"Islanded in the world": Cultural memory and human mobility in The Last Man
The Last Man, Mary Shelley's novel of 1826, describes the extinction of humanity by a plague that leaves only one man alive. The plague exerts pressure on the idea of national community by forcing a reevaluation of the number of people needed to continue a nation. It also increases human mobility, severing all local attachments as its survivors seek safety. By considering these issues. The Last Man engages with contemporary sociopolitical debates, reflects on the consequences of those debates for literary production and readership, and meditates on the possibilities for cultural memory in a peripatetic world. This essay introduces a neglected historical context for the novel: the debates over emigration, especially state-aided emigration, during the first three decades of the nineteenth century. Shelley's novel aligns itself, in a strikingly pessimistic way, with those who opposed any encouragement of emigration. © 2003 by the Modern Language Association of America.
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