School of Social Sciences

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Jane Thomson


Start date

Aug 2009

Submission date

Apr 2016

Jane Thomson


Flight and the Literary Imagination: From Enlightenment to Modernism


Commencing with Robert Paltock’s The Life and Adventures of Peter Wilkins and ending with works by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, this thesis analyses writings about flight. Literary texts in which flight is a significant component became more prevalent from the 1750s on, when flying became humanly possible with the advent of ballooning in the eighteenth century and the aeroplane in the twentieth century. Prior to these significant milestones in aviation, writers had long expressed their desire to take to the air and to imagine themselves out of the grounding earthly realm. Outpourings of writings accompanied this new ability to escape the earth. This thesis elucidates how flight is representative of so many desires – power, escape, adventure, danger, transcendence, spectacle, aesthetics, novelty, progress, exploration, increased sensation, utility, proximity to divinity, utopia, a better world and an experience of the sublime.

Why my research is important

Previous studies based on the human fascination with flight have primarily focussed on the historical and chronological facts, mythologies associated with flight, biographical details of the people linked to flight, as well as textual analysis of individual texts. There has been no comprehensive research into the literary representations of flight from the 1750s to the 1940s, or of commonalities across this period. My project aims to examine how flight was written about, the desires that it represents, both in non-fiction and fictional works, from ballooning until the commercialisation of heavier-than-air flight and whether there is a discourse of transcendence occurring in these writings. By transcendence I am referring to a state linked to going beyond ordinary physical human experience, not the philosophical or religious meaning. This is an area which has not been examined and the answers to my research questions will contribute new knowledge to the scholarship related to the literary history of flight.


  • Australian Postgraduate Award
  • UWA Top-up Scholarship