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CanadianReview ofAmericanStudies/Revuecanadienne d'etudes arnericaines Volume29, Number1, 1999, pp. 1-11 Nellie Bly,Jules Verne, and the World on the Threshold of die American Age NicholasRuddick There was a model of the terrestrial globe, some forty feet in circumference , therefore about the size of an ordinary three-story house: the reduction from reality was one millionth. It was not only the globe of the school-room magnified,-it was a synopsis of the conditions and the resources of this world of ours: the course of the rivers, the chains of the mountains, the infractuosities of the coast and the appalling expanse of the sea, the extent of the forbidden region which guards the poles could be seen and comprehended; the mineral products were indicated by dots of different colors for the different species: the lines of navigation and railway travel and telegraphic communication could be traced. The globe slowly revolved, and the spectators, hushed and subdued for the most part by the grandeur of the scheme, passed round it by a spiral gallery of three grades, by which they could look down on the north pole and up at the southern one. ("Loitering Through the Paris Exposition" 1890, 367) 1 2 Canadian Review of American Studies Revue canadienne d'etudesamericaines The startling antitraditionalism of early modernism seems so evidently to be a proleptic gesture of a pioneering avant-garde that it is easy to forget that it was just as evidently a reaction to unprecedented circumstances. Only under modern conditions might a receptive generation of classically trained artists or musicians find itself confronting 'primitive' masks or rhythms without even the need of quitting civilization in a deliberate search for the savage. That protomodernists well before the end of the nineteenth century did find themselves in such confrontations indicates that by about 1890 the world itself had been already somehow reconfigured: a threshold had been crossed and a new order prevailed, demanding new forms of representation. In this sense, modernity precedes modernism; yet, specifically how this modernity, defined as a condition which made modernism possible, itself came into being has received less attention than it deserves from cultural historians (but see Kern 1983). To reveal the transition from Victorianism to modernism involves tracking visible gestures in the form of works of art. This paper tracks a more elusive transition: from the pre-modern to the modern world, specifically from the European to the American Age. It attempts to make an aspect of this transition visible by recalling a set of historical events involving a dramatic circumnavigation of the globe inspired by a work of fiction. The protagonist was American, young, of humble origin, and female, qualities distinguishing her strikingly from her fictional predecessor. Her distinctive modernity is highly suggestive of the nature of the age that was dawning. A prevailing condition of modernity, without which such early modernist movements as futurism and cubism would have been unthinkable, was already evident well before the end of the nineteenth century. It can be described asan unprecedented spatiotemporal dispensation, features of which include accelerating change, the compression of events, and the apparent shrinking of distance. Simply put, as the nineteenth century prepared to enter its final decade, the world in both its human and geographical sense seemed suddenly much smaller than it had been. Those who attended the Universal Exposition of 1889 at the foot of the new Eiffel Tower could hardly have helped feeling that Paris was the metropolis of the contracted world of modernity. American tourists ogled sinuous Javanese dancers; would-be decadents wandered down a simulation of a Cairo street in search of an 'authentic' danse du ventre; bourgeois families from respectable suburbs Nidwlas Ru.ddu·kI 3 gaped asgitanas gyrated to a cacophony of castanets. The vast steel-and-glass vault of the Hall of the Machines 1 and the vertiginous verticality of the tower were all but overpowering signs of a new French age dawning. Yet from our perspective more than a century later, the spirit of modernity at the exposition is perhaps best represented by the now-forgotten model of the terrestrial globe: to us, it is not so much a schoolroom globe magnified, as a planet...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 1-11
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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