Geographic Discouse, Gender, and Elizabethan Fiction
Constance C. Relihan
The Kent State University Press
A fresh perspective on Elizabethan fiction
In Cosmographical Glasses Constance Relihan examines the ways in which sixteenth-century English texts—traveler’s reports, ethnographic studies, and geographic guides—provide the foundation for how fictional prose of the period envisions the locations in which its tales are set. Relihan suggests that this nonfictional discourse becomes central to how the fictional prose of the period imagines cultural identity, fictional purpose, and gender identity.
Places and cultures were defined in opposition to each other in early modern romances. In the examples in Cosmographical Glasses, writers attempt to define the spaces of their texts in an effort to identify what it means to be male, English, and Elizabethan.
Through these texts, Relihan considers the various ways in which fictional pieces seize the spirit of ethnographic and geographic texts, as well as the ways in which historically identifiable and overtly fictional places were used to complicate representations of utopian fantasies. A number of prose romances and novella collections and their use of historical and geographical facts are analyzed in order to explore the associations between the genre, the discourses of colonialism, and the construction of gender. These texts become “glasses” that reflect and refract the social and cultural realities of early modern England.
Those interested in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century English literature, the history of the novel, and the influence of travel literature on fictional texts will appreciate Cosmographical Glasses.