Inexhaustible Mines and Post-lapsarian Decay: The End of Improvement in Defoe's Tour
School of Humanities and Social Sciences
While some scholars read Daniel Defoe's A Tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain (1724–26) as celebrating human improvement of the natural world, in descriptions of the key improving activity of mining, the narrator records how improvement and depletion go hand in hand. In the process, he raises the question of whether improvement can continue indefinitely. As he toggles between literal description of what he observes in Britain's landscape and metaphorical fantasies of the resources he hopes to find beneath the earth's surface, the narrator reflects a discourse of natural history shaped by competing narratives of Edenic abundance and post-lapsarian decay. Read through the lens of this theological dialectic, Tour registers a concern about the long-term consequences of improving endeavours as its narrator observes how nature is depleted and made unpredictable by human exploitation.
Defoe, Daniel, 1661?-1731; Nature--Effect of human beings on
Williamson, Bethany, "Inexhaustible Mines and Post-lapsarian Decay: The End of Improvement in Defoe's Tour" (2019). Faculty Articles & Research. 410.