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By Siobhan Carroll

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

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

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

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In the novel’s conclusion, an English merchant ship shoots down Peter Wilkins’s flying contraption, killing the Glumms who accompany Wilkins on his return to Europe and reinforcing the undesirability of contact between Terra Australis Incognita and the outside world. Taken up from the water by the ship, Wilkins narrates his story, only to expire the day the ship reaches England, leaving behind him no trace of the wealth he accumulated in his adventures. At the close of the novel, Terra Australis Incognita thus remains safely preserved within the blank space of the imperial map, and the financial “gain” produced by Wilkins’s voyage appears in the form of a marvelous story, not colonial territory.

That said, Rime does not feature a terra nullius that can be acquired through occupation: Far from gaining possession of the polar landscape, the Mariner and his companions’ penetration of the Antarctic Circle instead leads to them becoming possessed—him by Life-in-Death, and his companions by spirits. In that respect, Rime is one of the first literary texts to depict the South Pole as an atopia and to abandon the assumption that polar space can be readily claimed by its discoverers—a departure that was, I suggest, triggered precisely by the fact that such possession had now become a possibility.

My own project hews closest to Hill’s in its interest in the constitutive role played by Arctic narratives in the construction of British national and imperial identity. However, while this chapter will occasionally touch on the ways that polar space reinscribes gender roles, its focus is on the ways that authors used polar space to reflect on the literary imagination’s relationship to nation and empire. 14 While the texts that I examine here are frequently contradictory and fraught with ambiguity, they are all staging grounds for ideological battles that continue to shape our view of polar space.

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