Arts and Culture
A remarkable image emerges from nineteenth century fiction about sea voyages between The Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies. The sailing ships (around the Cape) and steam ships (through the Suez canal from 1870) that crossed the seas between 1850 and 1890 are presented in the novels: as condensed versions of colonial society. All sections of the colonial community are represented on board. This heterogeneous company is forced to live together for months in changeable weather conditions on a confined living space. The passengers are continuously confronted with each other’s presence. Differences stand out more clearly at sea than on land, because everything is magnified on board.
The novels on the sea voyage lack a clear plot. The narrators are mainly concerned with giving a realistic picture of the passage based on the experiences of the passengers. They claim that these representations of the passage constitutes reality. In many cases the narrator of the story makes clear that he had actually made the sea voyage himself and therefore claims to be a reliable source of knowledge about it. To enhance these pretensions of reality the narrator is constantly referring to well-known existing geographic spaces such as cities, seas and countries. Also, the references – explicitly or implicitly – to previous stories increase the reliability of the travel novel. In this way their books could not only be regarded as novels about thrilling sea voyages but also as travel guides.