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Far-Fetched Facts is an essay in the history of the literature of travel, real and imaginary, from classical times, via the early accounts of the New World, to the accounts of the South Sea islands that lay beyond. It follows continuities from the Odyssey to the twentieth century and traces the interplay of fact and fiction in a literature with a notorious tendency to deviate from the truth. The late medieval travels of the imaginary Mandeville and the real Marco Polo are explored, and the writings of Columbus as he struggled to reconcile what 'Mandeville' and Polo had written with what he found in the West Indies. The philosophical consequences of the discovery of the New World are followed in the works of Montaigne and Bacon, and the factual travels of Dampier are placed in relation to the fictional travels of Crusoe and Gulliver. The various accounts of the scientific voyages of Cook and Bougainville are examined and their revelation of a Tahiti more mythic than scientific, erotic as well as exotic. All the factual accounts of the mutiny on the Bounty are assessed, and also the fictions that came in its wake. The supposedly factual narrative that is Herman Melville's first novel is read in relation to other travellers' accounts of the South Seas, as are the factual and fictional writings of Loti, Stevenson, Malinowski, Mead, and the Hawaiian Visitors Bureau. Far-Fetched Facts is the first full account of the Western idea of the South Seas as it evolved from the lost paradises of biblical and classical literature to end in the false paradise found by the tourist.
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