Nautical Fiction


Practical Seamanship
War At Sea
Nautical Hardships
Nautical Fiction

Bibliography & Credits

Homer. Odyssee. Frankfurt: Frankfurter Verlags-Anstalt, 1920.

Homer's Odyssey is many things, but at heart it is one of the world's earliest nautical tales, as it relates Odysseus' wanderings across the Mediterranean, enduring shipwrecks, sea monsters, and the hazards familiar to mariners of any age.

This German edition of the Odyssey features lithographs by Alois Kolb, including the illustration on display here, which depicts Odysseus' encounter with the monster Scylla.

Daniel Defoe. The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner. Dublin: J. Gill, G. Grierson & R. Gunne, R. Owen, and E. Dobson Junior, 1719.

Throughout his prolific career Defoe was drawn toward the literature of travel and the sea; in fact, his authorship of Captain Charles Johnson's General History of the Robberies and Murders of the Most Notorious Pyrates—a work of pirate history second in importance only to Exquemelin's Bucaniers of America—was accepted as fact until recently.

Robinson Crusoe was an immediate success, and this Dublin edition is one of a number of pirated versions printed soon after the first authorized edition, which was published in London in the same year. Although the type is smaller and it is printed on lower quality paper, this edition presents an accurate version of the text and is fairly well printed, unlike many of the other piracies.

Robert Louis Stevenson. Treasure Island. New York: The Limited Editions Club, 1941.

In the character of Long John Silver, illustrated here by Edward A. Wilson, Stevenson provided the model on which many subsequent depictions of fictional pirates have been based, including his missing leg and the parrot on his shoulder.

Manuscript Letter from Henry James to Robert Louis Stevenson. 31 July 1888.

Like many authors of nautical fiction, Robert Louis Stevenson was himself prone to long voyages across the sea. In 1888, frustrated and in ill health, Stevenson set out on a voyage to the South Seas, eventually settling in Samoa, where he would reside until his death in 1894.

The letter on display here expresses the feelings of many of Stevenson's friends to his absence. The novelist Henry James writes: "My dear Louis. You are too far away--you are too absent, too invisible...friendship is too delicate a matter for such tricks—for cutting great gory masses out of 'em...Therefore come back. Hang it all—sink it all and come back. A little more and I shall cease to believe in you... Your adventures, no doubt, are wonderful... ."

Manuscript Letter from William Cagle to the Bookselling Firm of Elkin Matthews. 30 August 1965.

In this letter William Cagle of the Lilly Library requests items to fill out the Lilly's extensive collection of materials related to Joseph Conrad. Among the requested items are colonial editions of the author's works.

Joseph Conrad. Typhoon and Other Stories. London: William Heinemann, 1903.

Typhoon is one of Joseph Conrad's early tales of the sea, a feature which plays a prominent role throughout his writings. Conrad began his own nautical career when he was sixteen, eventually becoming a captain in the British Merchant Service.

The copy of Typhoon on display here is one of the colonial editions referred to by William Cagle in his letter to Elkin Matthews. Colonial editions were typically cheaper (in both senses of the word) than their English counterparts and were only to be sold in colonies of the British Empire, as indicated by the statement on the front cover of this copy.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. London: Edward Arnold at the Essex House Press, 1903.

The Essex House Press followed in the footsteps of William Morris' Kelmscott Press and the Arts and Crafts movement. When the Kelmscott Press ceased operating in 1898 many of its workers transferred to the short-lived Essex House Press, which operated from 1898 to 1910.

This edition was limited to 150 copies printed on vellum. It features a gilt opening initial and the illustration by W. Strang on display.

Patrick O'Brian. Manuscript Notes for The Letter of Marque (published in 1988).

The tradition of nautical fiction has continued into the present and is most evident in Patrick O'Brian's series of Aubrey-Maturin novels. The series is set during the Napoleonic wars and grounded in details drawn from historical accounts of naval battles.

In this selection from the working notes for The Letter of Marque, O'Brian sketches a model of the 'pahi', small twin-keeled boats used by a group of Polynesian women who capture Aubrey and Maturin. Elsewhere in the notes for this novel, O'Brian considers the possibility of making Aubrey's vessel, the Surprise, a South Seas whaler rather than a privateer.

Patrick O'Brian. Manuscript of Master and Commander (published in 1970).

These are the opening lines of Master and Commander, the first book of O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series. The two characters are introduced in this scene while attending a concert in Minorca. The manuscript includes a number of corrections made by O'Brian.

In the recent film adaptation of two books from the series, Master and Commander and The Far Side of the World, Aubrey and the Surprise pursue a French warship, the Acheron. In the novel The Far Side of the World this ship is actually an American warship, the USS Essex, the same ship that captured the British sloop Alert (see the Log Book of the H.M.S. Alert in section II of this exhibition).