WOMEN SAILORS AND SAILORS’ WOMEN by David Cordingly

WOMEN SAILORS AND SAILORS’ WOMEN

KIRKUS REVIEW

A serviceable examination of women’s contributions to maritime history.

Faithful sweethearts and willing paramours on the docks, occasional helpmeets at the mast: Cordingly (Under the Black Flag, 1996), a former curator at England’s National Maritime Museum, portrays a wide range of characters who demonstrate that the sailor’s life in the age of sail was not the exclusive province of men—hardly a revolutionary finding, as last year’s works by Joan Druett (She Captains) and David W. Shaw (Flying Cloud) attest. Among that cast of characters are numerous prostitutes, whose careers Cordingly examines with a sociologist’s eye for statistical commonalities (of 14,790 London prostitutes interviewed while in jail, he notes, “8,001 were domestic servants, 2,667 were needlewomen, 1,617 were trade girls who worked in factories, 1,050 were barmaids, and the rest were street sellers, governesses, or dancers, or had no other job”). More exalted in his account are the loyal wives who labored to free their sailor spouses from pressgangs or the brig, the impoverished partners of ill-paid junior officers, and the occasional admiral’s wife, who had to manage “splendid houses and country estates” single-handedly while their husbands were out plundering and conquering on the high seas. While noting how important these women were to maintaining morale and household, Cordingly questions the extent of women’s presence out on the waves, arguing that accounts of women disguised as men in shipboard service were mostly fictitious, and lurid tales of women pirates were often mere fantasies—though, in both instances, with some basis in fact.

Competent, but of limited interest.

Pub Date: March 2nd, 2001
ISBN: 0-375-50041-3
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2001




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