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Literature of the Sea Series - Registration Required

From June 28 to August 2, for six Thursday evenings this summer retired Naval Academy professor Bob Madison will offer a course in Literature of the Sea at the Westerly Public Library. Madison, who taught at Annapolis for over twenty-five years, has edited over a dozen volumes of sea literature and has taught sea literature in classrooms and aboard ship from Chesapeake Bay to the Great Lakes to the Gulf of California. “Literature of the Sea is part of our heritage right here in South County,” Madison says. “My great-grandfather had a fishing boat named Red Rover, after the sea novel by James Fenimore Cooper. Oliver Hazard Perry built gunboats on the Pawcatuck River before his famous victory on Lake Erie. Edward Everett Hale wrote of the sea from his home in Matunuck.”

            Madison’s talks will be centered around two readings for each week—a long one and a short one. “Some people will have time to plow through the longer works,” Madison notes, “but most people will want something they can digest easily before sitting down to a discussion.” Madison, a book collector, likes to illustrate his talks with early editions of the books. “It means more to a reader to hold a copy of the book as the world first saw it—especially if it has some association with the author. Lord Brassey gave as gifts copies of his late wife’s Voyage of the Sunbeam for decades after her death. He must have missed her. And Charmian London—Jack’s widow—gave copies of The Log of the Snark to friends she met on her cruises—the characters of non-fiction are real people who can come to life in your hands.”

            But there won’t be any early editions of Melville. “Too expensive,” Madison says, “and all the good copies have been snatched up. You have a choice: you can have an entire library of sea literature, or you can have a first edition of Moby-Dick.” Madison usually assigns the Norton Critical Edition of Moby-Dick, newly released this spring in its third edition with help from several local scholars, including Madison. “I was working on another project when I discovered that Melville had stolen a famous passage on albatrosses from a fellow whaling author. My discovery became only one of hundreds of footnotes in the new edition, but a good scholarly edition like this brings everyone’s discoveries together.”

            Most readings for the course are available through the library, and many are freely available on-line, while works still in copyright are usually available second-hand for a nominal price. There is no charge for the course, but registration is required.

            Each class will begin at 6:00 p.m and run to 7:45. Dates are June 28; July 5, 12, 19, and 29; and August 2.


Week One (June 28):


The Rise of the Sublime: British Neo-classicism and Romanticism. Texts: Sir John Barrow, The Mutiny and Piratical Seizure of H.M.S. Bounty [Hathi Trust:]; Samuel Taylor Coleridge, “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” [illustrated by Gustav Doré; Hathi Trust]


Week Two (July 5):


The Age of Sail: The Maritime Character. Texts: Melville, Moby-Dick [recommended: Norton Critical Edition, edited by Hershel Parker and Harrison Hayford]; “The Death of Nelson” from Southey’s The Life of Nelson []


Week Three (July 12):


Literary Realism and Literary Naturalism: The Agnostic Sea. Texts: Slocum, Sailing Alone Around the World [Hathi Trust]; Norris, Moran of the Lady Letty [Hathi Trust]


Week Four (July 19):


The Romantic Revival: Nurture and Escape. Texts: Kipling, Captain’s Courageous [Hathi Trust]; Stevenson, Treasure Island [Hathi Trust]


Week Five (July 26):


Modernism: To Make You See. Childers, The Riddle of the Sands Hathi Trust]; Conrad, “Youth” [Hathi Trust]


Week Six (August 2):


Science and Technology: Embrace and Abandonment. Texts: Steinbeck and Ricketts, The Log from the Sea of Cortez [Penguin]; Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea [Scribner’s]

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