This 1998 book examines a range of nineteenth-century European accounts from the Pacific, depicting Polynesian responses to imported metropolitan culture, in particular its technologies of writing and print. Texts designed to present self-affirming images of 'native' wonderment at European culture in fact betray the emergence of more complex modes of appropriation and interrogation by the Pacific peoples. Vanessa Smith argues that the Pacific islanders called into question the material basis and symbolic capacities of writing, even as they were first being framed in written representations. Examining accounts by beachcombers and missionaries, she suggests that complex modes of self-authorization informed the transmission of new cultural practices to the Pacific peoples. This shift of attention towards reception and appropriation provides the context for a detailed discussion of Robert Louis Stevenson's late Pacific writings.
• Interdisciplinary approach applying literary criticism to cultural accounts and situating literary texts within ethnographic context • Contributes to debates about empire and colonialism, while shifting focus to the Pacific, relatively neglected in recent studies • First book-length study to offer detailed, theoretically informed readings of Stevenson's Pacific writings, including unpublished manuscripts
List of Illustrations; Acknowledgements; Introduction: acts of reading; 1. 'A gift of fabrication': the beachcomber as bricoleur; 2. Lip service and conversation; 3. 'Other people's books': Stevenson's Pacific travels; 4. Piracy and exchange: Stevenson's Pacific fictions; 5. In the press of events: Stevenson's Pacific history; Afterword: 'the impediment of tongues'; Notes; Bibliography; Index.
'The work of theorists such as Homi Bhabha and Walter Ong are used with economy and precision to illuminate how the reception of missionary literature was astonishingly diverse.' The Times Literary Supplement