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Wed 19th November 2014
Professor Neil Rennie
Education and Experience
Neil Rennie has learned and taught at UCL. Over the years he has published poems and reviews in various newspapers and periodicals, including the London Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement, Guardian, Spectator, London Magazine. He has enjoyed discussing music, books and travel on various programmes on Radio 4 and the World Service.
Neil Rennie’s principal research interest is in the history of travel, real and imaginary, and of travel literature, French, English and American, from the Renaissance to the present. His first book, Far-Fetched Facts: The Literature of Travel and the Idea of the South Seas, was a long historical and geographical voyage in the literature of travel, from classical times, via accounts of the New World, to the accounts of the South Sea islands that lay beyond. It followed continuities from the Odyssey to the twentieth century and traced the interplay of fact and fiction in a literature with a notorious tendency to deviate from the truth. His second book, Pocahontas, Little Wanton: Myth, Life and Afterlife, explored the life and myth of the Powhatan ‘princess’, Pocahontas, who is famous today for something she may or may not have done four hundred years ago: rescue the captive English colonist John Smith from execution by her father, Powhatan, the Indian paramount chief of the Virginia area. The book combines the story of her brief life with the history of her long, ambiguous afterlife, as an American Indian heroine.
Neil Rennie's latest book, published in September 2013, is Treasure Neverland: Real and Imaginary Pirates. Swashbuckling eighteenth-century pirates are still popular and well-known today. Most people have heard of Blackbeard and Captain Kidd, for example, although they lived about three hundred years ago. Most people have also heard of other pirates, such as Long John Silver and Captain Hook, although those pirates never lived at all, except in literature. So there have been two kinds of pirates – real and fictional – but the real, historical pirates are themselves somewhat legendary, somewhat fictional, like the later, imaginary pirates. Treasure Neverland investigates the actual facts of eighteenth-century pirate life and how these facts were subsequently transformed, by writers like Defoe and Stevenson, into realistic and fantastic fictions of various kinds, historical novels and Hollywood films. The aim is to watch, in other words, the long dissolve from Captain Kidd to Johnny Depp. A current project is to research and write about the English episodes in the lives of some French poets: Mallarmé, Rimbaud, Laforgue, Apollinaire, Larbaud.
Far-Fetched Facts: The Literature of Travel and the Idea of the South Seas (Oxford University Press, 1995)
Pocahontas, Little Wanton: Myth, Life and Afterlife (Quaritch, 2007)
Treasure Neverland: Real and Imaginary Pirates (Oxford University Press, 2013)
Edited with introduction, R.L. Stevenson, In the South Seas (Penguin, 1998)