Martin Paul Eve deposited The Historical Imaginary of Nineteenth-Century Style in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas in the group TC Digital Humanities on MLA Commons 11 months ago
The first section of David Mitchell’s genre-bending novel, Cloud Atlas (2004), purports to be set in 1850. Narrative clues approximately date the intra-diegetic diary object of this chapter to the period 1851–1910. This article argues for the construction of a stylistic historical imaginary of this period’s language that is not based on mimetic etymological accuracy. Specifically, I show that of the 13,246 words in Part I of The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing, there are at least three terms that have an etymological first-usage date from after 1910: spillage, variously attested from ~1934; latino, from ~1946; and lazy-eye, from ~1960. Instead, I show that racist and colonial terms occur with much greater frequency in Cloud Atlas than in a broader contemporary textual corpus (the Oxford English Corpus), indicating that the construction of imagined historical style likely rests more on infrequent word use and thematic terms from outmoded racist discourses than on etymological mimesis.