'The Sea is History': Transoceanic Perspectives on the Neo-Victorian Maritime Novel


My analysis rests on the hypothesis that these dispossessed collectives articulated their identities out of their transoceanic background; accordingly I argue that the maritime crossing and the fluid boundaries of the oceans provided socio-political possibilities of liberation for collectives oppressed by the machinery of Victorian imperialism. Nora Hague’s and Colum McCann’s novels are narrated in the Atlantic Ocean whereas Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy is set in the Indian Ocean. This PhD thesis navigates therefore in two different directions and aims at exploring both oceanic regions – as well as the cultural and historical connections between them – and their contribution to global narrations in the nineteenth century. Obviously, this PhD thesis acknowledges the existence of further oceanic zones as a limitation of this project. Due to spatial and analytical constraints, the Pacific and Arctic Oceans remain outside the focus of this PhD thesis but they indeed provide areas for further follow-up research in the neo-Victorian maritime novel for which this project lays the groundwork. The thesis is divided into 6 chapters. Chapters 2 and 3 constitute the critical and methodological basis of this PhD; in particular I provide an in-depth overview of maritime criticism (including a thorough roll-call of postcolonial thought) and neo-Victorian criticism. Chapter 4 analyses neo-Victorian narrations of the Atlantic, specifically Hague’s Letters from an Age of Reason and McCann’s TransAtlantic, and it focuses on the transatlantic interactions between African Americans and Victorian Britain, as well as between Irish immigrants escaping the Irish Famine and African American abolitionists. Chapter 5 moves the focus to the Indian Ocean and analyses Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy, paying particular attention to the phenomenon of indentureship and the material after-effects that Victorian transoceanic exploits in the Indian Ocean have triggered in today’s global capitalism. Chapter 6 provides the conclusions derived from the previous analysis, demonstrating that by applying the ‘Oceanic turn’ and maritime criticism to the analysis of neo-Victorianism and situating the analysis in debates on capitalism, globalisation and immigration, the neo-Victorian maritime novel makes sense of the inequities of contemporary globalisation and neo-liberal policies. Fecha de lectura de Tesis Doctoral: 22 febrero 2019.This PhD thesis examines a selection of postcolonial neo-Victorian novels in the context of oceanic migration during the nineteenth century. The Victorian period (1837-1901) in Britain features today as a fulcrum point for the concept of the nation as well as for transoceanic migration and global politics. In fact, by the end of the nineteenth century, the British Empire encompassed all the oceans of the world and it had a marked impact on the lives of millions of people. That said, this PhD thesis aims at establishing alternative perspectives on globalisation, global history and transculturation via an analysis of neo-Victorian novels that deal with race, hybridity and British imperial history in the context of transoceanic voyages during the nineteenth century. The oceanic focus that characterises this PhD thesis allows to think on, through and beyond rigid national and cultural boundaries that seem to be articulating current global politics, particularly in the face of the fact that far-right political parties are increasingly gathering support for policies based on the building of walls, the patrolling of borders and the hatred for the Other. The corpus of primary works that have been selected for qualitative analysis includes the following novels: Nora Hague’s Letters from an Age of Reason (2001); Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic (2013); and Amitav Ghosh’s Ibis trilogy, which comprises Sea of Poppies (2008), River of Smoke (2011) and Flood of Fire (2015). These neo-Victorian novels retrieve histories of transoceanic migrations during the Victorian era by colonial subjects such as African-American ex-slaves, black sailors, Irish immigrants or Asian indentured workers

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