Biography 25.2 (2002) 391-394
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Narratives by Europeans describing their imprisonment abroad begin roughly at the same time as their continuous exploration and colonization of Africa and the Middle and Far East. The very earliest, from the fifteenth century, are by sailors from Continental Europe. Yet the phrase "captivity narrative" has come to imply almost exclusively North American texts of settlers held captive by Native Americans. These are read widely in literature and [End Page 391] history departments in Canada and the United States, where they are perceived as a peculiarly North American genre, their protagonist typically a female captive who figures the vulnerability of the colonists, and whose rescue prefigures their eventual victory over both the land and its original inhabitants. With Caught Between Worlds, Joe Snader has undertaken to redraw and greatly expand the map of the narrative's territory, taking into consideration novels, utopias, autobiographical narratives, and works whose relation to historicity is ambiguous. His reach is equally wide, as he covers captivity narratives whose dates begin in the late sixteenth and extend to the late eighteenth century, and whose settings include Morocco, Madagascar, Florentine galleys, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), upstate New York, and the dungeons of the Spanish Inquisition. The resulting work will be valuable for years to come to scholars working on life writing, travel writing, colonial and post-colonial studies, and the history of transatlantic Anglophone literature.
At the heart of the work are questions about identity and geography: what happens to narrators who spend years with their captors? How is the identity of such a captive retranslated into English (literally and metaphorically) for the metropolitan audience? How do the earlier narratives, most often those of sailors or traders in areas where Britain did not have long-term settlements (Ceylon, Madagascar, Morocco), and at least purporting to be truthful, shape later novels set in colonial North America? How does the presence of an editor, or the ethnographic guidelines of the Royal Society, affect the text as it is finally published? The answers are divided into two sections: "Narratives of Fact" and "Narratives of Fiction." In both, Snader's arguments are made mainly by reference to the texts themselves, and the only important fault with the first section is that it scants history. The rhetoric of the narratives is nationalist, and most of its makers assume that civilization is defined by Protestant Britishness, but some reference to the actual history of trade and piracy, as well as of the governments in (for instance) the Barbary Coast and the Levant in the late sixteenth century, would have been helpful. It is one thing to imply that a narrator is unreliable, another to omit almost all mention of the facts he is twisting.
The first part will probably be of most interest to those working in life writing. The rounding up of texts is in itself an impressive job of research, and accomplishes Snader's polemical purpose: to convince the reader that the genre is not merely North American. With well over forty works discussed or mentioned briefly in the first section alone, and 156 items in the primary-text bibliography, in such a broad survey there is an inevitable excess of "thumbprint" size plot summaries. The bibliography will prove a useful research tool for those who want to build on Snader's work, though it would [End Page 392] be difficult in any event to give the reader, without extensive quotation, a sense of the ambiguities of texts that were often rewritten by editors, framed by affidavits attesting their truthfulness, or interpolated with plagiarized passages.
The texts which Snader does discuss at length are well chosen. The 1739 History of the Long Captivity and Adventures of Thomas Pellow in South Barbary can serve as a representative example. In his discussion of Pellow's much-edited text, Snader uncovers the "ambivalences" of a man who spent twenty-three years in...