My second-book project explores the figure of the globetrotting adventurer and the genre of adventure fiction as prisms for the investigation of turn-of-the-century small-state imperialism and popular colonial culture.
I trace the iridescent globetrotting life, literary work and afterlife of the Danish naval officer, travel writer and adventure author Walter Christmas (1861-1924) (full name: Walter Christmas-Dirckinck-Holmfeld).
In the first half of his life, Walter Christmas was a naval professional who – like many of his colleagues in the small Danish navy – frequently sought his fortune abroad: in foreign European or extra-European services (Greece and Siam, respectively), as a would-be entrepreneur within the global arena (being involved, for example, in a shipping project on the Amazon River) or as a diplomat of sorts (trying to negotiate the sale of the Danish West Indies).
Christmas’s multi-coloured career as a seaman and would-be entrepreneur shows how ‘peripheral’ European nations such as Denmark participated in the wider trends of Age-of-Empire imperialism and globalization through the individual activities of what I call “men between the spots”. These individual agents (mercenaries, merchants, engineers etc.), often from smaller European states such as Belgium, Denmark, Norway, or Switzerland, used the unimposing, neutral image of their nations to enter the service of other colonial empires or extra-European states and thereby to promote the (economic) interests of their own home countries or their own thirst for adventure and search for a livelihood.
Following his various adventures in the global arena, Walter Christmas would always return to his national/local roots and thus, he also became a literary mediator between the great wide world of transoceanic empires and the bijou world of the Danish bourgeoisie. As a prototypical sailor-turned-writer he published several travel books about his time on the Amazon River (Amazonfloden 1892), in Siam (Et Aar i Siam 1894) and the tropics (Under Tropesol 1909) as well as emigration propaganda about the “Lands of promise” Australia, New Zealand, South America, and Canada (Fremtidslande 1903–1904) and a two-volume autobiography (Krydstogt gennem livet 1923).
His biggest success, finally, came with the many adventure stories that he published in his later years and which could be read as fictional interpretations of his dazzling biography – among them particularly five novels about Peder Most, a boy from Svendborg who travels the world as a sailor (1901–1921). As I argue, this boys’ adventure series shaped the “colonial fantasies”, the views of the world and worlds of play of Danish youths well into the 1950s. (read more here)
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Further online appraisals of Walter Christmas