Theses Doctoral

The Sea Has Many Voices: British Modernism and the Maritime Historical Imagination

Uphaus, Maxwell

This dissertation reorients the study of British modernism towards the ocean by uncovering modernism’s engagement with a set of ideas about the historical significance of the sea that I term “maritime foundationalism.” A key component of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British nationalism and imperialism, maritime foundationalism held that British history and identity were fundamentally maritime and that the sea, in turn, propelled Britain’s historical development and the course of history in general. Reading works by Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, and T. S. Eliot alongside contemporary historical, geographical, and scientific texts, I trace how British modernism developed by incorporating, modifying, and contesting this pervasive maritime-historical ideology. Even as modernist works build on notions of the sea as the foundation of the empire and conveyer of its history, they also disrupt these notions by representing the sea in more unsettling ways, as a testament to the dark sides of maritime-imperial history or an element that threatens to engulf history altogether. Each of my chapters details the literary effects of this interaction of maritime foundationalism and more melancholy conceptions of the sea’s historicity at key points in the intertwined histories of modernism and empire between the 1890s and the 1940s. “The Sea Has Many Voices” thus shows how competing constructions of the sea shape modernism’s historical imagination—the way it defines its present and situates it in relationship to the past.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
English and Comparative Literature
Thesis Advisors
Cole, Sarah
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 11, 2015