements into relief, dropping other elements out .… Some of the questions posed by the artwork … might be speculatively formulated through reverse engineering any of its points of departure. 6

Following the artists’ suggestion, this essay will focus on a specific element of Hydra Decapita’s constellation: the evocation, in the film, 5

See Gil Leung, “What Form Would That Abstraction Take Now? The Otolith Group in Conversation with Gil Leung”, LUX: Artists’ Moving Image, 2 December 2010: tion-gil-leung-part-1-3. 6 The Otolith Group, “Occluded Oceans, Optical Waters: Notes on The Drexciya Mythos II”, Índex, I (Spring 2011), 20.

Shipwreck as Political Commentary in Hydra Decapita


of a shipwreck. As mentioned earlier, the history of a ship at risk of a wreck – the Zong slaveship in 1781 – is used in the artwork. This specific element allows for an exploration of the ways in which The Otolith Group’s commentary on the present is delivered in the artwork through a temporal dislocation in the past, a dislocation whose fundamental scope is to suggest the persistence, over time, of a speculative and biopolitical economic regime, strongly linked with the development of international capitalism. Through the history of the Zong ship (whose shipwreck never took place in the end), The Otolith Group draws in fact a parallel between the economical justification of slavery in the past and the economic wreckage of our present. The “Zong affair” was an infamous episode of the dark history of the Atlantic Trade. In 1781, the slave ship Zong set sail from the coasts of West Africa towards Jamaica, along the deadly route of the Middle Passage. The ship’s “cargo” – as the slaves on board were defined – totaled 470 slaves, a higher number than what was allowed. Notwithstanding this infraction of the safety regulations, the ship’s cargo was legally insured, as it was customary for every travel of the Trade. According to the insurance terms and conditions, the insurance would refund a ship’s company money for every “piece of the cargo” which was “lost” during a crossing. This, however, did not apply in the case of the death of the “cargo” from natural causes. Instead, it applied if the slaves were killed or thrown into the sea in order to quell an insurrection, or for the sake of the ship. The sea crossing of the Zong was plagued by accidents of every sort: during four months, almost sixty slaves died of thirst and forty more jumped into the sea in total despair. These deaths would not have been refunded by the insurance companies. Finally, one day, while a particularly violent typhoon was approaching and the vessel was at risk of a shipwreck, fearing the death of more slaves from natural causes and the subsequent impossibility of claiming a refund, Captain Luke Collingwood ordered the killing of 130 more. The slaves were legally thrown overboard, as the Captain claimed, in the name of “economic necessity” and “for the sake of security”. Clear references to the Zong slaveship to be found in Hydra Decapita are in the last frame and in the lyrical sections of the soundtrack, called “songover”. The frame is an edited crop from J.M.W. Turner’s 1840 painting “The Slave Ship”, originally entitled


Beatrice Ferrara

“Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying – Typhon coming on”. The songover’s lyrics are drawn from John Ruskin’s book, Modern Painters (1843-1860),7 in which he commended Turner for the ways in which he had used colour to depict the overwhelmingly powerful scene of a slave ship destroyed by a typhoon. In Turner’s painting, used in the film, in the bottom left-hand corner a manacled black leg points to the sky, just before sinking amidst the violence of floods and foam. The leg stays as a dreadful reminder of the horrendous deeds on board the Zong, which Ruskin would have defined as the “guilty ship” (as the songover reminds the viewers). As Iain Chambers points out, Turner’s “The Slave Ship” is a work of art full of fundamental ambiguities.8 In it, Turner aims at representing something the cruelty of which is so unbearable that it comes to be almost removed from the scene: the horror of slavery as a purely economic enterprise. However, this horror still haunts the painting in the use of colours and the layout of the figures: by infringing the pictorial codes of his time, Turner presents the onlookers with the disquieting force of a frenzy of chromatic tones and with the presence of that isolated black leg in the foam.9 Hydra Decapita’s reference to the Atlantic Trade and the throwing overboard of African slaves during the Middle Passage reveals The Otolith Group’s concerns for the link between biopolitical violence and economical measures. Considered together with the communiqué – and thus bringing the old “shipwreck” and the current “wreckage” close to each other – this reference reveals the artists’ intention to trigger a series of affective and conceptual resonances between two temporal lines. One timeline is that of the past, when the regime of economic justification allowed Captain Luke Collingwood to legally kill the slaves of the Zong, in order to make a claim for the loss of cargo. In that case, the dreaded possibility of a shipwreck hastened a ruthless change in the consideration of the slaves – no longer a human 7

John Ruskin, Modern Painters,, 4 September 2009, I: http://www. 8 Iain Chambers, “A Question of History”, in Culture after Humanism: History, Culture, Subjectivity, London and New York: Routledge, 2001, 29-30. 9 For further reading on the post-colonial critical elaboration of the Zong affair, see Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness, London and New York: Verso, 1993, and Marlene NourbeSe Philip, Zong!, Middletown, CT: Wesleyan, 2008.

Shipwreck as Political Commentary in Hydra Decapita


cargo to be gained from but a potentially big monetary loss (thus linking biopolitics with economics). The other timeline is that of the present and of the current financial crisis, when speculative systems of rating have actual severe consequences on people’s ordinary lives, and “emergency measures” imposed by regimes of “economic necessity” violently introduce a generalized strategy of impoverishment and austerity on the majority of the world’s population through the spectre of the global crisis.10 In both cases, it is the dreaded and impending threat of a drowning – the shipwreck of the Zong, as well as the wreckage of the national economies in Europe – which constitutes the core of a regime of justification that allows for the application of new forms of biopolitical violence. The allegory of the shipwreck as conceptual representation of a continuity between past and present economics and biopolitics is also sustained by a clear reference made by The Otolith Group during a 2010 interview with Gil Leung. The artists credit Ian Baucom’s 2005 book, Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery and the Philosophy of History,11 as one of the main inspirations for Hydra Decapita. In his study, Baucom has claimed that the extremely abstract character of today’s global financial capital was the intensification of the system first tested during the slave trade through the system of credits, insurance and refunds of which the Zong affair is the most infamous episode. The spectres Baucom’s title evokes are in fact not confined to the past. On the contrary, they powerfully echo contemporary scenarios of crisis and migration: the Mediterranean as the new tomb for the victims of the cyclic and systemic crisis of capitalism. Thus, as The Otolith Group maintains in “A Sunken Trembling”, the evocation of the Zong massacre to tackle the current times is a way “to summon up a series of specters of capital in order to convene a séance that evokes contemporary economic abstraction”.12


See Andrea Fumagalli and Stefano Lucarelli, “Introduzione”, in Dall’euforia al panico: Pensare la crisi finanziaria e altri saggi, André Orléan, Verona: Ombre corte, 2010, 7-28. 11 Ian Baucom, Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005. 12 The Otolith Group, “A Sunken Trembling Recalled Dimly”.


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It is therefore clear that, for The Otolith Group, at the core of the artwork’s motivations, lies the idea that the past is not the container of solidified memories. On the contrary, it is constantly transformed and transfigured by that dreadful future that disaster capitalism projects onto the present, with its system of servitude and credit whose aim is to “convert futures in finance” for the sake of market fundamentalism and “in order to put bodies to death”.13 The film’s (dis)contents: “the right to opacity” in Hydra Decapita The temporal displacement presented in the artwork provides a commentary on both the current crisis and the ways in which it is addressed in the media. In fact, the relation between the film’s conceptual core and the very cryptic ways in which it is rendered on screen through obscure images and montage is one of the most striking features of this essay-film. Hydra Decapita is indeed a disorienting artwork – an essay-film that seems to have been realized so as to defy comprehension. The closer one gets to it in order to decipher it, the more its meaning seems to recede. The more the spectators look into it seeking signs they might recognize, the more it stares back at them like from an irreducibly other dimension. At first, spectators are attracted by the intimacy of the film’s monochrome images and by the soft character of its soundtrack; soon, the fragmented nature of the whole becomes apparent. The more the series of images unfolds and the consistency of the soundtrack grows, the more the spectators find themselves uneasy, as if incarcerated in a world which feels familiar yet proves to be puzzling, alien and hostile. The final scene – an explosion of colour, as if an untamed chromatic force had finally been released from captivity – strikes the eyes as a sort of optical fata Morgana. The sea – at the centre of the artwork’s monochrome images and evoked in its audio track – is the real protagonist of the film. Two series of sea images alternate in non-sequential order throughout Hydra Decapita. One is the series of images of sea waves: highcontrast close-up shots of the sea, taken at different degrees of light with a variety of camera apertures. The other is the series of images of


The Otolith Group, “Occluded Oceans”, 23.

Shipwreck as Political Commentary in Hydra Decapita


marine caves, with their very graphic black and white: lonely white holes in the middle of a black nothingness. The images of waves and caves are interspersed with two more series of images made respectively of numbers and text lines. Sounds here go from the minimal and understated electronic punctuation, to the buzzing recordings of number stations. When the numbers appear, they look very alive as they move frantically on the screen, as they twist and morph, stretch and fold and finally lose their definition and become more and more similar to abstract white lines on black. In between these three cryptic series of images, the fourth one – the lines of text – seems oddly placed: luminescent blue words appear on the black screen, and strike the spectator as being something recognizable in the midst of so many disorienting signs. The way the text forms on screen – character by character, as when writing on a computer screen – makes it look as if it were a message directly addressed to the spectator, transmitted almost live from somewhere in between the marine world on screen and the spectator’s world. The entity writing the sentences on screen calls herself Novaja Zemlya. Her text – she declares – comes to our present from some moment in the future. Terrifically melancholic and mysterious, the text registers Novaja Zemlya’s shock: while working as an archivist on the history of our past and present, she has encountered the traces of “an ancient death”. She is referring to the pregnant slave women thrown overboard by slave traders, and the black slaves thrown overboard while a storm is approaching: “unfortunate victims of the human greed” buried in the liquid cemetery of the Atlantic. While the spectator is just beginning to understand, Novaja Zemlya lines choke on themselves: the text disappears. A flash. Then, the screen turns into an explosion of colour. Flashing – flashing – flashing – orange, yellow, blue and grey. The image of Turner’s “The Slave Ship” appears on screen – then disappears – then appears again. Fragments of the painting which John Ruskin had to sell – finding it too painful a depiction, and unbearable to live with – emerge from Hydra Decapita. Then, they sink again and forever, into the abyssal black of the screen. In the previous section of this essay, the temporal dislocation of Hydra Decapita has been discussed in relation to the intermingling of the temporal dimensions of past and present. However, as the opening paragraphs of this section make clear, such a dislocation is also to be


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understood as a mixing of the dimensions of present and future. In fact, with Novaja Zemlya’s texts, Hydra Decapita’s reference to the Middle Passage assumes the characteristics of a science-fiction story. This strongly relates the artwork to the conceptual frame of Afrofuturism – a cultural sensibility and cybercultural movement theorized in the early Nineties and focused on the relation between science fiction, technology and the black diaspora.14 Afrofuturism employs the register of science fiction as a way to express a discontent for the usual content of the media representation of black diasporic cultures. According to Kodwo Eshun, … the field of Afrofuturism does not seek to deny the tradition of countermemory. Rather, it aims to extend that tradition by reorienting the intercultural vectors of the Black Atlantic temporality towards the proleptic as much as the retrospective. It is clear that power now operates predictively as much as retrospectively. Capital continues to function through the dissimulation of the imperial archive …. Today, however, power also functions through the envisioning, management, and delivery of reliable futures .… Information about the future circulates as an increasingly important commodity. [Black] social reality is overdetermined by intimidating global scenarios, doomsday economic projections … all of which … command us to bury our heads in our hands, to groan with sadness. 15

In Hydra Decapita, the discontent at media representations and the future-oriented dystopian character which animated Afrofuturism is extended to the global scenario of financial crisis. Indeed, speculation – in the sense of “information about the future” is a key aspect of the current crisis. As many commentators have observed, the fact that the present crisis is unfolding day by day in the very abstract realm of finance and speculation, virtual capital and numerical indexing, raises the question of how to represent the link between this abstract realm and the very tangible biopolitical terrain on which its affects and 14

See Beatrice Ferrara, “‘My Measurement of Race is Rate of Vibration.’ Afrofuturism and the ‘Molecularization’ of Race”, darkmatter journal, IX/2 (November 2012):“my-measurementof-race-is-rate-of-vibration”-afrofuturism-and-the-‘molecularization’-of-race. 15 Kodwo Eshun, “Further Considerations on Afrofuturism”, CR The New Centennial Review, III/2 (2003), 288-91. See also Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant Than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction, London: Quartet, 1994.

Shipwreck as Political Commentary in Hydra Decapita


effects operate.16 In particular, theorists Nina Power and Michael Sayeau sceptically comment on the large number of narratives of the crisis, in which its consequences are addressed through images of personal tragedies – like those of someone who has lost his/her work.17 Is it possible, they ask, that these intensely individual and realistic images, which trigger the viewer’s empathy with the victim, may indeed miss the point? Do they not allow the most important aspect – the necessity to insist on the role of speculation and abstraction in neoliberal power – to go unnoticed? Would a language as speculative and abstract as that of contemporary power – but employed for an entirely different agenda – be more useful to address the affective character of the crisis? And if so, where can such a language be found? Deeply influenced by these arguments, The Otolith Group’s Hydra Decapita is indeed an attempt at experimenting with the dissatisfaction with the representations of crisis currently available, which is carried out through a detour into the terrains of both countermemory and science fiction. As the Group states, this is a way to adhere to what the Caribbean author Édouard Glissant has called a strategy of “opacity”.18 “Opacity”, a particular modality of representation that creates a condition of intimacy which defies identification, is the refusal to represent the unrepresented. This effect is often obtained through the evocation of a sense of familiarity, which is in fact disorienting and does not satisfy the appetite for transparency. “Opacity” defies the shared codes of representation and opens up a possibility to overcome the discontent with clichéd images. The very strong political concern at the heart of Hydra Decapita relates to the link between economy and biopolitics, as embedded by the artists within an obscure conceptual artistic architecture. 16

See David Adler, “Abstract Art. How Are Artists Visualizing the Financial Crisis?”, frieze, CXLVI (April 2012): See also Jeff Kinkle and Alberto Toscano, “Filming the Crisis: A Survey”, Film Quarterly, LXV/1 (2011), 39-51. 17 See Nina Power and Michael Sayeau, “Show Me the Money: How Do We Visualize the Economic Crisis?”, frieze, CXXVI (October 2009): http://www. 18 Édouard Glissant, Caribbean Discourse, Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 1992, 133, 256. Referred to in The Otolith Group, “Occluded Oceans”, 20-22.


Beatrice Ferrara

Nevertheless, as argued here, a navigation compass through Hydra Decapita can be found by connecting the hints disseminated in the artwork and represented by the more or less plain references to the figuration of the shipwreck. From the evocation of Turner’s painting “The Slave Ship”, through the influence of Ian Baucom’s study Specters of the Atlantic, to the reference to the sonic mythology of Afrofuturism and its retellings of the Middle Passage, this essay-film brings together past, present and future shipwrecks and wreckages to address very cogent themes. In doing so, the artwork also suggests the urgency not to fall prey to the appetite for transparency, which often accompanies mainstream narrations of the current crisis.


Volkmar Billig received his PhD from the Department of Cultural Studies of Humboldt-Universität, Berlin, in 2002. His dissertation explored conceptions of islands and their modern fascination. He has acted as curator of exhibitions, leader of scientific projects, editor of publications, and member of the research staff of the Federal Art Collections Dresden. His publications focus on insular subjects and on the phenomena of self and identity. His monograph Inseln: Geschichte einer Faszination (Islands: History of a Fascination) was published in 2010. He currently lives and works in Berlin. Maria Błaszkiewicz completed her PhD thesis entitled Behold the King! Kingship and Epic Heroism in the Literary Works of J.R.R.Tolkien, in 2003. Her interests include a diachronic study of the epic with occasional excursions into the field of the fantastic. She is currently working on a book about epic vicissitudes in the first half of the eighteenth century as expressed in the libretti of Handel’s oratorios. She teaches English-language literatures of Britain and Ireland at the Institute of English Studies of Warsaw University, Poland. Pat Brereton is Associate Professor and Head of the School of Communications at Dublin City University. His books include Hollywood Utopia: Ecology in Contemporary American Cinema (2005), a Historical Dictionary of Irish Cinema (2007, with Roddy Flynn) and the most recent, Smart Cinema, DVD Add-Ons and New Audience Pleasures (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). He has published extensively in the broad area of ecology and cinema and is committed to promoting ecological agendas through his academic work.


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Sara K. Day is Assistant Professor of English at Southern Arkansas University, where she teaches courses in young adult literature, methods and materials of teaching English on the secondary level, composition and world literature. She is the author of Reading Like a Girl: Narrative Intimacy in Contemporary American Young Adult Literature (University Press of Mississippi, 2013) and co-editor of Female Rebellion in Young Adult Dystopian Fiction (Ashgate, 2014), as well as associate editor of the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly. Beatrice Ferrara (PhD) is Affiliated Fellow at the ICI Kulturlabor, Berlin. Her research interests include sonic- and cyber-cultures of the black diaspora, theories of affect and post-representation through images and sounds, and media theory from a post-colonial perspective. In 2012-14, she was Appointed Researcher and Project Assistant within the EU Project “MeLa* – European Museums in an Age of Migrations” (FP7) at the Università degli Studi di Napoli “L’Orientale”, and edited the related volume, Cultural Memory, Migrating Modernities and Museum Practices (, 2012). Barbara Freitag holds a PhD in English Literature from Hamburg University. She was Lecturer in Intercultural Studies, and specifically in Imagology, at Dublin City University from 1981 to 2007. Her research and publications are primarily in the area of modern Irish fiction. She is the author of Sheela-na-gigs: Unravelling an Enigma (2004). Her latest book entitled Hy Brasil: The Metamorphosis of an Island. From Cartographic Error to Celtic Elysium was published by Rodopi in 2013. Patricia García (PhD) is Assistant Professor at the School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies at the University of Nottingham (UK). Her research is mainly in contemporary Peninsular Spanish short fiction, comparative history of the Fantastic, and postmodern human geography and literature. She is a member of the Research Group on the Fantastic of the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona and of the editorial board of the academic journal Brumal:

Notes on Contributors


Research Journal on the Fantastic. Her publications include articles on the issue of space in the postmodern Fantastic (with a book to be published by Routledge in 2015). Samiah Haque studied English and Translation at Effat University, Saudi Arabia. Her research interests include Feminist Theory and Children’s Literature. She is currently writing her dissertation on psychoanalytic interpretations of eating disorders in Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman in relation to the Kristevian theory of abjection and the Freudian concept of the death drive. Amy Hicks is currently a doctoral student at Illinois State University where she also teaches children’s literature and composition courses. Her dissertation focuses on the intersections of spatial and feminist theory perspectives in girls’ Robinsonades. Michael Hinds is Head of English at the Mater Dei Institute, Dublin, where he co-ordinates The Irish Centre for Poetry Studies. He took his doctorate at Trinity College Dublin, and lectured at The University of Tokyo. His research interests are American Poetry, The American Poetry Book, Ekphrasis, poetic representations of Italy, Classical Influences on Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, Rock Music, and sport literature. He is currently putting together the Poetry Studies International, a new web network of Poetry Scholars worldwide. David Garrett Izzo is an Emeritus Professor of English. He has published seventeen books and sixty essays of literary scholarship, as well as three novels, three plays, two short stories, and eighteen poems. He has published extensively on the Perennial Spiritual Philosophy of Mysticism (Vedanta) as applied to literature. He is inspired by Aldous Huxley, Bruce Springsteen, his wife Carol and their five cats. Two of his novels are fantasies with cats as characters: Maximus in Catland and Purring Heights. His latest book is Movies in the Age of Obama.


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Brigitte Le Juez is Senior Lecturer in Comparative Literature at Dublin City University. She took her doctorate at the Université de Paris IV-Sorbonne (France). Her publication and research interests include the literary relations between France and Ireland, Reception studies, Adaptation, Geocriticism, as well as Imagology and Myth criticism. She is the President of the Comparative Literature Association of Ireland, and is currently organizing the next European Network for Comparative Literary Studies congress on the themes of “Longing and Belonging” (Dublin and Galway, 2015). Gerald Naughton received his PhD in American Literature from University College Dublin. He is an Associate Member of the Humanities Institute of Ireland, UCD, and he currently lives and works in the Middle East. His work to date has focused on transnational and comparative perspectives on American Literature. Barra Ó Seaghdha has contributed essays, interviews and reviews in the fields of poetry, politics, cultural history and music to a wide variety of publications, from Reinventing Ireland (Pluto Press, 2001) and Graph, to the Dublin Review of Books ( and Music & Literature (No. 4). Having worked in the EFL sector for many years, he is currently researching the socio-cultural history of classical music in Ireland at Dublin City University. An essay relating to this work features in Ireland, West to East: Irish Cultural Connections with Central and Eastern Europe (Peter Lang, 2014). Shiela Pardee is a semi-retired independent scholar living in Oregon in the Pacific Northwest United States. Her research interests include nineteenth- and twentieth-century fiction and anthropology. Her current project is a book about anthropology in the novels of Kurt Vonnegut. Yulia Pushkarevskaya Naughton received her PhD in English Literature from University College Dublin. Her publications include essays on Irish Literature, Comparative Literature, and cross-cultural pedagogy; these are informed by continental philosophy (Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault), Mikhail Bakhtin’s theory, and

Notes on Contributors


Kristevian/Lacanian/Žižekian psychoanalysis. She is an Associate Member of the Humanities Institute of Ireland, UCD, and she currently lives and works in the Middle East. Olga Springer worked as DAAD-Lektorin at Dublin City University from 2010 to 2012. She holds degrees in English Literature, Comparative Literature and Historical and Cultural Anthropology from the University of Tübingen, Germany. She is currently completing her doctoral thesis on ambiguity in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette. Phillip Stevenson is Lecturer in English at Beijing Normal University, Zhuhai, China. His research interests include the Imperial Romance, concepts of “islandness” in colonial and postcolonial literature, and literary representations of the intersection between European and Japanese colonialism. Dyani Johns Taff is a graduate student in the English Department at the University of California, Davis. Her research interests include translation theory, figures of ships and shipwrecks, early modern British, Spanish and Atlantic literature, biblical re/interpretations, and narratives of transformation and creation. She is nearing completion of her dissertation, Contested Vessels: Gender and the Maritime in Early Modern Texts. Shawn Thomson is an Associate Professor at the University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley. He is the author of The Romantic Architecture of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (2001) and The Fortress of American Solitude: Robinson Crusoe and Antebellum Culture (2009). Sandra Vlasta teaches at the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Mainz, Germany. She previously was a lecturer at the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of Vienna, from which she holds her PhD in Comparative Literature. Her current research interests are: literature in the context of migration, travel


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literature and travelogues, postcolonial literature and theory. She is currently involved in a research project entitled “Literature on the Move” at the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna. Robert J. Vrtis studied acting and directing theory at the University of Oregon. There he earned his PhD in Theatre Arts after completing his dissertation: Plague and Mirror: Metaphors of Emotional Transfer and Their Effect on the Actor-Audience Relationship in Theatre. Currently, he teaches classes in Acting, Shakespeare, Clown, and Directing at Luther College, Iowa. Heather H. Yeung completed an AHRC-funded doctorate in contemporary poetry and poetics at the University of Durham, where she also taught modern and contemporary literature, and poetry and poetics from the seventeenth century to the present. Since then, she has worked for the W.A.L.K. research group at the University of Sunderland, the Memory Network at the University of Roehampton, and most recently has been a part of the Studio Alec Finlay WW1 remembrance project, “there were our own / there were the others” for the National Trust (UK). Her monograph Spatial Engagement with Poetry is forthcoming from Palgrave Macmillan in 2015.


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Adorno, Theodor, 61-63, 7071, 73, 82 adventure, 6, 9, 18, 20, 47-51, 55, 59, 85-86, 90, 193, 20711, 213-14, 216, 218, 298, 300 Afrofuturism, 312, 314 agency, 9, 62, 90, 154, 160, 165, 192-93, 202-204, 208, 210, 242, 244, 285, 289, 296-97 Ali, Monica, 10, 233-34, 23940, 242-44, 246; Work: Brick Lane, 10, 233-34, 239, 242 archetype, 19, 57, 208 artifice, 29, 221, 223-24, 227 Attali, Jacques, 62, 72-75 Bacon, Sir Francis, 22-23 Barron, Steve, dir., Treasure Island, 11-12, 281-82, 29194, 296, 298-99 Baucom, Ian, 309, 314 Baudrillard, Jean, 33, 297 Bax, Arnold, 9, 174-75 The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds, 4, 6, 61, 73-74, 76-80 biopolitics, 303-304, 309, 313 Bougainville, Louis-Antoine de, 27

Boyle, Danny, dir., The Beach, 11-12, 281-82, 284-85, 28791, 299 Bray, Libba, 9, 191-92, 194, 198-99, 201-202, 204-205; Work: Beauty Queens, 9, 191-92, 194-95, 198-200, 202, 204 Briggs, Stephen (see Pratchett, Terry), 274 BBC Radio 4, Desert Island Discs, 6, 61, 63, 67-68, 7071, 299 Broyles, William, 284, 291 Butler, Judith, 9, 191, 195-96 Byron, Lord George Gordon, 85, 87-88, 90 Campanella, Tommaso, 4, 1718, 21-23; Work: The City of the Sun, 4, 17-18, 21-23, 118 capitalism, 56, 64-65, 67, 102, 109, 294, 303-305; capitalist environment, 288; greed, 114; machine, 294; realism, 305; recurring cycle of destruction, 304; society, 7; venture, 54 Casement, Roger, 181


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castaway, 10, 12, 63, 65, 68, 73, 104, 193-94, 207, 21112, 215-16, 218, 221-25, 227, 229-30, 240, 268, 27576, 283-84, 286, 289-90, 299; as self-made man, 10; as stranded character, 25, 191-93, 197, 256; as survivor, 66, 191, 193-94, 198, 200, 202, 204, 252, 256, 261, 270, 301; as socially rejected woman, 223 cave, 24, 51, 87-88, 90-96, 212-14, 226, 278-79, 297, 306, 311 Celtic culture, 7-8, 90, 123, 132, 134 175 Césaire, Aimé, 2 Coates, Eric, “By the Sleepy Lagoon”, 70 Collins, Suzanne, 193; Work: Hunger Games, 193 conscience, 56, 158-59, 161 Coppola, Francis Ford, dir., Apocalypse Now, 285, 28788 Cook, James, 27 creation, 18-20, 25, 30, 48, 64, 115, 207, 212, 254 crisis, 11-12, 56, 75, 217, 25253, 264, 269, 277, 285, 303305, 309-10, 312-14 Darwin, Charles, 11, 24, 59, 253-54, 257-58, 260, 26465, 298 David, Larry, Curb Your Enthusiasm, 66-67

da Vinci, Leonardo, 4, 20 Defoe, Daniel, 2, 17, 25, 2729, 104, 192-93, 282; Work: Robinson Crusoe, 10, 12, 25, 51, 64, 104, 19294, 207-208, 221-22, 22425, 228, 231, 281-83, 287, 289, 293; Robinsonade, 5, 61, 64, 66-67, 71, 207, 210, 219 De Jarnatt, Steve (with D.J. MacHale and Tim O’Donnell) dir., Flight 29 Down, 193 Deleuze, Gilles, 7, 40-41, 102 Derrida, Jacques, 33, 35, 3738, 72 Descartes, René, 18, 21, 2324, 26, 29, 86-87 desire, 5, 17-18, 24, 27-28, 31, 33, 39-46, 48, 56, 62, 77, 115-16, 126, 136, 138, 141, 143, 151, 161, 167, 177, 196, 198-99, 201-204, 209, 212, 216-17, 223, 226, 234, 282, 287, 290, 300, 305 Doležel, Lubomír, 7, 101, 104 Donne, John, 18, 22 Dumas, Alexandre, 5, 33, 35, 44-46; Work: The Count of Monte Cristo, 5, 33, 35, 4446 Duras, Marguerite, 5, 33, 35, 42-44, 46; Work: India Song, 5, 33, 35, 42 Elphinstone, Margaret, 134; Work: Hy Brasil, 134

Index emotions, 8, 80, 135-50, 153, 212, 217, 222-23, 226-27, 286, 291, 295 escape, 1, 28, 37, 45, 53, 10912, 170, 193, 201, 205, 251, 284, 288, 291-92, 297, 299301 exile, 80, 96, 177, 180, 224 exploration, 3, 5, 7, 9, 42, 51, 60-61, 74, 87, 110, 127-28, 242, 281, 288, 305, 307 Fantastic (genre), 19, 98, 105106, 264 fantasy, 17, 20, 26, 30, 51, 65, 67, 70-71, 82, 140, 224, 226, 273-74, 298, 300-301 femininity, 9, 164, 191-92, 196-200, 203-204, 207-208, 210; girlhood, 207-209, 211, 218-19; New Girl, 910, 207-11, 214-15, 217-18; virgin/whore dichotomy, 202-203; womanhood, 19192, 199, 202, 204, 208, 218 Fernández Cubas, Cristina, 7, 97-99, 100, 102, 107; Work: “The Light-house”, 7, 99-107 (see Poe, Edgar Allan) financial crisis, 12, 253, 309, 321-13 Fingal’s Cave, 6, 87-88, 90-96 fool, 1, 133-34, 138, 140-41, 143, 155-56, 170, 255-56 Foucault, Michel, 9, 93, 96, 191, 195-97, 301, 304 founder effect, 11, 249, 260-61

345 Gadamer, Hans Georg, 92 Garland, Alex, The Beach, 284, 287 Gauguin, Paul, 6, 18 gender, 9, 10, 40, 48, 54, 151, 191-93, 195-96, 198-200, 203-205, 209-10, 212-15; beauty pageant, 9, 192, 197, 199, 202; feminism, 195-99; genetic drift, 11, 249, 26061; performativity, 195, 203 Glissant, Édouard, 313 Golding, William, 1, 193-94; Work: The Lord of the Flies, 2, 193-94, 289 Gould, Stephen Jay, 257, 260 Gracián, Baltasar, 23-25, 29; Work: El Criticón, 23-24 Griffin, Gerald, 132-34; Work: “Hy Brasail, the Isle of the Blest”, 131-32 Guattari, Felix, 7, 102 (see Deleuze, Gilles) Head, Richard, 127-28; Work: The Western Wonder: or, O Brazeel, an Inchanted Island Discovered; with a Relation of Two Shipwracks in a Dreadful Seastorm in that Discovery, 127 Heinse, Wilhem, Ardinghello and the Fortunate Islands, 31 Henry, Paul, 9, 176 heroism, 73, 169, 221, 224, 288 Hogg, William, The History of


Storms on Islands

the Inchanted-Island of O’Brazile, 128-29 home, 9-10, 74, 88, 139, 172, 176, 180, 207-208, 210-17, 219, 225, 227, 229-30, 23435, 237, 259, 268 Homer, 19, 113, 176-77; Work: Odyssey, 19-20, 26, 31 Horace, 22, 314, 370 Huxley, Aldous, 3, 7, 109-16, 119; Work: Island, 109-19 identity, 5, 9, 46, 48, 50, 53, 55-56, 59, 61, 123, 129-30, 138, 150, 154, 158, 196, 201, 225, 242, 273, 282 ideology, 176, 210-12, 218, 267, 283, 287-88, 294, 301, 305 individualism, 10, 140, 144, 221, 224-25, 228, 231 island, and cosmological desire, 40; and the creative act, 6, 29-30; and ecology, 118, 281, 288-90, 302; and emancipation, 10, 233-34, 242-46; and evolution, 11, 112, 249-52, 254, 257-58, 260-61, 263-65; and the exotic space, 47, 73, 163, 172, 174, 187, 210, 275, 278, 281-82, 285-90; and imagination, 6-7, 17, 19, 21, 29-30, 33, 85-86, 90, 96, 115, 134, 171, 186, 250, 294; and mystical philosophy, 7, 111; and shifting

multiplicity, 7, 85, 89; and subjectivity, 3, 23, 37, 40, 43-44, 308; as aesthetic concept, 6, 83; as chora, 45, 33-41, 44-46; as chronotope, 233; as confinement, 10, 101, 104, 106, 214, 217, 234; as egocentred space, 7, 97, 99-101; as inspiration, 4, 17-18, 90, 160, 178, 194; as interpretative figure, 10, 233-34; as Irish Elysium, 8, 134; as laboratory, 6, 10, 75, 86, 218, 249-50; as liminality, 6, 41, 86, 92, 94, 96, 200; as loss of reference, 106; as metaphor of human existence, 1, 12; as oneperson world (see Doležel, Lubomír), 104-106; as paradise, 1, 21, 26-27, 114, 12930, 133-34, 152, 192, 28485, 290; as place for renewal, 33-35, 46; as symbolic landscape, 4, 17; as utopian setting (see Huxley, Aldous), 7, 111, 113, 287; baroque, 20-21, 23; desert, 6, 910, 28, 34, 40, 43, 55, 61, 63, 67-68, 70-72, 74-75, 82, 191, 193-94, 208, 210, 222, 224, 230, 275, 281, 283, 287-89, 291, 299; fascination with, 2, 6, 11, 27, 2930, 299; floating, 8, 93, 139; I-land, 4-5, 17-18, 23, 2527, 31; in postcolonial fiction, 2, 10, 233-34, 245-46;

Index of truth (see Kant, Immanuel), 26; of unification, 2627, 31, 129; Solis insula, or sun island, 19, 21-22, 24; tourism, 29-30, 87, 90, 9293, 185, 187; utopia, 7, 2022, 27, 31, 33, 72, 109, 111, 114, 287, 289-90, 298; vs mainland, 3, 6, 37, 103, 130, 208, 211, 213, 216, 284, 299 Islands, Achill Island, 6; Alcatraz, 194; Atlantis, 22, 26, 125, 278; Barbados, 208; Blasket Islands, 172, 17477, 179-80, 182-83, 186-87; Brasil Island, or Hy Brasil, 7, 123-32; British Isles, 22, 87, 123; The Caribbean, 233, 235-36, 238-39, 24446; Fiji Islands, 291; Gadire, 162; Galápagos Islands, 11, 249-54, 257-58, 264, 298; Great Britain, 911, 233-35, 238, 244, 26769, 272-73, 276; The Hebrides (see Fingal’s Cave), 67, 85-87, 91, 93-96; Île de St-Pierre (St Peter’s Island), 27; Iona, 91; Ionian Isles, 162; Ireland, 8-9, 123-25, 130, 132, 134, 171-72, 17477, 179-80, 183-85, 187, 209; Island of If, 44; Jamaica, 234, 236-37, 239, 244, 307; Javan, 162; Mothering Sunday Islands, 268, 276;

347 Nation, or “The Island Where the Sun Is Born”, 11, 27679; Rogation Sunday Islands, 268-69; Santa Rosalia, 251, 256, 259, 26165; Skeleton Island, 51, 57; Skellig Islands, 179; St Helena, 24; Staffa, 6, 86-91, 93, 95-96; Sun Island, 19, 21, 24; Tahiti, 6, 17, 27, 29, 110 isolation, 65, 68-71, 73-74, 82, 100-102, 104-105, 119, 180, 182, 193-94, 221, 223, 22627, 281-82, 289, 293 journey, 12, 28, 37-38, 48, 54, 70, 87, 100, 126, 171, 17879, 181, 185-87, 235, 238, 243, 251, 283, 285-86, 291 Joy Division ,“Isolation”, 73 Kahlo, Frida, 5, 33, 35, 43-44, 46; Work: What the Water Gave Me, 5, 33, 35, 43 Kant, Immanuel, 26-27, 31, 169 Keats, John, 6, 85, 87, 90, 96 Kristeva, Julia, 34-35, 38-39, 41-42, 44-45 Lacan, Jacques, 33, 39 Levy, Andrea, 10, 233-36, 239, 244-46; Work: Small Island, 10, 233-36, 239, 244 Lindelof, Damon, et al., dir., Lost, 192-94, 284


Storms on Islands

MacPherson, James, 86, 91, 93-94, 175; Work: “Ossian”, 86, 91, 93, 175 Magellan, Ferdinand, 20 The Magnetic Fields, “Desert Island”, 61, 72 maps, 7, 9, 11, 36, 123-27, 131, 185, 274-75, 279 maritime metaphor, 2, 51-52, 157; quest, 47, 56-57, 60 Marx, Karl, 64-65, 67, 72 masculinity, 196, 207, 292 Meade, L.T., 9, 207-10, 21415, 218; Work: Four on an Island, 9, 207-208, 210, 212, 217-19 Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Felix, 6, 85, 88, 90, 93-96; Work: Die Hebriden (see The Hebrides under Islands), 93-96 migration, 171, 177, 182-83, 185, 233-34, 246, 261, 309 Milton, John, 8, 90, 151-54, 157-58, 160-63, 165-70; Work: Samson Agonistes, 8, 151-58, 160-64, 166-67, 169-70 misfortune, 222, 231, 276 Mitchell, Mike, dir., Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, 61, 63 More, Thomas, 20 mutiny, 5, 47, 56-59 mysticism, 109, 111, 115-16 myth, 2-5, 17-20, 24-26, 3031, 61, 63, 66-67, 72, 105, 132, 134, 138, 174, 194,

249, 254, 264, 278, 283, 306, 314 natural selection, 11, 250, 257, 259, 261, 263, 265 nautical charts, 123-26, 13031, 274-75 navigation, 123, 146, 154, 161, 169, 193-94, 254, 276, 290, 314 Neville, Henry, Isle of Pines, 128 Noah’s Ark, 253-54 nostalgia, 17, 27, 30-31, 236 O’Dell, Scott, 224; Work: Island of the Blue Dolphins, 193 opacity, 12, 310, 313 Ó Ríordáin, Seán, 178, 18587; Work: “Fill Arís”, 18586 Osbourne, Lloyd (see Stevenson, Robert Louis, under The Wrecker) 5, 47, 54-55, 58 The Otolith Group, 10, 12, 303-10, 313; Work: Hydra Decapita, 12, 303-14 Parsons, Charlie, Survivor, 194, 299-301, 333 Paul, Jean, Hesperus, 31 Petronius, Satyricon, 24 Phillips, Caryl, 10, 233-39, 244-46; Work: The Final Passage, 10, 233-37, 242, 244-45

Index pirates, 49, 56, 192, 203 The Pixies, “Isla de Encanta”, 61, 72 Plato, 19, 21, 24, 26, 35, 38, 103, 273, 297 Plutarch, 271 Poe, Edgar Allan, 97-99, 101; Work: “The Lighthouse”, 97, 106-107 The Police, “Message in a Bottle”, 63, 73 power, 1, 18-21, 23, 26, 30, 42, 50, 53, 71, 75, 78, 8182, 113, 128, 140, 142, 149, 171, 176, 180-81, 184, 187, 192, 194-95, 198, 210, 214215, 222, 224-26, 231, 24950, 262, 268-69, 275, 292, 304, 312-13 Pratchett, Terry, 10-11, 26768, 270-71, 273-74, 279; Work: Nation, 11, 267-80 punctuated equilibrium, 249, 260 refuge, 55, 57, 68, 72, 216, 225, 253 reversal, 5, 11, 180, 229, 263, 267-68, 270-72, 274, 27678 Roeg, Nicolas, dir., Castaway, 289 Romance (genre), 5, 47-49, 52, 57, 59-60, 131 Romanticism, 6, 25, 27, 29, 31, 33, 48, 50, 56, 65, 85, 98, 100-101, 134, 171, 284, 287, 295

349 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 1718, 25, 27-30; Works: Confessions, 27-29; Julie, or the New Heloise, 28; Reveries of a Solitary Walker, 29 ruin, 88, 187, 223, 227-9 Ruskin, John, 308, 311 Ryrie Brink, Baby Island, 193 Saramago, José, 4-5, 33-38, 46; Work: The Tale of the Unknown Island, 4-5, 33-37 Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph, 26-27, 30 Schwarzkopf, Elizabeth, 69 Scott, Sir , Walter, 6, 85-92, 95-96; Work: The Lord of the Isles, 6, 88 seafarers, 7, 123, 126-27, 159, 249 self, -assertion, 27-28, 75; containment, 175, 225-26; consciousness, 179, 193; construction, 24; -determination, 242-45; -discovery, 204; -empowerment, 275; fashioning, 68, 72, 78; governance, 137; inner, 7, 25, 31, 100, 109-10, 223; insular, 4-5, 17-18, 20, 22, 24, 26, 34; -knowledge, 3, 9, 44; -love, 140, 147, 149; -made man, 10, 222, 228; mapping, 69; -obsessed Robinson, 6, 61, 70; -realization, 75, 77; -recognition, 4; -reflecting, 24; -reinvention,


Storms on Islands

55; -reliance, 29, 222; sacrifice, 183, 225-26; sense of, 2, 40, 150; solitary, 4, 17, 29-31, 70, 149, 230 sexuality, 40, 196, 202-203, 304 Shakespeare, William, 2, 4, 8, 17-18, 22-23, 109, 135-39, 141, 145-50, 153, 161, 187; Works: The Tempest, 2, 4, 7, 17-18, 22-23, 109, 121, 135; Twelfth Night, 8, 135, 137-39, 143, 146-48 ship, abandoned, 215; Armada, 178; as catalyst, 137; as locus of potentiality, 38; as symbol, 1; drifting, 52; drunken, 1; looted, 251; luxury cruise, 253; metaphor for recycling, 293; named as island, 38-39, 46; of fools, 1, 255; of life, 1; of state, 270, 272-74; of the soul, 1, 8, 156, 159, 161; war, 164, 179; Zong (slave ship), 12, 304-309 shipwreck, allegory, 12, 159, 255, 270, 273-74, 304, 309; as background of emotional uproar, 8, 136, 150; as economic crisis, 12, 253, 303305, 307, 309-10, 312-13; as failed idealism, 10, 227; as failure to follow God’s guidance, 8, 151-52, 155, 159, 163-64; as fortunate fall, 222, 231; as metaphor for art, 48; as metaphor for

catastrophe of civilisation, 252, 282-83; as metaphor for life journey, 12, 283; as political commentary, 12, 303-304; as productive failure, 10, 270; as revaluation, 11; as transformative process, 8, 150; emotional, 8, 137, 147, 150; imagery, 1-2, 8, 18; motif, 2-4, 18, 267; of faith, 8, 157, 159, 164; of slave ships, 303; personal, 10; symbolic, 12, 159, 223, 227, 283 slavery, 156, 162, 304-309 solitude, 65, 104, 106, 110, 222, 225-26, 229, 284, 289 Spivotta, Dana, Eat the Document, 74, 79 St Brendan, 134 Stacpoole, Henry de Vere, The Blue Lagoon, 193 Stevenson, Robert Louis, 2, 5, 18, 47-60, 86, 193; Works: Kidnapped, 55; Treasure Island, 5, 11-12, 47-48, 54, 56-60, 193; The Wrecker (with Lloyd Osbourne), 5, 47-48, 54-58, 60 storm, 2, 8, 26, 95, 98, 127, 135, 137, 147, 150-51, 15556, 160, 164, 166, 217, 238, 297-98, 311 suffering, 67, 221-24, 253 Symons, Arthur, 9, 173-74, 184 Synge, John Millington, 9, 175, 184

Index Takami, Koushun, Battle Royale, 194 tempest, 8, 133, 153, 166, 304 Tiffany, “I Think We’re Alone Now”, 82, 374 Tight Fit, “Fantasy Island”, 70 Tournier, Michel, 2, 5, 33-34, 40-44, 46, 233; Work: Friday, or, The Other Island, 5, 33-35, 40-41, 233 tsunami, 268-71, 277 Turner, J.M.W, 6, 12, 85, 88, 95-96, 307-308, 311, 314; Work: “The Slave Ship”, 12, 307-308, 311, 314 Verne, Jules, The Mysterious Island, 275 Vonnegut, Kurt, 2, 10-11, 24962, 264-65; Work: Galápagos, 2, 11, 249-55, 25758, 264 war, 11, 158, 164-65, 181, 187, 194, 221, 251, 258-59, 289, 298 Weir, Peter, dir., Master and Commander: The Far Side

351 of the World, 298; The Truman Show, 11-12, 28182, 296-98, 301 Wells, H.G., 252 Westphal, Bertrand, 7, 100, 102 Wharton, Edith, 10, 221-31; Work: The House of Mirth, 10, 221, 223 Wordsworth, William, 6, 85, 87, 90-91, 93-96; Work: “Poems Composed or Suggested During a Tour of Scotland in 1833”, 6, 91 Wyss, Johann David, Swiss Family Robinson, 193 Yeats, W.B., 72, 173-75, 184; Works: “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”, 175; “The Wanderings of Usheen”, 174-75 Zemeckis, Robert, dir., Cast Away, 10-12, 207, 281-82, 284, 287-90, 292, 294-95, 299, 302 Žižek, Slavoj, 33, 39, 42, 28283, 301