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A History of Antarctica in 20 Novels

Associate Professor Elizabeth Leane recently gave a public lunchtime talk at the Maritime Museum of Tasmania.

About fifty people gathered in the Royal Society Rooms at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery on 6 June 2017 to hear Assoc. Prof. Elizabeth Leane's "History of Antarctica in Twenty Novels," presented as part of the Maritime Museum of Tasmania’s public lunchtime talks.

"Some people might wonder if it is possible to find twenty novels set in Antarctica," Elizabeth observed. “Actually, there are many hundreds.”

Her presentation covered a wide range of genres, from children’s adventure stories through pulp science fiction and horror tales to canonical literary fiction.

"As so few people actually visit Antarctica, comparatively speaking" she noted, "impressions of the place tend to derive from written and visual texts. Novels recycle, reinforce and add to the images, ideas and emotions we attach to the continent."

Some of the novels are highly 'literary', produced by acclaimed writers such as Edgar Allan Poe, James Fenimore Cooper, Thomas Keneally and Beryl Bainbridge. Others are unabashedly commercial: almost every popular genre, from the adventure thriller to the Mills and Boon romance, can boast an Antarctic title. Some are written in response to historical events and strive for realism, while others are wildly speculative; and many are somewhere in between, combining imagination with contemporary knowledge of the region.

The presentation drew on this imaginative tradition to offer a new perspective on the history of humanity's relationship with the far south. Elizabeth focussed on twenty novels published in English over the last 250 years, chosen for their influence, their historical significance or simply their quirkiness. Many other selections and many other histories are possible, but through these twenty books a small taste of the richness and diversity of Antarctic fiction can be shown.

Published on: 22 Jun 2017 3:14pm