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Fictive Possessions: English Utopian Writing and the Colonial Promotion of Madagascar as the "Greatest Island in the World" (1640 - 1668)

Jakka, Sarath Chandra (2018) Fictive Possessions: English Utopian Writing and the Colonial Promotion of Madagascar as the "Greatest Island in the World" (1640 - 1668). Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent, University of Porto. (KAR id:72209)

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Prior to the travel, diplomacy, and violence that often marked the establishment of colonies, distant lands were first owned on European soil as fictive possessions in the grandiose stories of colonial advertisements. Stakeholders in colonial ventures had to be convinced of the ease, glory, and profitability of their enterprise before they set sail to the New World. Exotic eyewitness accounts of explorers and travellers were commissioned to detail the abundant wonders to be harvested on foreign shores. Between 1635 and 1650, proposals to establish an English colony in Madagascar - known then as 'the largest island in the world' - had led to a short-lived colonial expedition whose members had to be evacuated from the big island after facing numerous casualties. Far from reflecting the geographical and social realities of the island, promotional literature overwhelmingly reported that Madagascar was a New World paradise.

This thesis examines the shifting modes of idealisation employed by promotional works about Madagascar by reading them alongside the colonial discourse of early modern utopian exemplars such as Thomas More's Utopia (1516), Francis Bacon's New Atlantis (1627), and Henry Neville's Isle of Pines (1668). Specifically, this thesis examines two sets of texts at an intersection of literary and rhetorical genres, with a focus on their contrarian tendencies. Walter Hamond's A Paradox (1640) and Madagascar, the richest and most fruitfull island in the world (1643) are read as noteworthy colonial advertisements that critique the acquisitive excesses driving colonial ventures. Investigating the ironic nature of this set of texts by assessing it within the Renaissance tradition of the paradox reveals that Hamond's choice of rhetorical modes was deliberate and aimed to mitigate his audience's anxieties towards setting up a colony in Madagascar. This is followed by an exploration of the intertextual echoes in Henry Neville's utopian hoax, the Isle of Pines with respect to the question of the titular isle's location. It is argued that the imprints of various contemporary European accounts of Madagascar in Neville's work allow it to be read as a parable of English colonial folly.

In bringing together the worlds of early modern travel narratives and utopian fiction, this thesis aims to open new perspectives in both domains. By mapping the various idealised depictions of Madagascar to the distinct colonial models found in early modern utopian literature, this dissertation argues that the contradictions encountered in promotional literature were rooted in the confluence of historical contingencies, ideological concerns, and the rhetorical forms that shaped the 'ideal politics' of seventeenth-century English colonial ventures.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Cox, Rosanna
Thesis advisor: Vieira, Fatima
Uncontrolled keywords: Colonial Promotional Literature, Utopian Studies, Madagascar, Early Modern Studies, Thomas More, Henry Neville, Francis Bacon
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
Funders: Organisations -1 not found.
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2019 15:10 UTC
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2022 06:15 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)
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