Faculty of Arts


Melville and Conrad

Please note: this is archived course information from 2018 for ENGLISH 727.


Melville and Conrad are both writers of the sea, "tormented"—as Ishmael put it—"with an everlasting itch for things remote". Their world of sailing ships and tramp steamers, of port cities and backwater plantations, is first and foremost a fictional setting in which peoples and customs and cultures are thrown together. It can be a fraternal and cosmopolitan world, but it is also a hierarchical, violent and inequitable one.

The primary frame of comparison for these two authors involves understanding the political and cultural economy of their settings, and the light each author throws on processes of globalisation in the age of empire. The sea is also a natural setting: what does each writer see as he peers into the sea? What is the human connection to the non-human world? What is our place in nature?

These questions—at once epistemological and ecological—provide a second frame of comparison. Melville and Conrad also have profound insights into forms of emotion that go with the settings and situations of late empire—in particular, the "ugly feelings" of envy, rage, paranoia and shame, while also throwing a discomforting light on what it means to be a "well-adjusted" or "civilised" individual.

But above all, this course is interested in learning from Melville and Conrad as great masters of a modern prose style, as writers who took the novel to new places, and in new ways.

View the course syllabus

Availability 2018

Semester 1


Coordinator(s) Associate Professor Alex Calder


Herman Melville: Typee, Moby Dick, Pierre, Billy Budd (Penguin)

Joseph Conrad: Nostromo, The Portable Conrad (includes Heart of Darkness, The Secret Sharer, The Nigger of the Narcissus) (Penguin)


ENGLISH 727: 30.0 points


ENGLISH 715, 761, 762

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