‘“A new discovery of a new world”: the Moon and America in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century European literature’

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This essay argues that seventeenth- and early-eighteenth-century writers used Galileo’s 1610 discovery that the moon was a potentially visitable and inhabitable location – a new New World – as an opportunity to articulate anxieties and enthusiasms about the European colonization of America: a very slightly older New World. It shows that the association between the moon and Atlantic voyaging had an ancient pedigree, dating at least to Lucian of Samosata’s satires in the first century. The seventeenth century, however, saw a spate of scientifically informed texts that explicitly correlated the moon with America and the Atlantic with cislunar space. These included Johannes Kepler’s Somnium (1610), Francis Godwin’s The Man in the Moone: or A Discourse of a Voyage Thither (1638), John Wilkins’s The Discovery of a World in the Moone, or, A Discourse Tending to Prove that ‘tis Probable there may be another Habitable World in that Planet (1638) and Cyrano de Bergerac’s L'Autre Monde: ou les États et Empires de la Lune, published posthumously in 1657. Between them, these texts satirized European attempts to establish utopian communities in America, articulated anxieties about the effect American colonization was having on European societies, while nevertheless managing to instill a certain enthusiasm for both intercontinental and interplanetary voyaging. By the early eighteenth century, the Lunar-American conflation appears to have become a commonplace, but it retained some potency as a critique of colonial policy, for example in the pseudonymous Captain Samuel Brunt’s A Voyage to Cacklogallinia (1727) in which the slave trader Brunt is captured in a slave uprising, transported to a nation of sentient birds, and from there taken to the moon; this satire is among the earliest texts drawing attention to the brutality of Caribbean slavery. This essay briefly surveys the literature of the Lunar-American conflation between 1610 and 1730, and demonstrates how the notion of a potentially inhabitable moon offered both an opportunity to satirize colonial policy, and to imagine colonial possibilities beyond the confines of planet Earth.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLiterature in the Age of Celestial Discovery: From Copernicus to Flamsteed
EditorsJudy Hayden
Place of PublicationBasingstoke
ISBN (Print)978-1137583451
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jan 2016


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