Nautical metaphors and late-Victorian literary culture

Asha Hornsby*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This article reveals how nautical conceits were frequently used to articulate stylistic concerns and respond to publishing trends emerging in late-Victorian culture. Reviewers, authors, and press commentators described writing as akin to ship-building or seafaring and employed marine metaphors to categorise and critique narratives as ‘vessels’ for certain characters or plots. For example, leisurely multi-volume ‘three-deckers’ were manned by a recognisable ‘crew’ of characters while modern literary ‘steamers’ were more sparsely populated and took shorter and more direct narrative routes. Many accounts discussed also show an acute awareness of commercial pressures of the book-trade and parallel developments in author-publisher relations. Rudyard Kipling, amongst others, envisioned the publishing world as a ‘seascape’ upon which works needed to be carefully launched – especially if the voyage was trans-Atlantic. His unusually inventive and intricate nautical metaphors anchor much of the article’s analysis, while close literary-critical readings of contemporary periodicals shed light on broader patterns of contact between literary and maritime cultures. The linguistic creativity with which the Victorian nautical imagination was expressed demonstrates the depth of maritime influence upon literary discourses of the period while also reflecting very real interconnections developing between nautical and literary industries.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberhgae036
Number of pages20
JournalReview of English Studies
VolumeEarly View
Early online date29 May 2024
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 May 2024


  • Newspapers
  • Rudyard Kipling
  • Periodicals
  • Blue humanities
  • Maritime metaphor
  • Literary criticism
  • Seafaring


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