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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 3: Enlightenment satire: Gulliver’s Travels


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Enlightenment satire: Gulliver’s Travels

One of the great masterpieces of Augustan satire, castigating general human foibles as well as more particular events, customs and beliefs, Gulliver’s Travels also mimics and exploits certain fictional genres, notably the traveller’s tale, the political satire, the utopia, the fantasy and the emerging memoir novel. It is therefore not surprising that we should find in Swift’s work echoes of some of the major island fictions discussed so far: The Odyssey, The Voyages of Sindbad and Utopia.

In the ongoing literary and cultural dispute about the relative merits of the ‘Ancients’ and the ‘Moderns’, a debate that he brilliantly lampooned in The Battle of the Books (1704), Swift was a staunch supporter of the Ancients. The allusions to Homer in Gulliver’s Travels are, consequently, few and discreet. Odysseus’s visit to Hades is echoed in Gulliver’s trip to the Island of Sorcerers, where the Governor allows him to call up a number of celebrated dead spirits (pp. 191–3). There is also the Cyclops-like manner in which the gigantic Gulliver snatches up some offending Lilliputian and threatens to eat him alive (p. 47).1

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