As a novel which leans literary, and with a main character who loves literature and quotes it frequently, Five Fathoms Beneath features bits and pieces of several works by famous poets and authors. Here are a few of the writers who get passing mention or are quoted in Five Fathoms Beneath.
(Some of the brief descriptions on this page come from the author’s Wikipedia pages.)
Albert Camus. Camus was a French philosopher, author, and journalist. His views contributed to the rise of the philosophy known as absurdism. He was very much an anti-nihilist, and he won the Nobel Prize in 1957.
Alec quotes, or paraphrases, Camus at the beginning of the novel when he says, “There are sick people and they need curing.” This line derives from the novel, The Plague.
Later in the novel, Brose reflects on one of Camus’s most famous existentialist works,The Myth of Sisyphus. This essay deals directly with the idea of suicide, what Camus calls, “the most fundamental question of all philosophy.” Although Camus did not consider himself an existentialist, this essay strikes at the heart of existentialism.
Loren Eiseley. Eiseley was an American anthropologist, educator, philosopher, and natural science writer, who taught and published books from the 1950s through the 1970s.
Eiseley’s essay, “The Star Thrower” forms part of the basis for the novel and is fundamental to Alec’s philosophy.
Ernest Hemmingway. Hemingway was an American novelist, short story writer, and journalist. His economical and understated style—which he termed the iceberg theory—had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his adventurous lifestyle and his public image brought him admiration from later generations; he won the 1954 Nobel Prize.
Brose notes that Alec had particularly dog-eared his copy of perhaps Hemingway’s finest work, The Old Man and the Sea.
A.E. Housman. Alfred Edward Housman was an English classical scholar and poet, best known to the general public for his cycle of poems A Shropshire Lad.
When Brose falls in the race, he thinks of a famous line from Housman’s poem, “To An Athlete Dying Young.”
John Keats. Keats was another English Romantic poet. He was one of the main figures of the second generation of Romantic poets, along with Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, despite his works having been in publication for only four years before his death from tuberculosis at the age of 25.
Keats famously suffered from depression; the line Brose recalls about being in a temper such that a man wouldn’t kick to the top if he was underwater derives from a letter Keats wrote.
Similarly, Alec’s philosophy about doing good derives in part from a Keats letter. Keats wrote:
I am ambitious of doing the world some good: if I should be spared that may be the work of maturer years – in the interval I will assay to reach to as high a summit in Poetry as the nerve bestowed upon me will suffer.
Rupyard Kipling. J. Rupyard Kipling was an English journalist, short-story writer, poet, and novelist. He was born in India, which inspired much of his work.
When Brose “steals a line from Kipling,” he’s quoting from one of Kipling’s most famous poems, If —.
Henry Longfellow. Longfellow was an American poet and educator whose works include “Paul Revere’s Ride”, The Song of Hiawatha, and Evangeline.
Toward the end of the novel, Alec compares the stars to a Longfellow poem. The poem he is quoting from is one of Longfellow’s most famous poems, “Evangeline.”
Frederick Nietzsche. Philosophy and literature often go hand-in-hand. Nietzsche was a German philosopher, cultural critic, composer, poet, philologist, and a Latin and Greek scholar whose work has exerted a profound influence on Western philosophy and modern intellectual history; he’s often thought of as one of the very first of the existentialist philosopher.
Alec quotes Nietzsche’s famous phrase about gazing into the abyss from one of Nietzsche’s best works, Beyond Good and Evil.
William Shakespeare. The Bard needs no introduction; he was an English poet, playwright and actor, and is widely regarded as both the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist.
Shakespeare gets a lot of play (no pun intended, really) in Five Fathoms Beneath. The title derives from Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest; the idea of Alec being “full fathom five” comes up several times throughout the story. Alec uses a bawdy line from Much Ado About Nothing to flirt with his wife Venna; he later uses Shakespeare’s idea about our remedies lying in ourselves from All’s Well That Ends Well when he talks to Brose about fate and our ability, or lack thereof, in dealing with it.
Brose (who bears some resemblance in traits to the Danish Prince) quotes Shakespeare’s most famous line from Hamlet — to be or not to be — when he is contemplating taking his life. Alec also borrows from Hamlet in describing his world as encompassing more than is dreamt of in heaven and philosophy.
Brose notes that while the heavens blaze to announce the death of princes, the night his father died a full lunar eclipse occurred. (And yes, Western Australia did have a visible lunar eclipse the night of November 29, 1974.) This is a reference to a famous line in Julius Caesar.
Charles Schulz. Schulz was an American cartoonist best known for the comic strip Peanuts (which featured the characters Charlie Brown and Snoopy, among others).
Jokingly noting he “never writes his own material,” Alec quotes from this famous comic, used under fair use for purpose of commentary.
Percy Shelley. Shelley was one of the major English Romantic poets, and is regarded by some as among the finer lyric and philosophical poets in the English language, and one of the more influential. Like too many of the Romantic poets, Shelley died very young.
Alec quotes Shelley several times in Five Fathoms Beneath. Alec uses Shelley in describing his agonizing depression, stating he felt like the scorpion stung by his own rage, a reference to Shelley’s “A Revolt of Islam.” (You can read the whole thing here.) On the romantic end of the spectrum, Alec also uses Shelley to flirt with his wife, quoting Shelley’s famous poem, “Love’s Philosophy.” Finally, even Brose quotes Shelley for Helen, stating her eyes remind him of overhanging heaven, a reference to Shelley’s poem, “Epipsychidion.”
William Butler Yeats. Yeats was an Irish poet and one of the foremost figures of 20th-century literature; he won the 1923 Nobel Prize in Literature. At different points in the novel, both Brose and Alec quote part of Yeats’ poem, The Indian to His Love. You can read the whole poem here.