In 1826, Mary Shelley published The Last Man and James Fenimore Cooper published The Last of the Mohicans. Cooper's novel uses the themes of mourning and extinction as a way of imagining the sequential unfolding in space-time that twenty years later would be labeled Manifest Destiny. Shelley's novel, much more forthrightly political than Cooper's, is not about sequence and unfolding but about withdrawal and implosion. By adopting a different approach to the problems of empire, race, and historical melancholy than Cooper does, Shelley is forced, as it were, into greater formal innovation than the American. The Last Man further exposes an isomorphism between the imperial and the individual in the romantic politics we still inhabit. If England exerts a sovereign sway, an actual geopolitical force emanating, via maritime prowess from a “sea-surrounded nook,” it is because its isolation and individuation are analogous to the source of sovereignty itself, “man's mind alone.” When Verney later exclaims “Thou, England, wert the triumph of man!” what makes England and mankind look like synonyms is this model of sovereignty as isolation leading to extension, individuation become reduplication. But just as the characters' hope that England's isolation will protect them from the plague is dashed, so the ideal of “man's mind alone” becomes, in the form of Lionel Verney adrift in his ship, once again an “inconsiderable speck” on a “shoreless ocean.”

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