Mapping Miasma, Containing Fear:Richard Burton in West Africa

Jessica Howell

in Exploring Victorian Travel Literature

Published by Edinburgh University Press

Published in print June 2014 | ISBN: 9780748692958
Published online January 2015 | e-ISBN: 9781474400824 | DOI:
Mapping Miasma, Containing Fear:Richard Burton in West Africa

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Sir Richard Francis Burton’s personal investment in African colonialism, his subscription to certain medical and racial doctrines, and his hostility towards African natives are all interwoven within his travel writing. This chapter traces the arc of Burton’s engagement with the tropical climate and its effects on the white body, from Goa and the Blue Mountains (1851), to The Lake Regions of Central Africa (1860) and Wanderings in West Africa (1863). In earlier work, he uses vivid sensory details and detailed first-person descriptions of illness in order to bolster his own heroic persona and also to de-authorise his companions. In later travel writing, Burton creates hygienic maps of West Africa in order to allow space for on-going white settlement at higher elevations. By focusing on concepts of environmental pathology in mid-century travel writing to Africa, one may witness how writers such as Burton attempt to depict and then delimit dangers to the white body.

Keywords: West Africa; Richard Burton; polygenism; racial anthropology; medical geography; imperial gaze; miasma

Chapter.  13523 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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