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In Peril on the Sea: Shipwreck and Loss in Poetry 1805-1822

posted on 2023-09-01, 14:04 authored by Kirsty J. Harris
This dissertation breaks new ground in the emergent field of study in Romantic-period literature which is concerned with an ‘oceanic turn’. It studies shipwreck poetry published between the deaths of Admiral Nelson (1805) and Percy Bysshe Shelley (1822), exploring a selection of recurrent influences and ideologies. This thesis shows how, collectively, the texts studied articulate an unusual approach to shipwreck narrative in this brief period, which has heretofore not been observed. This function rejects an eighteenth-century spiritualising paradigm wherein shipwreck was commonly used as a device for tales of religious conversion or redemption. This thesis examines a variety of ways in which early nineteenth-century poets removed their works from this prescriptive structure, writing instead tales of shipwreck from which spiritualisation is largely absent. Such absence allows poets to illustrate the confusion and fragmentation of their own social and political climate instead, through the fragmentation of both the ships they write about, and the established associated narrative. Through studying this Romantic rejection of the redemptive, predictable, spiritual use of shipwreck in literature, this thesis engages with those multiple facets of loss in poetry of the sea, bringing them together for the first time. Included among these facets are: the loss of the hero figure, battle losses, the loss of the self and of social status; and the loss of salvific or sacred elements associated with shipwreck in biblical and ancient literature. Finally, this thesis offers a discussion of a ‘Gothic Sea’ as a distinct concept, connected to both the Gothic genre as a whole and the ‘oceanic turn’. Until now, a distinct ‘Gothic Sea’ has not been studied in depth by literary critics, and this final element of the thesis is therefore intended as an opening dialogue for further study on the topic.



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