Archive for the ‘Naval Fiction’ Category

Late 19th Century American Naval Fiction

October 23, 2018

The Wright American Fiction collection contains 2,887 novels published between 1851 – 1875. Keyword and title searching, as well as author searching, turn up a surprising number of works that have the sea as their background. For example, using the keyword “navy”, one has hundreds of novels with that term in it. One can relish the thrilling exploits in Five years before the mast, or, Life in the forecastle aboard of a whaler and man-of-war (1854) or Nautilus, or, Cruising under canvas (1871). The results are arranged so that those novels with the greatest number of “hits” top the list.

You can use whatever nautical term you are interested in; typing in “sea” pulls up Moby-Dick, or, The Whale (1851) among others.



The Literature of the Sea

May 22, 2017

Such a topic as the above is featured in volume 4 of the inestimable Cambridge History of English and American Literature. Although the eighteen-volume compendium is indeed dated, it still provides valuable background on numerous topics, including maritime writing, in this case from early writers to Hakluyt. The chapter following this is entitled Seafaring and Travel. Both come with substantial bibliographies of primary sources. Searching this multi-volume work for entries such as “sea” or “maritime” yields additional information.

“Sea Stories” Found in Dime Novels

May 3, 2017

Embedded within the Nickels and Dimes collection housed at Northern Illinois University are, at last count, 212 volumes that have stories with the sea as the main backdrop. Thrill to the adventures in Shadow Jack, or, The Spotted Cruiser or find yourself sailing along in The brigantine, or, Admiral Lowe’s last cruise: a tale of 1673. These are not insubstantial stories; many run to over one hundred pages. The prose might be a little florid (but so at times was Marryat’s), but these stories surely give one a taste for the literature that was so popular and ubiquitous at the time. And they are fun to read!

The Passing of Douglas Reeman

January 24, 2017

This brief note from his wife says it all:

Update 73
Posted by Kimberley Reeman

15 hours ago

January 23, 2017

21:30 pm Greenwich Mean Time

“Good night, sweet prince… and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.”

I will never say good-bye, dearest of men. I will say, I will always love you. I will always be your girl. I will never forget you.

You have their hearts.”

An interview with him can be found here in an issue of Quarterdeck, a publication I encourage all to subscribe to and read. For those of us who came to his works through his Richard Bolitho novels (written as Alexander Kent), I can’t think of a better tribute/introduction to this man than reading The Bolitho Newsletter that appeared with every new Bolitho novel. They are all so informative and average 8-10 pages each full of background information that will inform every devotee of this genre. A bonus is the separate 1994 Bolitho short story – Homecoming – that is available for online perusal.

Here is his obituary from The Times; here is a remembrance from The Old Salt Blog; and here is another by George Jepson from the April 2017 Quarterdeck.

My late father introduced me to Hornblower when I was very young; I was so glad to return the favor by introducing him to the Reeman/Kent novels as they became available. Needless to say, the Hornblowers and Bolithos are in the pride of place in my rather substantial library of British naval fiction. Fair winds and calm seas.

Sailing in Space

June 29, 2016

According to the entry in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction – Hornblower in Space – both sea fiction and science fiction share an affinity for the thrill of discovery and wonder. This article contains many examples of science fiction written with a nautical theme. It is a fun and informative read. (Point of transparency – I read both genres with equal enjoyment. In fact, the first books I ever bought were the beginning volumes of the Hornblower series and some works by Robert Heinlein. The Heinleins are gone, but the Hornblower paperbacks still grace my bookshelves in a place of honor. They are now decaying , consumed by slow fire, but they still resonate with me over fifty years later.)

Interviews with Contemporary Authors of Naval Fiction

May 21, 2015

Quarterdeck, the newsletter of Tall Ships Communications distributed by McBooks Press, offers in practically every issue an interview with a current writer of naval fiction. In addition to book reviews, forthcoming books, features, book chapters, and announcements, Quarterdeck is the place to go for the musings of genre scribes. Interviews have included: Richard Woodman, Sean Thomas Russell, Douglas Reeman and others.

Captain Frederick Marryat, RN – Father of British Naval Fiction

May 5, 2015

No, contrary to what you may have heard, Tobias Smollett’s Roderick Ransom is NOT the originating point for modern naval fiction, nor is Homer’s Odyssey, nor Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. These works, while having a maritime background, are not informed by naval matters; in most cases, the naval aspects are more of a conveyance rather than an integral part of the narrative. Shipboard life and concerns do not loom large in any of these works. Again, the maritime acts as a backdrop to the main activities of the story; it is not the story itself. They are written by landsmen looking out to the sea.

Primacy of position as to the “Father of Naval Fiction” goes undoubtedly to James Fenimore Cooper (yes, he of the Leatherstocking Tales featuring the intrepid Natty Bumppo) who published The Pilot in 1823 (at least one source lists the date as 1824); he was followed by Marryat (portrait here; brief but informative biography here) with the first of his many nautical works – The naval officer; or Scenes and adventures in the life of Frank Mildmay (usually referred to as “Frank Mildmay”; 3 vols., 1829). (N.B. Many British novels of the 19th century were written in three volumes; come here for an explanantion.) His novels have the ring of authenticity because he spent decades in the Royal Navy, rising to the rank of captain.  You can find individual volumes and his collected works online.

In the span of a decade, he wrote many “classics of naval fiction”, many of which reside on my shelves in various editions and bindings. However, nowadays he is unfortunately remembered more for his children’s stories, starting with Children of the New Forest. So infatuated was he with America that he travelled the country in 1836 and 1837; the result was his two-series, six-volume (again the three-volume model) Diary in America (this 1960 edited version contains much valuable information on the person and this diary).

Other noteworthy facts: When Napoleon died on St Helena’s on May 5, 1821, Marryat was there and produced a sketch of Napoleon 14 hours after he died. His A code of signals for the use of vessels employed in the merchant service; including a cypher for secret correspondence (4th ed., 1826; later editions entitled The universal code of signals for the mercantile marine of all nations, by the late Captain Marryat, R.N., with a selection of sentences adapted for convoys) was employed by the Royal Navy for fifty years.

His daughter, Florence Marryat, a prolific author in her own right, had published in 1872 the two-volume Life and letters of Captain Marryat. Most of his papers were destroyed after his death so this work provides some primary source material on his life.

As we leave Captain Marryat, I would be remiss in not mentioning three other Royal Navy officers, contemporaries of Marryat, who also wrote naval fiction: Frederick Chamier (bio here, writings here, notice the 3-part novel again); William Nugent Glascock (bio here, writings here); and Basil Hall (bio here, writings here).


Patrick O’Brian Interview

February 17, 2015

This 1994 Paris Review interview stands out as one of the best of this reclusive author.

British Naval Fiction – A Learned Opinion

February 10, 2015

Although this blog is devoted mainly to non-fiction, every once in a while I am compelled to point out something of interest from the fiction side as well. Today, I direct your attention to this fine article by Richard WoodmanNathaniel Drinkwater and the British Maritime Novel. Most informative on many levels. (BTW, I possess all the Drinkwater novels, most in their first English editions. And I have read them all as well!)

Full Episodes of the Horatio Hornblower Series on YouTube

July 31, 2013

While outside the purview of the stated purpose of this blog, I feel compelled to point this out. For those who enjoyed the Horatio Hornblower series of movies, they are all available on YouTube.