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Unit information: Literature and the Sea: The Seafarer to The Shipping News in 2015/16

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Unit name Literature and the Sea: The Seafarer to The Shipping News
Unit code ENGL20020
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Publicover
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of English
Faculty Faculty of Arts


From The Odyssey onwards, the sea has afforded inspiration for a rich and strange sub-genre of literature: poems, plays, and novels have contemplated the sea’s mystery and depth; recorded the terrors and excitements of voyaging across its surface; and attempted to understand its attractions. Additionally, when authors confront the secretive, alien, and unfathomable oceans, they often do so in order to ask questions about themselves.

On this course, which engages a cutting-edge area of critical study (sometimes dubbed ‘The New Thalassology’), we will examine some of the finest sea-writing in English. Beginning within the medieval period, and moving chronologically through Shakespearean drama, Romantic poetry, nineteenth-century novels, and twentieth-century texts, we will study with writers who, despite being in many respects very different, share a fascination with, and a desire to understand, the sea. Authors covered will include Shakespeare, Marvell, Byron, Coleridge, Melville, Tennyson, Conrad, T.S. Eliot, Plath, Rich, and Proulx.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have

(1) developed a detailed knowledge and critical understanding of writing about the sea;

(2) in-depth understanding of recent literary-critical thought on the sea, especially in connection with eco-criticism;

(3) demonstrated the ability to analyse and evaluate differing critical accounts of the primary literature;

(4) demonstrated the ability to identify and evaluate pertinent evidence in order to illustrate/demonstrate a cogent argument;

(5) strengthened their skills in argumentation and academic writing.

Teaching details

1 x 2-hour seminar per week.

Assessment Details

  • 1 essay of 2000 words (40%)
  • 1 essay of 3000 words (60%)

Both summative elements will assess ILOs 1-5.

Reading and References

  • William Shakespeare, Pericles (any ed.)
  • Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, ed. by Tony Tanner (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988)
  • Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim, ed. by Allan H. Simmons (London: Penguin Classics, 2007)
  • Annie Proulx, The Shipping News (London: Fourth Estate, 2009)
  • Margaret Cohen, The Novel and the Sea (Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2010)
  • Alain Corbin, The Lure of the Sea: The Discovery of the Seaside in the Western World, 1750-1840, trans. by Jocelyn Phelps (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994)