By the late 1920s steam travel was faster, more comfortable, and more affordable than ever before, and there were more shipping lines, operating more ships, than in the past. The major lines could not compete with one another in terms of cost or speed, so they wooed customers by focusing on passenger comfort, attempting to one-up each other’s luxury. It is in this context that Claude McKay wrote a novel about an African seaman who makes two miserable passages across the Atlantic—the first as a stowaway, the second in first class. This article reads McKay’s novel as a revision of the narrative of liberating and luxurious ocean travel promoted by the shipping lines and argues that Romance in Marseille offers novel possibilities and implications for maritime and oceanic studies because it asks readers to recognize overlaps between different forms of mobility and, in characteristic McKay fashion, to resist reductive interpretation.

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