Early Modern utopian islands: restoring a damaged Garden.
Interest in islands grew rapidly during the Early Modern period as many explorers, merchants, monarchs and political commentators perceived islands as earthly paradises or magical loci of extreme riches. This paper presents an alternative strand of the period's ‘islomania’, where the newly discovered islands were imagined as loci of wilderness: empty lands that human ingenuity and hard work could be ‘improved’ into a utopia. Triumphal narratives of conquering nature were based on the newfound optimism inspired by fifteenth century humanism and the tenets of Early Modern natural philosophy. However, processes of ‘improvement’ cannot be thought of as apolitical or dislocated as they are often embedded in the colonialist narratives of the time. By examining a series of imaginary ‘utopian’ islands of the Early Modern period, including Utopia, New Atlantis, The Isle of Pines and the island of Robinson Crusoe, this paper dismantles binary conceptions of Early Modern mythical islands as paradise/hell, utopia/dystopia to a more nuanced understanding of how these writers utilised and depicted ‘utopia’ to reflect political, religious and social mores of the time.
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