“The Whole Island is a Jail and We the Warders”: States of Exception in Tasmanian Historical Fiction

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Looking at two historical romances by women writers, Kathleen Graves’ Exile: A Tale of Old Tasmania (1945) and Isabel Dick’s Wild Orchard (1946), this article seeks to examine narratives of an early nineteenth-century Van Diemen’s Land that are apparently at odds with the 1940s Tasmania it was to become. Drawing on Giorgio Agamben’s “state of exception” as the theoretical underpinnings for this essay, I read both the nineteenth- and twentieth-century island as a site for the proliferation of bare life whereby the whole of society finds itself defined by its prison-like capacity to strip individuals of their right to life. In telling these stories in which not all lives are equal, it seems that Dick and Graves are attempting to situate their narratives firmly in the past where they cannot contaminate the present, and indeed, future of their island.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Specific Literatures


  • Agamben (Giorgio), Tasmanian literature, Van Diemen’s Land, state of exception, historical romance
Original languageEnglish
JournalCommonwealth Essays and Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Publication categoryResearch