A lucid and lively survey of Victorian explorers from Raby (English/Homerton College, Cambridge). ""For the English in the...


BRIGHT PARADISE: Victorian Scientific Travellers

A lucid and lively survey of Victorian explorers from Raby (English/Homerton College, Cambridge). ""For the English in the nineteenth century, abroad, and especially the Empire and the colonies, existed to bring things back from,"" notes Raby in a neat introductory capsulization. Bring things back they did, to a fare-thee-well, but they were also, the author makes clear, agents in the imperial juggernaut, ""part of a slow but inexorable process of domination and annexation."" Opening the world to commerce may have been the end result, yet each of the venturers heard his or her own drummer and fashioned an inimitable style afield. Raby profiles Mungo Park, Richard Lander, and Heinrich Barth on their African sorties; Joseph Hooker's plant collecting in India and the mountain kingdoms to the north; Charles Darwin's monumental classification undertakings while being ferried about on the Beagle; the scientific entrepreneurs Henry Walter Bates, Alfred Wallace, and Richrad Spruce, who traded in beetles (a Victorian fancy), birds, and dried plants (though it is odd that Raby makes no mention here of the recent biopiracy controversies, particularly with Spruce, whose cinchona and rubber gatherings are a hot topic). And as women explorers have been given short shrift for their contibutions, Raby takes pains to chronicle the work of Mary Kingsley in West Africa and Marianne North's superb botanical artwork. Raby then turns his attentions to how the jottings of these explorers were appropriated and deployed by writers as diverse as Charles Kingsley, whose Water Babies Raby considers ""a coded tour round the scientific debates of the mid-century,"" and Samuel Buffer in his utopian Erewhon, the romantic Rider Haggard, son-of-the-manse John Buchan, Dickens in Bleak House, and, of course, Conrad. Importantly, Raby shows how the works of the explorers shaped a new Darwinian and colonialist worldview, one that remains mighty influential in the modern imagination.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1997


Page Count: 276

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1997

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