Faculty of Arts


Melville and Conrad

Please note: this is archived course information from 2012 for ENGLISH 727.


Melville and Conrad are both writers of the sea, "tormented" - as Ishmael puts it - "with an everlasting itch for things remote." Their world of sailing ships and tramp steamers, of port cities and backwater plantations, is first and foremost a fictional setting in which peoples and customs and cultures are thrown together. It can be a fraternal and cosmopolitan world, but it is also a hierarchical, violent and inequitable one. The primary frame of comparison for these two authors involves understanding the political economy of their settings and the light each author throws on processes of globalisation in the age of empire.

The sea is also a natural setting: what does each writer see as he peers into the sea? What is the human connection to the non-human world? What is our place in nature? These questions - at once epistemological and ecological - provide a second frame of comparison.

Melville and Conrad also have profound insights into forms of emotion that go with the settings and situations of late empire - in particular, the "ugly feelings" of envy, rage, paranoia and shame, while also throwing a discomforting light on what it means to be a "well-adjusted" or "civilised" individual.

Comparing each writer’s contribution to the psychological novel will also involve reading the novels in relation to recent work in gender theory — studies of Melville, in particular, have occasioned major contributions to queer studies. But above all, this course is interested in learning from Melville and Conrad as great masters of a modern prose style, as writers who took the novel to new places and in new ways.

Availability 2012

Semester 2


Coordinator(s) Associate Professor Alex Calder


Herman Melville: Moby Dick (Oxford World’s Classics), The Confidence Man (Oxford World’s Classics), Billy Budd, Sailor and Other Stories (Penguin). Joseph Conrad: Lord Jim, Nostromo, Heart of Darkness and Other Tales (all Oxford World’s Classics).


ENGLISH 727: 30.0 points


ENGLISH 715, 761, 762

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