Sailor Talk

BookSailor Talk

Sailor Talk

Labor, Utterance, and Meaning in the Works of Melville, Conrad, and London

Studies in Port and Maritime History, 1

2021

March 1st, 2021

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This book investigates the highly engaging topic of the literary and cultural significance of ‘sailor talk.’ The central argument is that sailor talk offers a way of rethinking the figure of the nineteenth-century sailor and sailor-writer, whose language articulated the rich, layered, and complex culture of sailors in port and at sea. From this argument many other compelling threads emerge, including questions relating to the seafarer’s multifaceted identity, maritime labor, questions of performativity, the ship as ‘theater,’ the varied and multiple registers of ‘sailor talk,’ and the foundational role of maritime language in the lives and works of Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad, and Jack London. The book also includes nods to James Fenimore Cooper, Rudyard Kipling, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Meticulous scholarly research underpins the close readings of literary texts and the scrupulously detailed biographical accounts of three major sailor-writers. The author’s own lived experience as a seafarer adds a refreshingly materialist dimension to the subtle literary readings. The book represents a valuable addition to a growing scholarly and political interest in the sea and sea literature. By taking the sailor’s viewpoint and listening to sailors’ voices, the book also marks a clear intervention in this developing field.

'A rich, meticulously researched, and engaging exploration of the literary and cultural significance of "sailor talk".'
Dr Emily Cuming, Liverpool John Moores University

'A thoroughly knowledgeable and excellently researched book, full of fascinating information and analysis, which makes a valuable addition to a growing scholarly interest in the sea and sea literature. By taking the sailor’s viewpoint and listening to sailors’ voices, the book also marks a clear intervention in this developing field.'
Professor Graham Thompson, University of Nottingham

Author Information

Mary K. Bercaw Edwards is Associate Professor of English and Director of Maritime Studies, University of Connecticut.