x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Angst over end of progress

Three 19th-century writers at the top of their game – Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson and William Morris – suddenly experienced flagging confidence upon learning that virtually every corner of the world had been discovered, and with that much of the wonder and mystery of their novels

Jules Verne, William Morris and Robert Louis Stevenson were all, at one moment, she says, worried by the magnitude of man’s ambition in an age of “the triumph of human empire”.

The trigger for this state of shared unease is the knowledge that the entire globe would soon be mapped, and Williams argues that the work of Verne, Morris and Stevenson “provide rich archives of this event of consciousness, conveying both evidence and insight into its causes and implications”. Williams dissects the work and travels of the three Victorians through the prism of their fears.

Williams writes her literary history with clarity and pace, unfettered by either her own scholarly research or her over-arching concern: our own effect on the world in the present day.