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BOOK REVIEWS 123 an alternative to the prison system, in which the “soft influences” ofnature could produce a version of restorative justice (22). Questions about what might get left out of the picture, of course, are probably an inevitable re­ sponse to an argument that is so highly focused, so moments like this one didn’t significantly alter my appreciation for the work. I have a feeling that this fascinating and revealing book will be discussed by scholars in Roman­ tic studies for years to come: I know it will certainly show its mark on my own work as I continue to digest its conclusions. Mark Canuel University of Illinois at Chicago Siobhan Carroll. An Empire ofAir and Water: Uncolonizable Space in the Brit­ ish Imagination, 1750-1850. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015. Pp. 290. $59.95. Siobhan Carroll’s An Empire ofAir and Water: Uncolonizable Space in the Brit­ ish Imagination, 1750—1850 complicates Edward Said’s apposition of imperi­ alism with habitation and his statement that “uninhabited spaces virtually do not exist” (13). In the service of this endeavor, the book draws on canonical, lesser-known, and archival sources to construct intricate con­ ceptual histories of four interrelated “atopias,” “cultural constructs” (7) defined as “ ‘real’ natural regions falling within the theoretical scope of contemporary human mobility, which, because of their intangibility, in­ hospitality, or inaccessibility, cannot be converted into the locations of af­ fective habitation known as ‘place’” (6). These four sites of inquiry—the poles, the sea, the atmosphere, and the subterranean—symbolize both the limits and the ambitions ofempire. In so doing, they highlight the vulnera­ bilities of the colonial project as well as the cultural work that can only be accomplished by literature’s placeless travel. How writers understand, take up, and/or reject literature’s potential ability to expand the empire via imagination forms the core of Carroll’s contribution to the field of Romanticism and to literary studies broadly conceived. Additionally, by charting a capacious map of references to and treatments of these atopias, Carroll has created a resource for scholars from any discipline interested in the cultural histories of uninhabited space. For example, Carroll’s finely wrought discursive histories of the poles and of the atmosphere will be in­ valuable to scholars interested in historicizing current debates about the en­ vironment both within and outside the academy. Carroll’s first chapter focuses on the poles as objects ofBritish “specula­ tion,” a “slippery term” that, Carroll argues, “usefully captures the vexed SiR, 55 (Spring 2016) 124 BOOK RE VIEWS intersection of economic interests, scientific aspirations, and literary con­ jecture in a geo-imaginary region where the line between fact and fiction often appeared hopelessly blurred” (22). Carroll notes the similarities be­ tween the connotations and denotations of “to speculate” and “to imag­ ine,” citing as a key distinction the sense that “|i]n general, acts of spec­ ulation differ from acts of imagination in that the object of their contemplation—a soul, a star, a market—are presumed to exist externally to the mind that contemplates them[,|” a distinction that, in the period, “was not vigorously preserved” (2101112). Carroll’s use of “speculation” in the chapter leads to a fascinating history of the poles, both as limits that re­ sisted integration into empire, and as a sort ofpure, romanticized version of unowned space capable of disguising the sins of imperial desire. Carroll’s understanding of the term as “capturing the intersection” of various fields also reveals something about her methodology. Like the concepts—for, as she recognizes, they are concepts as much as “real” places—that Carroll works to historicize, her theoretical terms, “imagination” in particular, wind their way through more recent discourse, entextualizing disparate theoretical commitments and critical concerns. Take, for example, a reveal­ ing moment from the book’s conclusion, in which Carroll explains, “I have analyzed the ways in which authors used atopic backdrops to assert the continued survival and independence of the imagination by setting limits on the ambitions of the state, exposing the weaknesses of empire, and in­ viting the formation of different communities than those imagined by the na­ tion” (187, my emphasis). There are two...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2330-118X
Print ISSN
0039-3762
Pages
pp. 123-126
Launched on MUSE
2020-03-06
Open Access
No
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