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The Captain's Wife by Douglas Kelly

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fljustice
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Location: Brooklyn, NY
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The Captain's Wife by Douglas Kelly

Postby fljustice » Wed September 8th, 2010, 10:52 pm

I reviewed this one on Bookcrossing.com shortly after I read it in July 2008 and thought I'd share it here:

From Booklist: We know very little of Mary Patten, a nineteenth-century Bostonian woman who became captain of her husband's ship, Neptune's Car, after he fell dangerously ill at sea. Kelley has fictionalized Patten's unique story, using nautical records, newspaper articles, and interviews from the time. The result is an entertaining and suspenseful romantic adventure story for those who prefer the made-for-TV-type version of Patten's life at sea to the scant but factual information available. Kelley's Mary Patten is quite the wonder woman. Courageous and attractive, Mary is tough and noble, which enables her to learn navigation, take command of Neptune's Car, nurse her unconscious husband, and deflate the mutinous rumblings of the troublesome and demoted first mate, all the while keeping her pregnancy a secret for fear of the crew doubting her physical capabilities.

My review: A decent fictionalization of a real incident. Kelley wows us with his historical nautical research and grasp of sensory detail - I felt the cold waves sweep over the bows as the ship rounded Cape Horn. Character development is a bit lacking. Mary, her husband Joshua and the second mate Hare are wise and noble and self-sacrificing. The "antagonist" first mate is a brooding bully. They start out that way and end that way with no personal growth or insight.

The story itself is fascinating. I always thought women were considered bad luck on ships, so to find that captains regularly brought their wives and sometimes children on long voyages was very interesting. Kelley uses a writerly device in the beginning with a prologue set during the most dangerous part of the voyage, then reverts to linear narrative to show us how Mary and the ship arrive in such straights. This is a good thing, because the story starts slowly and Kelley spends waaaay too much time (over 150 pages) getting us to the dangerous sailing. Without the tease at the beginning, I'm sure many people would give it up as a dull read.

Another oddity about this book: the Author's Note and Acknowledgments in the back of the book feels abrupt and incomplete. I turned the page to read more and found a blank page. It seemed to end in the middle of his story on how he did his research - which as a historical fiction writer, I always enjoy. Maybe this is a defective copy or maybe Kelly just wrote a lousy Author's Note!
Faith L. Justice, Author Website
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annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Thu September 9th, 2010, 6:38 am

Sounds interesting, Faith. I first discovered about the women whalers and whaling captains' wives who went to sea when I came across a novel in the 1980s called Abigail, written by New Zealander Joan Druett.

I then discovered that Joan had written several non-fiction books about women at sea, most of which, ironically, sell better in the States than they do here. How Joan Druett developed her own interest in whaling women is a story in itself. I quote here from a "Listener" magazine article:

"Nearly 25 years ago, Joan Druett was holidaying in Rarotonga when she literally fell into the work that was to change her life.

Cycling around the island, she and husband Ron saw a young man clearing what appeared to be waste ground; he said he’d dreamed that it was a burial place and he wanted to find the graves. The next time they were there, they had a look themselves, but found nothing but rubble.

“But a big old tree had been felled by the latest hurricane,” recalls Druett, “with its roots hanging in the sky, creating a patch of shade.

“It was very hot, so I went over just to sit in the shade – and fell down this hole where the roots had been. And down at the bottom was this untouched grave, exposed to the light for the first time in years.

“It was the grave of this whaling wife, this young woman, Mary-Anne Sherman, who had died in 1850 at the age of 25. And I found out she’d been five years at sea.”

The inscription on the gravestone read: “To the memory of Mary-Anne, wife of Captain AD Sherman, of the American whale ship Harrison.”

Druett had been interested in 19th-century whalers, but up to that moment she’d had no idea that women went to sea in the whaling ships. Her curiosity quickened, she found that plenty of women had, often as captains’ wives but in other capacities, too. One, a New Zealand schoolteacher called Honor Earle, learned to navigate and spent the rest of her life at sea. There were women captains, women shipbuilders, women pirates, and women who financed voyages and sometimes went along.

And they wrote about it. Big time. Burrowing into dusty archives, Druett found a wealth of untapped information in hundreds of shipboard journals. The result: a series of books – Petticoat Whalers, Hen Frigates, She Captains – that have established the Wellingtonian as a leading figure in maritime history, particularly in the United States, where her books sell better than they do here."

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Michy
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Location: California

Postby Michy » Thu September 9th, 2010, 1:43 pm

Annis, I'm pretty sure I read Abigail from the library about 15 years ago. I'm not absolutely sure after these many years, but the plot sounds familiar. I distinctly remember reading a book about a young woman on an 18th or 19th century whaling ship, written by a female New Zealander.
Last edited by Michy on Thu September 9th, 2010, 2:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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fljustice
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Location: Brooklyn, NY
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Postby fljustice » Thu September 9th, 2010, 4:03 pm

"annis" wrote:I then discovered that Joan had written several non-fiction books about women at sea, most of which, ironically, sell better in the States than they do here. How Joan Druett developed her own interest in whaling women is a story in itself.


Fascinating! Thanks, Annis. I picked up a copy of She Captains from a bookstore bargain table several years ago, but never read it. Because I like to write about strong women characters I collect books on women in "unusual" professions in history (Warrior Queens, Women Healers & Physicians, etc.) I pulled She Captains from my research shelf. From the jacket flap:

If a "hen frigate" was any ship carrying a captain's wife, then a "she captain" is a bold woman distinguished for courageous enterprise in the history of the sea. "She captains," who infamously possessed the "bodies of women and the souls of men," thrilled and terrorized their shipmates, doing "deeds beyond the valor of women." Some were "bold and crafty pirates with broadsword in hand." Others were sirens, too, like the Valkyria Princess Alfhild, whom the mariners made rover-captain for her beauty. Like their male counterparts, these astonishing women were drawn to the ocean's beauty--and its danger.

It looks like this needs to go on the "To Read" pile! :D
Faith L. Justice, Author Website

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annis
Bibliomaniac

Postby annis » Thu September 9th, 2010, 5:49 pm

Posted by Michy
Annis, I'm pretty sure I read Abigail from the library about 15 years ago. I'm not absolutely sure after these many years, but the plot sounds familiar. I distinctly remember reading a book about a young woman on an 18th or 19th century whaling ship, written by a female New Zealander.


Joan Druett only wrote two of these romantic adventures back in the late 80s/early '90s, and both are really hard to find now, (though it looks as if Abigail might have been reprinted) so it's pretty cool that you came across one, Michy. The other was called "Promise of Gold" and features a wild ocean trip to America in search of gold. It also has a New Zealand connection.
Blurb:
"Trapped on a ship crewed by lusty sailors and a captain with no use for women, lovely English actress Harriet Gray faces claim jumpers, pirates, and thieves in a glorious quest for gold and love"


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