Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in English



First Advisor

Martha Elena Rojas


The field of maritime literature often positions its focus on the experience of men at sea, situating the field around discourses of masculinity, nationhood, and the ocean. This project builds on the small body of work that investigates women’s maritime literary production from 1825 to 1855 to expand the scope of maritime literature and make more visible the gendered and moralizing constraints placed on women while on land and how voyages at sea present the promise of an open space encouraging self-exploration and self-definition. Ann Saunders, Marian Moore, and Matilda Charlotte Houstoun articulate relationships to bodies of water that resist notions of conquest, domination, and false romanticizing of the sea’s rapturous power in favor of realism and pragmatism. Each of these writers has her own unique set of circumstances which influence how class, gender, and racial norms are complicated by the liminality of the sea. These women’s shipwreck narratives embody a unique assemblage, as all three also have much to say about being prepared for death. Thus, these narratives refute the necessity for static women waiting for death—land-locked. These texts call into question notions of propriety as these women transgress class and gender to ensure their own personal survival, while Houstoun ensures her own survival through the subjugation of others. These women do not challenge social boundaries and mores to reflect the greed or failures of men; instead these texts reveal the ways in which hierarchies of power operate and are constructed along class, gender, and racial lines. Once these social constructs are revealed as notions born out of hegemonic structures of power, they can be challenged, or in the case of Matilda Houstoun, reified as a means to maintain one’s survival—even if that survival is one that necessitates the preservation of power.



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