Exotic Memories: Literature, Colonialism, and the Fin de Siècle

Exotic Memories: Literature, Colonialism, and the Fin de Siècle

Exotic Memories: Literature, Colonialism, and the Fin de Siècle

Exotic Memories: Literature, Colonialism, and the Fin de Siècle

Excerpt

Voyages, magic caskets full of dreamlike promises, you will no longer hand down your treasures intact. A proliferating and overexcited civilization troubles forever the silence of the seas. The perfumes of the tropics and the freshness of beings are vitiated by a fermentation of questionable scent, which mortifies our desires and destines us to gather half-corrupted memories.

--Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes tropiques

• In 1861 Captain Harry Grant sets off to explore the islands of the Pacific with the idea of founding "a vast Scottish colony in one of the continents of Oceania." But after a year of reconnoitering he drops out of sight, effectively orphaning the two children he had left behind in England. However, several years later, while yachting off the coast of Scotland, a certain Lord Glenarvan comes across a bottle containing a puzzling and fragmentary message. The contents lead him to believe that Grant and his companions are still alive, either stranded or in captivity at some point along the 37th parallel of the Southern Hemisphere. Glenarvan summons the two children and decides to undertake a rescue mission on their behalf; this voyage in search of the lost father will eventually take him and his troupe through the wilds of Patagonia and then on to Australia and New Zealand.

Although geographically close, these last two territories prove very different in at least one important respect. In Australia, "civilization" is making definitive inroads; the island is coming to resemble nothing . . .

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