Experiments in Solitude: The Island Fictions of August Strindberg, Joseph Conrad and D. H. Lawrence

Patrick Parrinder


This paper applies A. R. Wallace’s distinction between ‘continental’ and ‘oceanic’ islands to the analysis of three tragic island fictions, August Strindberg’s By the Open Sea (I Havsbandet), Joseph Conrad’s Victory and D. H. Lawrence’s ‘The Man Who Loved Islands’. In each text, the mythological ideas of the utopian island and the island of the dead are seen to complement the novelists’ concerns with intellectual and moral survival in a state of deliberately sought isolation. Strindberg’s and Conrad’s protagonists rehearse the defeat of late nineteenth-century rationalism, while Lawrence’s more allegorical tale crystallises many of the themes found in the earlier novels. In each story the island figures, however briefly, as a historical microcosm offering ‘a pictorial history of the world’; but with the failure of their utopian projects, the protagonists’ underlying misanthropy and social disconnection becomes increasingly evident. Strindberg’s Axel Borg, Conrad’s Axel Heyst and Lawrence’s Cathcart become ghost-ridden hermits on islands which provide no lasting sanctuary. Each story ends with a catastrophic loss of identity, and with actual or imminent death. In terms of island biogeography, each text maps a progression from ‘continental’ affiliations to ‘oceanic’ nothingness.


island; utopia; Toteninsel; rationalism; Darwinism; biogeography

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