Accepted Paper:

A sea-bounded island as incarceration or retreat  


Judith Okely (Oxford UniversityUniversity of Hull)

Paper short abstract:

The Isle of Wight, sea surrounded, facilitates incarceration, whether prisons or boarding schools. Seascapes also encourage retreats. These include royal or artistic enclaves, yachting leisure, or proletarian holiday package. The paper draws on an ethnography of incarceration and imagined idylls.

Paper long abstract:

The sea around islands has been exploited for imprisonment e.g. Alcatraz and Devil's Island. Thanks to deep waters, bestialised criminals are separated from civil society. The Isle of Wight has brought both long-term incarceration and holiday escape. At the inter-flux of maritime trading and war strategies, it has reified royal connections and class divisions. Its prisons confined the most dangerous and the criminally insane. Other locations were constructed as Queen Victoria's retreat or as creative enclave for the likes of Tennyson, Julia Cameron, Keats and Dickens. The Island has provided upper class yachting leisure, proletarian seaside holiday package or celebrity music fest.

As with Foucault's heterotopia, the Island harboured boarding schools. These ensured class and gendered isolation while facilitating sexual abuse. The sea prevented any breakouts from mono-culturalism. But as wild nature, the sea and its onslaughts defied regimentation. School gardens, cultivated as spectacle, brought diversion from emotional deprivation and austerity. In the author's boarding school, animals were rare:- the headmistress's one pet dachshund, collections of impaled butterflies and occasional horses for riding by a privileged few. The activities of frogs provided the single case study for lessons in sex and reproduction. The author draws on nine years incarceration, a filmed return decades later, encounters with a prep school master, recent exchanges with former inmates and the ethnography of imagined idylls.

Panel P24
British landscape, heterotopia and 'new animism'