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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Fancy, Spectacle, and the Materiality of the Romantic Imagination in Pacific Exploration Culture

  • Author(s): Wills, Kacie L.
  • Advisor(s): Craciun, Adriana
  • Wang, Fuson
  • et al.
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License

My dissertation examines the productions of material and literary culture surrounding late eighteenth-century Pacific exploration, specifically the Cook voyages. By looking to these cultural productions, ranging from indigenous artifacts and tattoos, to ephemera collections and scrapbooks, to literary and theatrical productions about exploration and contact, I broaden the scope of our understanding of fancy in discussions of the Romantic imagination. I show fancy to be a material form of the imagination and both a driving force and product of exploration and scientific progress. In doing this, I also consider the connected role of spectacle in popular culture, its critical function in depictions of gender and indigeneity, and its foundational relationship to science and discovery. Throughout this dissertation, I look beyond the Romantic canon to understand larger issues of the period, including questions of indigenous representation, the role of female collectors in making scientific inquiries, and issues of sensationalism, spectacle, and empiricism that surrounded the struggle for narrative authority in a print-saturated culture. Ultimately, through turning to a broader historical and material context, I offer a way of reading fancy in Romantic poetry that complicates Coleridge's definition of fancy as passive or mechanical; fancy, instead, is enlivened and shown to be an active and creative form of the imagination that engages meaningfully with global experience.

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