Imperial Cartography and Victorian Literature: Charting the Wishes and Anguish of an Island-Empire

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Abstract:

This essay is inspired by Benedict Anderson's theorisation that communities are products of collective imagination. Literature and cartography, as Anderson points out, exert considerable influence in marking the imaginary contour of a specific community. To Anderson's theorisation, this essay will add a few notes, suggesting that literary mapping and cartographic writing convey dialectic messages and thereby chart contending communities. Through an examination of Victorian adventure stories (The Coral Island, King Solomon's Mines and Kim), domestic novels (Wuthering Heights, The Way We Live Now and The Sign of Four), an imperial map and a fictional treasure map, this essay will unfold the ideological underpinnings of writing and charting, analyse the rhetoric of wish and anguish in both acts, and interrogate Britain's conflicting doctrines of global imperialism and insular nationalism. The ultimate aim is to argue that literary mapping, analogous to cartographic writing, captures a Britain that is at once an invincible empire flexing its muscle worldwide and a vulnerable island besieged by the Atlantic Ocean, Irish Sea, English Channel, and North Sea. Between Britain's wishes and anguish, Victorian writers sketch in their contemporaries' imagination a contour of the British Empire in which the centre itself is decentred.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14735780210144959

Publication date: May 1, 2002

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