Thursday, September 11, 2008

McLemee, Scott. "Prospero's Island." INSIDE HIGHER ED September 10, 2008.

We reached the island on the morning of Labor Day, as the last of the vacationers were closing up their summer rentals; they caught the afternoon ferry back to New Bedford. At peak times, there may be 300 people on Cuttyhunk. It is a tiny island with a peculiar shape, located about two hours from Boston — one hour each by land and by sea. A retired academic couple, Marvin and Betty Mandell, had lent my wife and me use of their place for a few days. (Marvin is professor emeritus of English at Curry College, while Betty holds the same position in social work at Bridgewater State College.) By the evening of our first day, the island’s population had shrunk to a few dozen people – none of whom, it turned out, was a restaurateur. We sank into the quiet. Cell phones didn’t always work, and we were wireless-less. It was a good place to let your imagination to take over. We began speculating about the puzzling sets of rocks arranged in odd patters, the occasional symbol painted here and there, the graffiti laboriously scratched into the stones of a bridge. We worked out our own myth about the sacrificial traditions of the island – two parts Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” and one part H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.” (It seemed obvious that worship of sinister fish gods would be involved, given all the yachts). What made the private joke work, of course, was the absolute lack of menace or stress on the island otherwise – unless you counted the occasional need to get out of the way of golf carts putting down the road. Exploring the local history books on Marvin and Betty’s shelves and in the Cuttyhunk Public Library, I became intrigued by the area’s most ambitious claim to fame. This was the theory that it served as the inspiration for Prospero’s island in The Tempest. Since getting back home, to a city with good research collections, it has been possible to explore the matter a little further. By now, it is not so much a case of scholarly fascination as reluctance to surrender all of the vacation mood. . . . Read the rest here:

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