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The Mind's Isle

Imaginary Islands in English Fiction

Adrian Kempton

Taking as its point of departure The Odyssey, Plato’s account of Atlantis and The Voyages of Sindbad the Sailor, this book examines the profound influence of these works on the development of island fiction as a genre specific to English literature. Close readings of island fictions from the past four centuries reveal the many ways in which they adapt, rewrite and refer back to these foundational texts, forming an important and intriguing literary tradition. Examples of the genre include such universal classics as Utopia, The Tempest, Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver’s Travels, Treasure Island and Lord of the Flies.

Islands have always attracted travellers, writers and dreamers. This book leads the reader on a voyage of exploration to understand exactly what lies behind the island’s powerful appeal to the literary imagination. Along the way, it explores the cultural and historical background to Britain’s island status and its legacy of colonialism and imperialism.

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Chapter 1: Odysseus, Sindbad and Atlantis


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Odysseus, Sindbad and Atlantis

Odysseus’s voyage home

In Prospero’s Cell, Lawrence Durrell described life on the island of Corfu during his stay there between 1937 and 1938. Durrell’s younger brother, Gerald, only twelve at the time and before long to become a famous zoologist and author of several popular books about animals, has given a memorable description of his first impressions of Corfu. At the close of the prologue to My Family and Other Animals (1956), Gerald relates how the Durrell family went up on deck at dawn after the overnight crossing from Italy in order to catch a first glimpse of the island that would be their next home. This lyrical passage, describing a real island in a highly stylized and imaginative manner, is characterized by a profusion of colour words and references to birds and insects:

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