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Strange Truths in Undiscovered Lands

Strange Truths in Undiscovered Lands: Shelley's Poetic Development and Romantic Geography

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 224
  • Book Info
    Strange Truths in Undiscovered Lands
    Book Description:

    Strange Truths in Undiscovered Landsexamines the ways in which Shelley developed a ?Romantic geography? to provide visionary alternatives to an earth devastated by a new type of European colonialism and global expansion.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8921-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. A Note on Shelley Texts
    (pp. xv-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-18)

    At the beginning ofThe Prelude, Wordsworth, echoing the concluding lines of Paradise Lost (12.646–7), poses a question many Romantics repeatedly ask: ‘What dwelling shall receive me,’ when ‘[t]he earth is all before me’? (Prelude 1.11, 15).¹ ‘Dream not of other worlds,’ the angel Raphael warns Adam (Milton,Paradise Lost8.175), but in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, various ‘other worlds’ were appearing from beyond the confines of the known world. The earth that was all before the Romantics was not an uninhabited wilderness. It was crammed with unfamiliar peoples living in various non-European cultures. Moreover, Europeans...

  7. 1 Queen Mab: The Female Dreamers and a Pathless Wilderness
    (pp. 19-50)

    Shelley had a visionary experience during his solitary wandering in the mountains of Keswick on 23 November 1811, and it reveals some aspects of his Romantic geography. Alone among the ‘gigantic mountains piled on each other,’ he was absorbed in nature’s ‘awful waywardness,’ displayed in the waterfalls, the ‘million shaped clouds tinted by the varying colours of innumerable rainbows,’ and a lake ‘as smooth and dark as a plain of polished jet’ (Letters1: 189). A Wordsworthian poet would have evoked a living spirit in nature per se that would correspond to the poet’s heightened imagination in solitude. For Shelley,...

  8. 2 ‘Alastor’: A Solitary Quester and a New Eastern Geography
    (pp. 51-82)

    The last thing Ianthe saw on earth when Mab’s celestial chariot ‘flew far above a rock, /The utmost verge of earth’ was the ‘rival of the Andes, whose dark brow / Lowered o’er the silver sea’ (Queen Mab1.218–19, 220–1). The phrase suggests a panorama of high mountains, such as those pictured in the engraving ‘A Comparative View of the Heights of the Principal Mountains and Other Elevations in the World’ in John Thomson’sA New General Atlas(1817). Thomson’s plate sets the mountains in the Eastern Hemisphere against those in the Western Hemisphere (fig. 1). Although Thomson...

  9. 3 ‘Mont Blanc’: The Questioning Traveller and a Visionary Geography of Chamonix
    (pp. 83-108)

    Shelley’s choice of the Indian Caucasus in ‘Alastor’ responded to contemporary scholars and mythographers, who located Mount Caucasus in the Hindu Kush as a cradle of human civilization (Curran,Shelley’s Annus Mirabilis61–7). Contemporary scientists, on the other hand, promoted Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in Europe, as a rival mountain to the Indian Caucasus; they thought that the mountain concealed the secrets of the history of the earth. Whereas the Alps had long been celebrated for their sublimity, Mont Blanc was a more recent discovery despite its central position in the range. It will be useful here to...

  10. 4 Prometheus Unbound: The Eastern and Western Lovers on the Highest Mountain
    (pp. 109-144)

    Although Shelley himself does not mention anything about the genesis ofPrometheus Unbound, which was begun in September 1818 and finished late in 1819, Mary Shelley, in a letter to Leigh and Marianne Hunt from Savoy in 1823, remembers that it was when Shelley made a return visit to the Savoy scene in 1818, two years after ‘Mont Blanc,’ that ‘the idea of his Prometheus’ occurred to him (LMWS1: 357).¹ Mary describes in detail the Montagne des Eschelles, the lofty mountain on the border between France and Savoy, which they visited on 26 March 1818: ‘The rocks which cannot...

  11. 5 ‘The Witch of Atlas’: The Hybrid Explorer and Shelley’s Joyous Challenge
    (pp. 145-180)

    With its plurality of ‘beautiful idealisms’ suggesting a plurality of cultures (preface toPrometheus Unbound,SP&P209), Prometheus Unbound reaches a climax of Shelley’s poetic quest. At least one thing is, however, left untouched in the play: the birth and growth of a hybrid spirit, a true mixture resulting from the union of two cultures. Asia is portrayed as a mother, and correspondingly a spirit of the Earth appears in the form of a winged child, calling her Mother; but it has no biological tie with Asia, nor does it call Prometheus Father. The progeny of the Promethean Age remains...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 181-194)

    The central theme of this book has been Shelley’s Romantic geography, and throughout the chapters a range of connected themes and concepts have been discussed, often in a positive light. In particular, the concept of hybridity has been examined and shown to have a number of constructive values for Shelley. Many scholars, however, would think that it is overtly optimistic; Shelley’s oeuvre would look different if his quest for visionary improvement of sick places was to go round Africa and return to Europe, to the last unfinished work, ‘The Triumph of Life,’ in which culminate the moments of pessimism that...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 195-218)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 219-250)
  15. Index
    (pp. 251-264)