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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 5: The Tempest


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The Tempest

‘Now would I give a thousand furlongs of sea – for an acre of barren land … long heath, brown furze, any thing …’, exclaims Gonzalo, Prospero’s faithful old retainer, in the midst of the tempest that begins Shakespeare’s play of that name (I, 1, ll. 64–6). The climactic storm at sea that forms a highly original beginning to the play’s action gives way, in the play’s eight remaining scenes, to the peaceful setting of Prospero’s island somewhere in the Mediterranean. Certainly more than an acre in size – one can easily lose oneself or be led astray on it – the island appears barren to some, luxuriant to others, depending on their outlook. Thus virtuous characters like Gonzalo and one of the other shipwrecked attendant lords, Adrian, speak of their good fortune in being washed up on an island that is far from inhospitable. Their mutual admiration of the island – interspersed with mocking comments from the villainous characters, Antonio and Sebastian – reflects the optimism of the guiltless:

Gonzalo’s enthusiasm is such that the island arouses in him dreams of establishing a utopian state there, an ironic variation on the themes of government, usurpation and misuse of power that are central to The Tempest:

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