“One of the Most Intensely Exciting Secrets” The Antarctic in American Literature, 1820-1849
Sammanfattning: This study examines a small body of 19th-century American literature about the Antarctic: Adam Seaborn's (pseud.) Symzonia (1820), Edgar Allan Poe's "MS. Found in a Bottle" (1833) and The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), Peter Prospero's (pseud.) "The Atlantis" (1838-39), and James Fenimore Cooper's The Monikins (1835) and The Sea Lions (1849). These were written in a transitional phase in the history of the Antarctic. At the start of the period, the region was almost completely unknown. Towards the end of the period, however, the region had been mapped in its essence, and the existence of an Antarctic continent had been verified. For complex reasons, the region came into cultural focus in the U.S. during the 1820s to 40s, culminating in the first major American scientific expedition in 1838-42 to explore the South Seas and the Antarctic.The study is primarily historical, tracing ideas to their historical contexts in order to determine what these authors used the unknown space of the Antarctic for. These texts were written in imaginative response to contemporary notions of the Antarctic, which is reflected in the mode of representation. The literature is in the mode of speculative fiction-most of texts imagining a tropical, inhabited Antarctic-up until the region is explored, at which point it turns to realism. The texts fall into three categories: the utopian, liminal, and realistic. The utopian texts-Symzonia, The Monikins, and "The Atlantis"-are works of social criticism, using the blank space of the Antarctic to treat a diverse range of issues, including politics, evolutionary theories, race, and gender. Poe's "MS" and Pym represent the liminal category; they dramatize the anticipation of an imminent Antarctic discovery, narrating up to a point of revelation, only to stop short. The Sea Lions is the only realistic text, coming after the Antarctic is explored. Here the knowledge of the Antarctic has solidified into the environment we know today, but with religiously symbolical overtones.
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