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9 - Between the Islands: Michael McLaverty, Late Modernism, and the Insular Turn

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 December 2017

John Brannigan
Affiliation:
University College Dublin
Neal Alexander
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham, UK
James Moran
Affiliation:
University of Nottingham, UK
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Summary

The island, that's all the earth I know. Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable

Vanishing islands

In June 1939, The Times reported the disappearance of the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean, when a flying boat called the Guba, which was seeking to establish a route from Britain to Australia that did not involve crossing the Mediterranean, failed to find the islands. The islands were found again the following day, when the Guba reported less cloud cover, but the momentary disappearance sparked an editorial and a string of letters in the following days about the peculiar tendencies of islands. ‘Continents at least stay, for practical purposes, where they are’, declared the Times editorial, ‘no matter with what commotions man may distract their surfaces; but there is no counting on islands’. The editorial goes on to recount renowned instances of mythological and imaginary islands, and to remark upon some of the many literary uses of island settings, such as Stevenson's Treasure Island (1883), J. M. Barrie's Mary Rose (1920), and Charles Morgan's popular but now largely forgotten play, The Flashing Stream (1938). The editorial also mentions the case of Thompson Island in the South Atlantic, which recent maritime expeditions had repeatedly failed to find. Thompson Island was declared non-existent in 1943, yet as recently as 1928 the British government had sold export licences to Norwegian whalers to trade in whale oil and guano from the island, and later that year consented to a diplomatic agreement which ceded British sovereignty of the island over to Norway. An essay in The Geographical Journal of 1928 included the sketches and maps produced by Captain Norris from his voyage of the region in 1825 which had laid the foundation of British territorial claims over Thompson and Bouvet Islands, and argued that ‘There seemed no ground for questioning its existence, though there was some degree of uncertainty in its position’. In the same year, a retired naval commander, Rupert Gould, in a chapter of his book devoted to ‘doubtful islands’, held fast to the belief that there were unexplored areas around the South Atlantic seas in which Thompson Island may yet be found.

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Regional Modernisms , pp. 184 - 199
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2013

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