Dissertation Abstracts

New Words and New Worlds in the Age of Crusoe and Gulliver. Boston University, 2008.

Jason H. Pearl

This dissertation provides a new intellectual and generic context for Aphra Behn's Oroonoko, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, and Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, showing how these fictional works not only inherited but also contested the assumptions about distant lands latent in factual travel writing and in the Royal Society's instructions for travelers, which created its conventions. More specifically, this dissertation delineates the two dominant and competing discourses through which newly and recently discovered lands were understood-either through the objective lens of natural history, which portrayed exotic lands as characterless, malleable space, or through the subjective lens of the early novel, which portrayed them as unique, autonomous places. Chapter One establishes how the Fellows of the Royal Society sought to reform travel writing by issuing a series of instructions that led travelers to regard the new regions they visited from an objective distance and to describe these regions merely as vessels of natural-historical objects and phenomena. Chapter Two analyzes the ways in which three important voyagers-William Dampier, Lionel Wafer, and Woodes Rogers-followed, yet sometimes disregarded, the Society's instructions and illustrates that they did much to install its geographic paradigm, but that they could not fully censor those aspects of experience that inevitably transformed space into place. Chapter Three shows how Behn, Defoe, and Swift, despite being influenced by the new science, exploited this discrepancy, imagining localized places within the global spaces of scientific geography, and thus forging new ways of connecting to and defining exotic lands. The implications of this dialectic are significant, given that the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw England acquire new colonial territories and establish new trade routes to extend its reach throughout the globe. As this dissertation demonstrates, the project of globalization was underwritten by the discourse of natural history, carried out-to the fullest extent possible-by travelers, and opposed by Behn, Defoe, and Swift, as well as by fiction itself, insofar as its proclivity for an individual perspective naturally resists the collective perspective of science.


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