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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 10: Island retreats: Conrad, Lawrence and Ballard


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Island retreats: Conrad, Lawrence and Ballard

Joseph Conrad: Samburan

The oblique narrative technique employed by H. G. Wells in ‘Æpyornis Island’ – the nameless narrator recounting verbatim Butcher’s anecdotal story as it was related to him in conversation – is similar to that used by Conrad through the persona of retired seafarer Charles Marlow in ‘Youth’ and ‘Heart of Darkness’ (published together in 1902). The same device of fictional story-teller was used in the much longer fictions Lord Jim (1900) and Chance (1914), providing the author with the mask of an authoritative, if limited, viewpoint. In Victory, published the year after Chance, Conrad uses a different approach, that of an unnamed first-person narrator, but one who is far from omniscient. In a novel where all the action is based on gossip, rumour, misinformation and the misreading of other people’s characters, Conrad’s handling of narrative viewpoint, at least in the first of the novel’s four parts, is strikingly effective and undoubtedly constitutes the work’s chief literary merit.

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