At the beginning of Henry De Very Stacpoole’s 1908 novel The Blue Lagoon, the announcement that an island is in sight after a shipwreck causes a mixed reaction on the part of young Dick:

“Childer!” shouted Paddy. He was at the cross-trees in the full dawn, whilst the children standing beneath on deck were craning their faces up to him. “There’s an island forenint us.”

“Hurrah!” cried Dick. He was not quite sure what an island might be like in the concrete, but it was something fresh, and Paddy’s voice was jubilant. 1

The appearance of the island at dawn is here linked to freshness and recognized as worthy of celebration. Significantly, however, these attributes do not derive from the perceptual emergence of the island itself as the children are not looking at it; rather, they seem to be metonymically linked to the emergence of daylight and the jubilant voice of the cook. Even more importantly, they are independent of any cognitive processes deriving from the knowledge of what an island “might be like in the concrete”; the child’s reaction suggests a fundamental uncertainty about the very idea of the island. Indeed, geographers are well aware of the difficulties of offering any absolute definition of an island:

Unlike elemental, environmental or topographic terms such as ocean, mountain, desert, valley, river or lake, island denotes a class of geographic phenomena defined solely by their spatial characteristics. 2 Such physical features of an island as geology, relief, drainage, vegetation or climate are irrelevant to its primary definition. 3

Cosgrove’s definition of islands as “land surrounded by water,” 4 which largely corresponds to that offered by the Oxford English Dictionary, may itself be questioned, yet his conclusion that “[e]ven geographical islandness is a relative condition” 5 seems hard to dispute.