Drawing upon recent archipelagic approaches to the literature and history of the British Isles, this essay examines Virginia Woolf’s use of the Isle of Skye as a setting for her 1927 novel To the Lighthouse in the context of shifting cultural and cartographic dimensions of Britishness. It argues that Woolf’s equation of synchronic time, water, and the landscape of the Scottish Hebrides expresses an important turning point in England’s imperial-oceanic sensibility, including the ways in which “Britishness” was conceived relative to a devolving archipelago. Ultimately, Woolf’s novel relies upon a paradoxical construction of Scotland as both a primitive colonial hinterland and an utterly familiar, necessary component of British identity in the wake of Irish independence.
Recovering Islands: Scotland, Ocean, and Archipelago in To the Lighthouse
Nels Pearson is professor of English and director of the Humanities Institute at Fairfield University, where, from 2011 to 2016, he also directed the program in Irish Studies. He has published widely on historical and political approaches to English and Irish modernism and is the author of Irish Cosmopolitanism: Location and Dislocation in James Joyce, Elizabeth Bowen, and Samuel Beckett, which was awarded the 2015 Donald J. Murphy prize by the American Conference for Irish Studies. He is also coeditor, with Marc Singer, of Detective Fiction in a Postcolonial and Transnational World.
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Nels Pearson; Recovering Islands: Scotland, Ocean, and Archipelago in To the Lighthouse. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 September 2018; 64 (3): 347–370. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-7142083
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