Henry Avery (alternately spelled Every) was one of the most notorious pirates of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and scholars have written much about Avery in an effort to establish the historical details of his mutiny and acts of piracy. Other scholars have focused on the substantial literary production that his life occasioned; the early literary history of Avery’s exploits evolves quickly away from the known facts of his life, offering instead a literary trajectory of accumulated tropes about Avery’s motivations, actions, and transformations. This literary invention of Avery is a compelling subject in itself, particularly as writers used his story to explore pressing philosophical and political concerns of the period. In this essay, I consider how early fictions about Avery look well beyond the history of a particular pirate to ruminate on topical ideas about the state of nature, the origins of civil society, and human tendencies toward self-interest and corruption that seem—inevitably—to accompany power and threaten civil order, however newly formed or ostensibly principled.
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