American Hollow Earth Narratives From the 1820s to 1920

Pauls, Catherine
(2014) American Hollow Earth Narratives From the 1820s to 1920. PhD thesis, University of Liverpool.

[img] Text
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives.

Download (1MB)


With the disappearance of terra incognita from nineteenth century maps, new lands of imagination emerged in literature, supplanting the blank spaces on the globe with blank spaces inside the globe, the terra cava. Beginning with Symmes’s Theory of Concentric Spheres from 1818, dozens of American authors wrote fictions set in a hollow or semi-hollow earth. This setting provided a space for authors to experiment with contemporary issues of imperialism, science, faith, and socio-political reforms. The purpose of this thesis is one of literary archaeology, examining the American hollow earth narrative, which peaked in publication numbers between 1880 and 1920, most of which was forgotten as exploration of the Poles disproved Symmes’s theory of Polar openings into a hollow, habitable world. Though there have been some general studies of hollow earth and subterranean literature, there has never been a focused study of nineteenth century American hollow earth literature and its relationship to contemporary culture. The first chapter explores the history of John Cleves Symmes, Jr and his theory in the early nineteenth century, and the influence is had on American politics, literature, and scientific thought. In the subsequent three chapters, the terra cava narratives published between 1880 and 1920 are explored in three categories: the imperial, the spiritual, and the utopian. All of these elements reflect distinct American concerns during the fin de siècle about the country’s expansion, the closing of the frontier, variations in Christian theology, the development of Spiritualism, the women’s rights movement, and socio-economic reforms meant to improve American life. The primary texts are supported by contemporary reviews and analyses where any exist. As part of the conclusion, an extensive examination of the post-1920 terra cava narrative and the legacy of Symmes is provided, establishing the modern context for examining these historical literary works.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Depositing User: Symplectic Admin
Date Deposited: 14 Jan 2015 11:31
Last Modified: 01 Jan 2020 02:31
DOI: 10.17638/02005061