An Empire of Air and Water

An Empire of Air and Water: Uncolonizable Space in the British Imagination, 1750-1850

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    An Empire of Air and Water
    Book Description:

    Planetary spaces such as the poles, the oceans, the atmosphere, and subterranean regions captured the British imperial imagination. Intangible, inhospitable, or inaccessible, these blank spaceswhat Siobhan Carroll calls "atopias"existed beyond the boundaries of known and inhabited places. The eighteenth century conceived of these geographic outliers as the natural limits of imperial expansion, but scientific and naval advances in the nineteenth century created new possibilities to know and control them. This development preoccupied British authors, who were accustomed to seeing atopic regions as otherworldly marvels in fantastical tales. Spaces that an empire could not colonize were spaces that literature might claim, as literary representations of atopias came to reflect their authors' attitudes toward the growth of the British Empire as well as the part they saw literature playing in that expansion.

    Siobhan Carroll interrogates the role these blank spaces played in the construction of British identity during an era of unsettling global circulations. Examining the poetry of Samuel T. Coleridge and George Gordon Byron and the prose of Sophia Lee, Mary Shelley, and Charles Dickens, as well as newspaper accounts and voyage narratives, she traces the ways Romantic and Victorian writers reconceptualized atopias as threatening or, at times, vulnerable. These textual explorations of the earth's highest reaches and secret depths shed light on persistent facets of the British global and environmental imagination that linger in the twenty-first century.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-9185-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[viii])
  3. Introduction. Blank Spaces on the Earth
    (pp. 1-18)

    In 1749, Jean Baptiste Bourguignon d’Anville erased the world. Born into a century full of elaborate illustrations of distant places, the French cartographer (1697–1782) became famous less for the beauty of his maps than for what they excluded: centuries of accumulated stories, maps, and travelers’ tales concerning distant places on the globe. As Alfred Hiatt observes, d’Anville’s cartographical predecessors had followed the tradition of including mountain ranges, rivers, and tribes that were rumored to exist in spaces that had yet to be explored by Europeans, producing detailed maps of a world that was already known and merely awaited rediscovery:...

  4. Chapter 1 Polar Speculations
    (pp. 19-71)

    On January 21, 1840, Joseph Dubouzet, the first lieutenant of the French expedition shipZélée, wrote that he had followed the “English custom” and “added a province to France” by planting a flag on the Antarctic territory he christened Terre Adélie (Adélie Land). In doing so, he reported, “We did not dispossess anyone, our title was incontestable,” and best of all, this new land would “never start a war against our country.”¹ Dubouzet’s bold assertions regarding this “incontestable” possession—a territory that, despite its desolation, prompts him to briefly contemplate the specter of colonial war elsewhere—ran counter to his...

  5. Chapter 2 The Language of the Sea
    (pp. 72-114)

    The first glimpse we have of maritime space inMr. Midshipman Easy(1836), Frederick Marryat’s nautical classic, appears in a speech given by a naïve youth, who, safely ensconced at home, describes to his father the ocean as he has been taught to imagine it.¹ Steeped in cosmopolitan ideas, Jack Easy waxes eloquent on the international ocean as described by Hugo Grotius: an exceptional space immune to enclosure; a commons accessible to all mankind.² Disillusioned by the reception that his Jacobin theories have met with on land, Jack looks to take refuge in the atopia of the ocean, believing this...

  6. Chapter 3 The Regions of the Air
    (pp. 115-145)

    Why, asked the British aeronaut Windham Sadler in 1817, had England, that self-proclaimed “seat of Science and Literature,” not played a more prominent role in the development of hot air ballooning and the exploration of the atmosphere? Human greed, he observed, “has overcome every difficulty in diving into the bowels of the earth, and been rewarded by those hidden treasures,Metals,Fossils, andMinerals, which now constitute so much of the comfort and ornament of society: the same principle has brought theStormy Oceaninto subjection, and has almost it may be said formeda highway on the deep.”¹ Like...

  7. Chapter 4 Underworlds
    (pp. 146-184)

    In 1776 a group of miners discovered a large cave system while blasting rock within the demesne of Lord Edgecumbe, near Plymouth. Reluctantly (for, in the eighteenth century, subterranean exploration was still a notoriously dangerous activity), a small group of miners ventured into the cave. They soon returned, overcome with fears both superstitious and practical, and told their overseers of the strange phenomena they had observed underground: of strange shapes and sounds and of the peculiar behavior of fire and water in “those gloomy and grotesque regions.” Particularly alarming had been the moment at which “a murmuring sound that seemed...

  8. Conclusion. “Dislocated Progress”: Atopias in Urban Space
    (pp. 185-204)

    In recalling the genesis of her quixotic search for the lost polar land of Thule, Joanna Kavenna focuses not on her first encounter with polar literature but on her first encounter with the space of the city: the massive sprawl of London, and its pressing crowds. Bewildered by complex transportation systems, alienated from her neighbors, and feeling her sense of individuality eroded by the “grind” of the anonymous crowd, Kavenna turns to an imagined high Arctic for escape, reorienting herself to the city by way of its print-mediated antipode.¹ Her reading project, as she obliquely acknowledges a few pages later,...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 205-252)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-278)
  11. Index
    (pp. 279-288)
  12. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 289-290)