Joseph Conrad’s ‘Christmas Day at Sea’ (1923): Surprisingly Rich Fare

Lucy Dale's picture
December 13, 2022
United Kingdom
Subject Fields: 
British History / Studies, Cultural History / Studies, Maritime History / Studies, Modern European History / Studies, Social History / Studies

Date and Time: Tuesday 13 December | 5.15pm - 6.30pm

Location: Online

Polish-born Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) is one of the most celebrated writers in English of the early twentieth century. Between 1874 and 1894 he worked as a merchant seaman aboard French and then British ships, eventually becoming a British subject.

He is most famous for his novels and stories set in the Malay Archipelago, the Indian Ocean, Australia, Africa, South America, Geneva and London, but his literary output also included a magazine piece entitled ‘Christmas Day at Sea’. This drew upon his experience of spending at least 16 Christmases aboard ships or in ports.

How was Christmas celebrated on wool clippers and other sailing ships of the late nineteenth century? What was the difference between festive celebrations aboard passenger and cargo vessels? What did Conrad have to say about spending Christmas at sea compared to spending it on land? Were dried figs a special festive treat or a medicinal necessity on board sailing ships?

Join Dr Helen Chambers (The Open University) online as she uses this short but fascinating essay to cover many subjects, including whaling, the reading material available aboard merchant ships, dietary constraints on long voyages and Conrad’s religious beliefs. 

Event Details

This event is free and open to everyone, and will take place via Zoom. There is no need to book; please click here shortly before 5.15pm on the day.

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Lucy Dale

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