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  • Writing Captivity in the Early Modern Atlantic: Circulations of Knowledge and Authority in the Iberian and English Imperial Worlds
  • Pauline Turner Strong (bio)
Lisa Voigt. Writing Captivity in the Early Modern Atlantic: Circulations of Knowledge and Authority in the Iberian and English Imperial Worlds. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 2008. Published for the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, Williamsburg. 352 pp. 5 illus., notes, index. ISBN 978-0807859445, $24.95.

This theoretically sophisticated volume by a specialist in Iberian literature demonstrates the value of a broadly comparative approach to imperial representation. Astutely addressing the scarcity of serious considerations of Portuguese and Spanish narratives in the voluminous English-language scholarship on captivity, Lisa Voigt connects Iberian narratives of captivity in the New World both to their Anglo-American counterparts and to early modern accounts of Christians taken captive by Moors and Turks. The results of Voigt's disciplinary boundary crossing are salutary for scholarship on the representation of identity, alterity, and experience in both the Iberian and English imperial worlds.

Considerably more centered on Iberia than on England, Writing Captivity in the Early Modern Atlantic includes close readings of the representation of captivity by three authors: the Peruvian historian el Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, the Chilean soldier Francisco Núñez de Pineda y Bascuñán, and the Brazilian friar José de Santa Rita Durão. The three case studies are framed by theoretical and comparative discussions of the circulation of representations of shipwreck and captivity throughout the early modern world. Voigt is particularly interested in the "valorization of the captive's authority and knowledge" (24) in works that predate the Scientific Revolution and the age of the novel. The focus on early claims to the authority of firsthand experience makes Writing Captivity relevant to readers interested in many forms of biographical and auto biographical writing, not only captivity narratives.

Voigt opens the book with a general consideration of the connections between accounts of Old and New World captivity—connections exemplified in visual imagery, tropes, and epistemological practices that "traversed linguistic, national, and imperial borders as fluidly as the voyagers themselves" (47). In a chapter that moves from the well-known captivity narratives of Hans Staden (in Brazil) and Cabeza de Vaca (on the Gulf of Mexico) to tales of Algerian captivity in the novels of Cervantes, Voigt is particularly interested in the [End Page 560] interplay between discourses of truth and strangeness. She argues persuasively that "true histories" of shipwreck and captivity played an important role in the early modern "reconceptualization of versimilitude and the marvelous" (49).

Another important theme of Writing Captivity is the "transformative power of captivity and the empowerment of the transformed captive" (105). The authors of each of Voigt's central captivity narratives—a Peruvian mestizo, a Chilean creole, and a Brazilian exile—were not all captives, but each was familiar with the travails and power of the cultural mediator. Garcilaso de la Vega, a descendant of Incan nobles, included a narrative of the captivity of Juan Ortiz in his La Florida del Inca, published in Lisbon in 1605. Captured in Florida in 1528 by the indigenous chief Hirrihigua, Juan Ortiz was, according to Garcilaso, saved from torture and death by the intervention of the chief's wife and daughters. Taken under the protection of a neighboring chief, Mucozo, Ortiz served as an intermediary between the chief and Hernando de Soto when the latter arrived in Florida in 1539, eventually becoming a guide and interpreter for the Soto expedition.

Also exemplifying the transformative and empowering nature of captivity is Francisco Núñez de Pineda y Bascuñán's account of his "happy captivity" in 1629 among the Mapuche (or Araucanians) of Chile. A hybrid of personal memoir and political tract, Pineda's book-length manuscript (unpublished until the nineteenth century) contains numerous digressions, including examples of Spanish treachery and cruelty that Pineda viewed as key to the continuation of Mapuche hostilities against the Spanish. As a captive, Pineda came to construct what Voigt calls a "creole identity and authority" (172)—a process that involved destabilizing boundaries between the "civilized" and the "barbarous," followed by drawing new boundaries that incorporated...


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