To the seaside and into the abyss
in The Victorian aquarium
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Chapter 2 discusses the marine tank in connection to real and imaginary travel. The first part is centred on how tank keeping merged with seaside tourism, both practically and textually: in fact, aquarium books described – and often prescribed – ways of experiencing the seaside vacation, envisaging the aquarist as a good tourist in terms of the activities pursued, of the closer relationship established with locals, and of an active engagement with the environment, even though tensions soon emerged between an ‘acquisitive’ appreciation of nature and the recognition that seashore collecting might eventually jeopardize delicate and fragile ecosystems. The second part of the chapter outlines how the aquarium vogue also spurred journeys of the mind: in the 1850s, the tank was widely believed to be a perfect replica of the underwater world, and as such stimulated fictitious descriptions of abyssal excursions; even more intriguingly, the aquarium could at times turn into a time-machine and suggest speculations on progress, on geological past, and on a not-so-far future.

The Victorian aquarium

Literary discussions on nature, culture and science

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