Novels of the Floating World: Ocean, Climate, and Contemporary Sea Fiction

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Glassie, Alison, English - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Brickhouse, Anna, AS-English-Eng Lit Ops, University of Virginia

Novels of the Floating World: Ocean, Climate, and Contemporary Sea Fiction argues that the ocean’s biophysical dynamics—to say nothing of its long, fraught cultural history—shape contemporary fiction at the level of form. The project represents the first substantial academic study of contemporary sea fiction; it approaches hemispheric and transnational American studies from the sea and intervenes in global Anglophone literature and the environmental humanities. Novels of the Floating World’s three chapters, on poetics of salvage, navigation, and circulation, bring literary study into direct and sustained contact with maritime and marine environmental histories and the marine sciences. Its investigation of the contemporary fiction of the American hemisphere—chiefly the northwest Atlantic, the Caribbean, and the Pacific—is oriented by recognitions of the global ocean’s centrality to climate stability; to our present experience of climate change; and to the history of the novel. Through readings of Lawrence Scott’s Witchbroom (1992), Michael Crummey’s Galore (2009), Monique Roffey’s Archipelago (2012), Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, and Brian Doyle’s The Plover (2014), Novels of the Floating World develops the idea that sea fiction, that is, fiction which is fundamentally structured or oriented by some element of the ocean, is a diverse literary category that exceeds the default of nautical adventure fiction. Contemporary sea fiction, this dissertation argues, locates narrative agency in the biophysical ocean and wrestles with the historical and ongoing entanglements of humans and marine environments and ecosystems. In doing so, Novels of the Floating World illuminates the ways that its literary subject matter offers imaginaries for the profundity and intimacy of the ocean’s impact on and mediation of human experience—up to and including climate change—and insists that viable futures on a climate-changed ocean planet be defined by political and ethical attunement amongst species and within our own.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
contemporary literature, ocean, climate change, caribbean literature, literature of the Americas

A portion of this dissertation's second chapter is published in ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and the Environment. See Glassie, Alison E. "Archipelago's Voyage: Climate and Seamanship in Monique Roffey's Contemporary Sea Novel" (2019)

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