Throughout the long course of literature, islands have accumulated uncanny connotations of death, together with peculiarities of linguistic definition and expression. Since the age of "discovery", after the Caribbean Islands, America itself, and later the archipelagos and atolls in the Pacific became known to travellers and conquistadores, islands have been sought, searched, explored and physically possessed as women; cultural recognition takes the form of sexual and physical possession (Venus was born from the sea, and is identified with an island). These are the themes of the first two variations discussed in this book. In the 19th century, by way of retribution or contrast, transgressive, "fallen", or "lost" women are made to relinquish the islands of love and desire, and to seek self-effacement, loss of identity, and death, by water. They seal their lethal destinies by swimming out to sea, walking into rivers, lakes and ponds, where their very images are reflected. Compelled, at the same time, to provide images, women find themselves at the centre of dramatic contrasts between art and life, figuration and bodily presence.
Visual images, paintings and portraits, absorb and encroach on their physicality and their existence; an all-pervading artistic urge does away with life and the world. These are the themes of the third and fourth variations. The book provides thematic criticism, in that it pursues the variations and the evolution of basic motifs in literary figuration.show more