The decades leading up to England’s first permanent American colony saw not only territorial and commercial expansion but also the emergence of a vast and heterogeneous literature. In the multiple relations of writing to discovery over these decades, these texts played a role more powerful than that of simple recording. They needed to establish certain realities against a background of scepticism - the possibility of discovery, the lands discovered, the intentions and experiences of the discoverers - and they also had to find ways of theorizing their enterprise. Yet conceiving of the American enterprise positively or even survivably proved surprisingly difficult; the voyage narratives evolved almost from the outset as a genre concerned with recuperating failure - as noble, strategic, even as a form of success. Reception of these texts from the Victorian era on has often accepted their claims of heroism and mastery; through a careful re-reading, Mary Fuller argues for a more complicated, less glorious history.