Literature, geography, law: the life and adventures of Captain John Avery (circa 1709)
Cultural Geographies, 19, (1), . (doi:10.1177/1474474011427362).
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While Madagascar had long been known in England as a position on the world map, it was first widely and popularly dramatised as a place within stories of the English pirate Henry Every. A genealogy of Every fictions appearing in London between about 1709 and into the 1720s played in various and curious ways upon the rumours of this community. The Life and Adventures of Capt. John Avery, the Famous English Pirate, (raised from a Cabbin-Boy to a King) now in Possession of Madagascar (circa 1709) was the first of these fictions. This essay retrieves The Life and Adventures from its mere position within a range of literary, political, and historical narratives, and aims to discover what might be yielded by more closely attending to the raw and sophisticated geographical and legal terms in which Every initially became a literary legend. Analysing the central story of piracy in these terms, the essay draws out the anonymous author’s suggestive and astute concern with the state-like behaviours and powers of ‘Merchants’. It argues, however, that the questioning politics of state-legitimacy that are pursued in the central narrative must be read within a sharp awareness of the intricate framing structures of the text; and more specifically the ‘editor’s’ wry address to the prerogative of the reader, and mocking engagement with the conventions of geographical knowledge. Joining a consideration of the authenticity of state behaviour to a questioning of the authenticity of texts and forms of knowledge, The Life and Adventures must be finally read as promoting critical reading as an act of significant political importance in the first decade of the eighteenth century.
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