Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Alca. Island in the North Atlantic, close to the Arctic Circle, that is also known as the Island of the Penguins, Penguin Island, and Penguinia. Its shore was initially circular, surrounding a single, central mountain from whose peak the distant shores of Armorica could be seen. It was then flanked by steep cliffs, except for one place inset with a natural amphitheater formed of black and red rocks; in this amphitheater, while rendered snow-blind by the Arctic ice, the future Saint Maël preached the gospel to a population of penguins, thinking them humans, and then baptized them. (Note that penguins are native to the Southern Hemisphere, not the Arctic.)

Alca subsequently grew considerably in size, changing its shape to that of a mulberry leaf. Its previously desolate landscapes gave way to cultivated fields and woodlands. Much later in its history, the island was redesignated an “insula” following the expansion of its empire by the conqueror Trinco (although the conquered lands were soon lost again, along with the neighboring islands of Ampelphoria and the Dog’s Jaws, which had belonged to the Penguins before Trinco’s rise to power). These shifts in size and shape are a satirical projection of the alterations that changes in political geography impose on real maps.

The elementary geography of Alca is a conceptual sketch map of various kinds of territory recognized by mythographers and historians. The Coast of Shadows, to the east of the island, remains an ominous place long after the first phase of Penguin...

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Penguin Island Bibliography

(Great Characters in Literature)

Bresky, Dushan. The Art of Anatole France. The Hague: Mouton, 1969. A critical overview of France’s work, with discussion of France’s place within the French literary tradition. Sections on humor and utopianism, and great sensitivity to questions of aesthetics.

Kennett, W. T. E. “The Theme of Penguin Island.” Romanic Review 33, no. 3 (October, 1942): 275-289. Traces the theme of an imaginary island populated by penguins in romantic European travelogue literature since the Renaissance, concluding with a critical examination of France’s Penguin Island.

May, James Lewis. Anatole France: The Man and His Work, an Essay in Critical Biography. 1924. Reprint. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1970. Profiles France’s formative influences in the first half of the book, followed by critical discussions of France’s works.

Stewart, Herbert Leslie. Anatole France, the Parisian. 1927. Reprint. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1972. Correlates elements in France’s works to specific personal, cultural, and philosophical influences. Many anecdotes and pertinent quotations. Emphasizes France’s humanism and its effect on his work.

Virtanen, Reino. Anatole France. New York: Twayne, 1968. A chronologically arranged critical perspective on France’s body of work. Traces France’s debts to earlier satirists.