Prayers from the wreck : shipwreck narratives and imagined spiritual communities in nineteenth-century Britain.


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Shipwrecks in nineteenth-century literature have commonly been interpreted as metaphors for religious crisis or loss of faith. Yet by reading shipwreck as only a metaphor, I argue that we have lost a sense of the historical reality that shaped nineteenth century readers and writers’ imaginative encounters with the sea. As sensational events which claimed thousands of lives per year, historical shipwrecks inspired thousands of narratives and poems which were prolifically consumed in the nineteenth-century print marketplace. Moreover, many of these shipwreck texts are surprisingly religious. Using a critical approach that combines elements of postsecular studies and the blue humanities, I examine how authors from various Christian denominations across the long nineteenth century narrate shipwrecks within the structures of denominationally-inflected religious forms. This dissertation surveys a broad array of genres in long nineteenth-century literature, from periodicals, to religious tracts, to poetry, to short fiction. A historically informed reading of shipwreck narratives and forms of prayer used at sea demonstrates that authors and groups as seemingly disconnected as nineteenth-century evangelicals, the Religious Tract Society, William Wordsworth, Charles Dickens, and Wilkie Collins, and Gerard Manley Hopkins all used shipwrecks to imagine competing print-based spiritual communities. My work reveals that historical shipwrecks were not always experienced as secularizing crises, but for adherents of many religious denominations, provided a means to bolster and even to spread faith in the print marketplace.



Shipwrecks. Nineteenth century. Imagined communities. Broad church. Catholicism. Tractarians. Evangelicals. Sea. Ecotheology. Postsecular studies. Blue humanities.