Faye Hammill deposited The Frantic Atlantic: Ocean Liners in the Interwar Imagination in the group LLC 20th- and 21st-Century American on MLA Commons 2 months, 1 week ago
Transatlantic literary exchange depended, during the 19th and earlier 20th centuries, on the ocean liner. Books and periodicals were exported via sea routes, lent among passengers or through ships’ libraries, and even bought and sold on board. The High Seas Bookshops, established on some Anchor Line vessels in the 1920s, strikingly demonstrate the active role of shipping lines in the transatlantic print marketplace. The shops, whose staff were themselves writers, promoted new American and British publications, as well as providing spaces for literary networking. Increasing numbers of authors and journalists travelled on the Atlantic during the interwar years, and many found material for their writing in these journeys.
This essay connects the practical and semantic aspects of the liner’s role in interwar literary culture. It investigates what reading and writing practices the transatlantic steamship enabled, and what kinds of meanings were invested in it by authors of the period. Interwar texts refer back to 19th-century traditions of nautical fiction, yet there is a distinctively modern literature of the ocean liner because there was a specific set of social, economic and technological conditions which, around the turn of the century, produced a new kind of vessel and new possibilities in overseas travel. The first section of the essay offers a concise explanation of the liner as technological, cultural and design object. The second section explores literary responses to the steamship as an emblem of modernity, of social mobility, and of transatlantic style, focusing on Osbert and Sacheverel Sitwell’s collaborative play All at Sea (1927) and Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1925). The third section considers the steamship as a space for literary activity and an agent of print culture, drawing on a range of mostly non-fictional sources. My aim is to analyse the role of the ocean liner in inspiring and enacting transatlantic literary exchange.