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INTRODUCTION

At the beginning of Arthur Conan Doyles story of The Five Orange Pips, Dr Watson is found seated at the fire deep in one of Clark Russells fine sea-stories. A storm is outside, and as he reads, the Doctor feels the howl of the gale blend with the text and the splash of the rain lengthen out into the long swash of the literary sea waves.1 William Clark Russell (18441911) was the greatest late Victorian nautical novelist. Author of over forty full-length sea stories published between 1875 and 1905, his stirring ship adventures and poetic sea descriptions were widely admired by his contemporaries. To Edwin Arnold he was the prose Homer of the great ocean and to Swinburne the greatest master of the sea, living or dead.2 King George V was another passionate devotee and many other contemporaries, including Robert Louis Stevenson and George Meredith, read and admired his works. His reputation spread internationally. In America, where he enjoyed an even greater popularity than in his home country, he was seen as a rival to James Fenimore Cooper and Herman Melville. His stories were also translated into several European languages, including Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, German, Spanish and French (oddly, in view of his attitude towards Britains persistent naval enemy). When Joseph Conrad began his literary career in the 1890s it was Russell who was instantly identified as his progenitor as a writer of sea stories.3 The story of how this industrious sailor and author (who spent much of his adult life confined to a wheelchair) conquered the literary ocean is, however, far from simple. The presumptions Russell held about the literary marketplace and his early attempts to master other types of fiction illuminate much about perceptions of audience and attitudes towards gender and the gendered status of the novel in the final third of the nineteenth century. His career encompasses an important transitional phase in the history of the novel, one that saw the rise of the professional author, the breakdown of the three-volume system and the development of recognizably modern forms of genre fiction. The way Russell eventually carved out for himself a niche market in a particular genre helps bring into fuller perspective shifts in publishing practice and literary fashion in the late Victorian period.

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William Clark Russell and the Victorian Nautical Novel

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For all his subsequent reputation as a writer of sea stories, Russell did not come to the sea immediately or easily. When he began writing after leaving the merchant navy in 1866 he had little notion of becoming a nautical novelist. Prior to 1875 when he published John Holdsworth, Chief Mate (his first novel set substantially at sea) he produced fourteen full-length novels as well as a play, several non-fictional works, and a considerable amount of journalism and criticism, little of it to do with the sea. During these formative years as a professional author he attempted to capture the popular taste by experimenting with various forms of writing, including farce, parody and, most frequently, sensation fiction. He also experimented with names, publishing some of his novels anonymously and some under the pseudonyms Sydney Mostyn, Eliza Rhyl Davies and Philip Sheldon. His adoption of female or ambiguously gendered pseudonyms arose from his perception of the novel as a feminized form and novel-reading as predominantly a female activity. After ten years of trying and failing to exploit existing popular markets, he eventually created and mastered one of his own when he turned his writing talent to the sea. The details of Russells early literary career have always been somewhat mysterious. Even his immediate family seemed unclear about the extent and nature of his work before he became a nautical novelist. In 1916, five years after the authors death, his daughter Marguerite Ellaby negotiated with Chatto & Windus for a ghostwritten memoir of her father which was never completed. Ellaby sent Frank Swinnerton, who offered to revise her manuscript, various documents and letters but could provide little help when Swinnerton asked about three early novels he had seen recorded. She was able to confirm that the works mentioned were by her father, but it transpired that the only early novel of which the entire Russell family possessed a copy was the anonymous Lifes Masquerade (1867).4 This is one of several works by Russell not attributed to him in the British Library catalogue. Confusion about Russells career set in from the moment of his death when an obituary in The Times identified John Holdsworth, Chief Mate (1875, hereafter John Holdsworth) as his first novel and misdated it to 1874.5 No mention was made of his fourteen early land-based novels, and other mistakes in dating gave the impression that Russell had mastered the sea from the outset of his literary career. Of the fifteen nautical titles listed, ten were given wrong publication dates, some being brought forward in time by almost a decade. The obituary in The Times seems to have been used as the basis for other sources, including the original DNB entry which perpetuated the sequence of false dates.6 More recent reference books continue to present inaccurate information. The Oxford Companion to the Sea, also citing John Holdsworth as his first novel, records that Russell wrote twenty-two sea stories in all, a figure less than half his actual nautical output.7 These misrepresentations have resulted in Russells early career escaping the notice of those few critics who have paid his work any attention. Some of his

Introduction

early novels have appeared in a bibliography of sensation fiction and one title, The Deceased Wifes Sister (1874), has received a small amount of critical attention as part of wider discussions of the treatment of marriage laws in Victorian fiction.8 None of these listings or discussions link Russells early novels to his much more famous sea stories, however. Equally, accounts of Russell as a nautical novelist have paid little or no attention to his early work. In his critical study of maritime fiction, John Peck records John Holdsworth and The Wreck of the Grosvenor (1877) as Russells first two published novels.9 In the Longman Companion to Victorian Fiction, John Sutherland includes the land story As Innocent as a Baby (1874) among his sample list of novels, but says nothing about its content and makes no mention of the other works Russell published before he turned to the sea.10 Even those aware of the authors early career have spread confusion. In his book Anonymity, John Mullan misreads the chronology and argues that Russell adopted the pseudonym Eliza Rhyl Davies (as one among several) because he was so prolific:
When he wished to diversify into other fictional genres he fashioned new names and identities. The romantic mysteries The Mystery of Ashleigh Manor (1874) and A Dark Secret (1875) merited a female author, an escape from the manliness of his bracing tales of the sea.11

The female pseudonyms were, however, part of an early phase of Russells career that the author was keen to erase from posterity. Russell would have been content with the way his apprentice work was forgotten. He sometimes alluded to his early career in interviews, but managed fairly successfully to conceal his numerous early failures from his contemporaries. Biographical material published in provincial newspapers to accompany the serialization of one of his novels mentioned that he drifted into literature five years after leaving the merchant navy and published two or three ordinary love stories before writing John Holdsworth.12 More often, however, his career was presented as having commenced with John Holdsworth.13 In his contribution to My First Book, a series of autobiographical essays by different writers first published in the Idler, he chose to write about The Wreck of the Grosvenor, his first critical success.14 In this essay Russell does not refer explicitly to the many novels he published before this story, but he does discuss the contingent factors bearing upon his early attempts at fiction. He recalls that his writing ambitions were constrained by expectations of genre and perceptions of audience demand:
when the scribbling mania possessed me it was long before I could summon courage to write about the sea and sailors I asked myself, Who is interested in the Merchant Service? What public shall I find to listen to me? Those who read novels want stories about love and elopements, abductions, and the several violations of the sanctities of domestic life.15

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William Clark Russell and the Victorian Nautical Novel

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Russell devoted ten years of scribbling mania to novels about love, marriage, elopement, abduction, and more than just several violations of the sanctities of domestic life. His early attempts to capture a popular taste were made under the assumption that the great mass of readers those who support the circulating libraries are ladies.16 He spent several years attempting not only to write for the woman reader but also to fashion a female consciousness in his fiction. Looking back in 1894 he judged The Wreck of the Grosvenor as an explicit break with that conviction: in the Grosvenor I went to sea like a man.17 The gendered dimension of authorship in the Victorian period was, of course, highly conspicuous. Mary Ann Evanss assumption of the name George Eliot was motivated not so much by a desire to enter the masculine world of writing but to distance herself from perceived notions of the woman writer.18 In 1852, two years before he began living openly with Evans, George Henry Lewes asserted in his essay on The Lady Novelists that the masculine mind is characterized by the predominance of the intellect, and the feminine by the predominance of the emotions. The statement was, he admitted, purposely exaggerated no such absolute distinction exists in mankind but it was meant to serve as a sign-post for understanding what he saw as the different literary sensibilities of men and women. It meant that:
Of all departments of literature, Fiction is the one to which by nature and by circumstances, women are best adapted The domestic experiences which form the bulk of womans knowledge find an appropriate form in novels; while the very nature of fiction calls for that predominance of Sentiment which we have already attributed to the feminine mind.19

Russells decision to adopt a female perspective in his early works, and in some instances a female pseudonym, was conditioned by this widely held conception of the difference between mens and womens writing. He was, however, unusual in adopting a range of pseudonyms, from the ambiguously gendered Sydney Mostyn to the unequivocally female Eliza Rhyl Davies and the unequivocally male Philip Sheldon. His recourse to female impersonation (both through declared authorship and narrative perspective) certainly didnt have the psychological compulsion that drove William Sharp to invent his alter ego Fiona Macleod. Like Sharp, however, whose stories of the Celtic Twilight carried in their subject matter implicitly femininized associations, Russells adoption of a female perspective was also a response to genre. As I show in Chapter 2, the bulk of his early fiction consisted of sensation novels, a genre strongly associated with the woman writer and reader. As an apprentice author, eager to make a commercial living out of writing, Russell seized on a fictional form he considered most likely to earn him pecuniary success and adapted his style to suit.

Introduction

The widespread practice of issuing work anonymously or under pseudonyms has prompted recent debates over whether men were more likely to masquerade as female authors in this period than women were as male. Working from evidence in the Macmillan archive, Gaye Tuchman argues, unconvincingly, that in the 1860s and 1870s solid data seem to support the assumption that men were more likely to assume a female name than women were to use either a male or a neuter name.20 Ellen Miller Caseys more reliable sampling of reviews of fiction in the Athenaeum suggests the opposite to be the case.21 John Mullan also argues that in the nineteenth century examples of women writers adopting masculine pseudonyms were far more frequent than the opposite.22 Whatever the extent of the trends, it is certain that some male authors adopted a female pseudonym as a commercial expedient in an effort to succeed in what was perceived as the feminized domain of the novel. The assumption that novel-reading was primarily a female activity and a potentially dangerous one was widely held in the period. In a much-cited article from 1859 entitled False Morality of Lady Novelists, W. R. Greg asserted that novels constitute a principal part of the reading of women, who are always impressionable, in whom at all times the emotional element is more awake and more powerful than the critical.23 Kate Flint has shown how the idea that men and women responded differently to the act of reading persisted throughout the century across a range of printed discourse. As a consequence, awareness of a discrete category the woman reader affected the composition, distribution, and marketing of literature.24 Russells attempt to master what he saw as the feminized form of the novel demonstrates the force of this category. A crucial component of the distribution and marketing of literature in this period (and consequently of its composition) was, of course, the circulating library. When Russell began writing, the big circulating libraries (notably Mudies) still constituted the main market for new fiction. His assumption that the great mass of readers those who support the circulating libraries are ladies was widely held in the period and derived from the strict form of censorship that Mudies and other libraries exercised in the novels selected for circulation. Every novelist of the period was subject to what became known as the young girl standard25 and pressured to conform to produce novels that addressed what George Moore, in A New Censorship of Literature, referred to as a sort of guide to marriage and the drawing-room.26 When The Ordeal of Richard Feverel (1859) was removed from Mudies shelves, a dispirited George Meredith remarked: If novels and poems are to be written for young women only, I must learn the art afresh.27 Charles Reade was only one of many male novelists who felt emasculated by having his true work proscribed by libraries which will only take in ladies novels.28 Critical responses to Reades hugely successful It is Never Too Late to Mend (1856) contrasted male readers with Mudies female subscribers.29

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William Clark Russell and the Victorian Nautical Novel

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It is hardly surprising, then, that a young novelist like Russell should consider his main audience to be female. With one exception, all of Russells early novels were published in two- or three-volume sets at the expensive price set by the libraries of 10s.6d. per volume (in practice the libraries purchased from publishers at a heavy discount, paying between 4s.6d. to 5s. per volume). Because none of them were republished in cheap editions (with the exception of one that was resuscitated twenty years after first publication), few readers would have bought copies of these early works. Russells audience outside the library reader was thus almost non-existent. It was only after he achieved success with The Wreck of the Grosvenor that publishers successfully marketed his novels in cheap editions at prices aimed at the bookbuyer. In the 1860s and 1870s, he was locked in a losing battle with a market he wrongly assumed to be interested only in particular styles of fiction. By going to sea like a man Russell was presenting his success as a nautical novelist as one of breaking through barriers to authentic expression. Yet even after he had found his true artistic voice in the sea, and discovered an ostensibly masculine market, female characters and perceptions of the woman reader continued to be important in the construction of his novels. In My First Book he recalled how, when he began writing sea stories, his sense of audience was still governed by the demands of publishers and library readers:
if I was to find a public I must make my book a romance. I must import the machinery of the petticoat. The pannikan of rum I proposed to offer must be palatable enough to tempt the ladies to sip it. My publishers wanted a market, and if Messrs Mudie and Smith would have none of me I should write in vain.30

The chapters in this book show how Russell overcame the difficulty of pitching a sea story to a market dominated by library readers, and how his work came to be marketed in a range of different physical formats to a variety of audiences. The book argues that both before and after he developed his distinct genre of the sea story, his literary career was played out against ideas and definitions of genre and gender that were conditioned by the institutions of the marketplace. After a survey of his life and career in Chapter 1, the second chapter looks at his sensation fiction and his efforts to write as a woman. Chapter 3 traces the emergence of the sea as a subject and offers readings of his first two published sea stories. Chapters 4 and 5 consider aspects of his nautical writing in more detail, looking respectively at genre and the representation of women and gender, while the final two chapters examine the publishing history of his sea stories in more detail. The remainder of this introduction aims to situate Russells nautical fiction within the styles and genres of writing that preceded and influenced his own work.

Introduction

Russell and the Tradition of the Sea Story


As a subject, the sea runs deep in the history of English literature. The earliest surviving poem in English about the sea, The Seafarer, was copied into the Exeter Book which dates from the early tenth century. Narratives of sea voyages are, of course, as old as narrative itself. As Robert Foulke argues, the tradition of the sea voyage narrative has its roots in prehistoric literatures and in archetypal stories, Biblical and Classical, notably the stories of Noah and Jonah, and Odysseuss multiple wanderings.31 In England, the form took on a documentary style in the sixteenth century with the publication of Richard Hakluyts collection of geographical discoveries The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation (1584). As Peck argues, In Hakluyt, the move is from re-narrating legends to recording history; the experiential displaces allegorical or symbolic presentations of a sea journey.32 Distinctions between fiction and history become blurred in the voluminous maritime literature that runs from Hakluyt into the eighteenth century, and it is this tradition of nautical writing that provides the foundations for the form of the English novel in the early eighteenth century. Margaret Cohen argues that in Robinson Crusoe (1719) Daniel Defoe appropriated the forms of best-selling nonfictional sea voyage literature, drawing on the tradition of the remarkable occurrence at sea to forge a new poetics of adventure.33 The historical, the remarkable and the fictional were blended together in a text that, as Peck suggests, redefined the sea story in the process of defining the form of the English novel.34 Packed into the amorphous category of the sea voyage narrative or sea adventure fiction is, however, a number of discrete genres and overlapping styles which reflect larger aesthetic and cultural forces that the ocean has helped to forge. Indeed, for a late nineteenth-century writer like Russell there existed both a tradition of the sea story and a largely separate tradition of writing about the sea. The latter was heavily influenced by the aesthetics of the sublime. As Jonathan Raban argues, in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries the sea became the archetype of the sublime as the concept developed through Enlightenment philosophy. The sensation of agreeable horror that confronted Joseph Addison at the sight of a tempest leads into Edmund Burkes affirmation of the ocean as the source of the sublime where the sea became the highest form of terror that can excite the imagination and so invoke pleasure.35 As Raban explains, Burkes theory of the sublime effectively legitimized the sea as a great subject for art for the paintings of J. M. W. Turner and the poetry of Byron, Shelley and Coleridge.36 Byrons Romantic sea, depicted in Childe Harolds Pilgrimage (1818), was Dark-heaving; boundless, endless, and sublime, an image of Eternity that offered everyone the opportunity To mingle with the Universe.37

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William Clark Russell and the Victorian Nautical Novel

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A sailors lifes the life for me, He takes his duty merrily; If winds can whistle he can sing, Still faithful to his friend and king.42

As we shall see, this Romantic tradition of the sea is visible in those marine aspects that invade Russells early domestic novels. It is also visible in the scenic painting found throughout his nautical writing. Significantly, however, his elaborate evocation of the colours and movements of ocean panorama (which were often likened to Turners paintings) were conducted from on board ship. The sublime sea of Romantic literature was essentially a distant view from land.38 Cohen refers to this characteristic as the sublimation of the sea; Byrons ocean was purified of human agency and the sea disconnected from the practical work of seamanship.39 One of Russells singular achievements was to break through this disconnection by taking the reader on board ship and aligning the sublime sea what one of his characters calls the mystery of the boundless, desolate ocean40 with the routine, mundane details of practical seamanship. If the romantic sublime was the main influence on stylistic depictions of the sea in nineteenth-century art and literature, there existed a tradition of sea stories that was to some extent independent of that style. Although, as noted, maritime adventures had been part of the novel form from its inception, and although depictions of sailors and the sea persisted in the work of Tobias Smollett and others, its not really possible to speak of a discrete genre of nautical fiction until the early nineteenth century. The serialization of Michael Scotts Tom Cringles Log in Blackwoods Magazine from 1829 initiated a vogue for nautical novels in the 1830s, invariably set during the Napoleonic wars and often written by veteran officers. The recurring pattern of these highly episodic stories was the depiction of a young boy who joins or is coerced into joining the Royal Navy, battles against the French, and is rewarded for his courage and bravery with promotion and, usually, a bride. Out of this voluminous literature emerged a series of stock characters and plot situations which drew in part on caricatures of naval types long established on the popular stage. The able seaman became jolly Jack Tar whose ubiquitous appearance in novels of this period led to reviewers complaining of being drenched in salt-water wit.41 The nautical novel was characterized by a humorous evasion of the harsh life of the real sailor who was presented as a spirited, fun-filled character fond of singing and dancing and generally happy with his lot. One of the chief writers of this genre, Captain Frederick Chamier, used as a motto for his stories lines penned by the eighteenth-century songwriter Charles Dibdin:

Russell greatly disapproved of this image of the merry sailor. In A Sea Queen an old sea captain denounces all nautical airs as lubberish, believing that

Introduction all right-minded men who followed [the profession of the sea] would never let its dignity suffer in the eyes of landsmen by leaving them to suppose that the oaths, swagger, and drink which novelists and dramatists have used as pigments for the painting of that deplorable creature, nicknamed Jack Tar, were truthful components of the English seamans character.43

Russell explored the topic of nautical literature numerous times in his nonfictional writing. In a lengthy essay published in the Contemporary Review and reprinted in the collection In the Middle Watch, he complained that the nautical novelist and the writers of marine drama had misled the public with caricatures of seamen laughing, drinking and spinning yarns, speaking a language crowded with marine expressions, and dressed in farcical style with a tarpaulin hat and bell-mouthed trousers run extravagantly tight to the hips.44 The result was not only a misrepresentation of the true life of the sailor, but a degradation of the art of the sea story:
As a man who went to sea in the merchant service at the age of thirteen and a half, and who stuck to the calling to the age of twenty, who for seven and a half years ate bad pork and beef, scrubbed decks, slushed masts, and underwent the whole routine, from furling the mizzen royal to helping to pass the weather main topsail earring in days when topsails were single sails, I claim a right to complain with some bitterness of soul of those writers who, knowing nothing about the sea, write marine stories in one, two, or three volumes, and so go on sinking the maritime literature of this country by another and yet another stone fastened to it.45

The one major literary figure of the era of the nautical novel was Captain Frederick Marryat who, like his many imitators, had seen action in the Napoleonic wars. Russell admired Marryat as an artist, in spite of his formulaic plots, and later wrote introductions to reprints of four of his novels published by John Lane. He also applauded his command of seamanship: The comfort the sailor gets in reading Marryat is that he finds every manoeuvre, every order, every account of sea adventure right.46 He nevertheless protested at the reassuring picture of sea life portrayed in most of Marryats works. As Peck argues, in works like Peter Simple (1834) and Mr Midshipman Easy (1836) the young men who go to sea in Marryats stories find the life harsh but this is celebrated rather than deplored.47 Discipline, work and duty are enclosed within an essentially comic spirit. Russell was determined not to disguise the harshness of sea life with a cheerful narrative tone. In The Middys Yarn, a sketch first published in the Daily Telegraph and later collected in volume form, a fifteen-year-old midshipman questions the veracity of Marryat and other sea authors:
Marryat, indeed! no sea-story books ever put the real truth before a chap. Can Marryat put the flavour of salt pork in your throat? Can he make you understand what being on deck in foul weather for twelve hours at a stretch is, with the galley fire

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William Clark Russell and the Victorian Nautical Novel washed out, nothing to drink but cold water, and nothing to eat but sea biscuits, which are always either too hard to bite or too soft to swallow, with a damp bun to go to when the watch is called at last?48

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Russell believed that a new kind of sea story was needed, one based on the real conditions of ship life and written by men who knew the sea. Before he could create his own genre, however, he had to shake off associations that clung to the old. As I show in Chapter 4, the prevailing perception of the literary sailor drawn from an outmoded and largely obsolete tradition of the sea story was widely invoked in reviews of his early nautical novels. In retrospect, however, The Wreck of the Grosvenor came to be viewed as having marked a new era in the evolution of the nautical novel.49 It has been suggested that the vogue for the nautical novel in the 1830s disappeared because of exhaustion at its lack of variety, the endless repetitions of a few stock incidents and a few familiar characters.50 After this period the sea story in Britain was confined largely to the juvenile market and to the popular bibliographic forms of the ballad and penny dreadful.51 Sailors and the sea were not absent from adult Victorian fiction as works such as Charles Kingsleys Westward Ho! (1855) and Elizabeth Gaskells Sylvias Lovers (1863) demonstrate, but as a distinct genre it was titles like W. H. G. Kingstons Peter the Whaler (1851) and the many adventure stories of G. A. Henty that carried forth the sea voyage narrative. Russell saw the association between sea stories and a juvenile audience as another impediment to creativity:
I was frightened by the Writer for boys. He was very much at sea. I never picked up a book of his without lighting upon some hideous act of piracy, some astounding and unparalleled shipwreck, some marvellous island of treasure his paper ship had so long and successfully filled the public eye that I shrank from launching anything real in plain English, I judged that the sea story had been irredeemably depressed, and rendered wholly ridiculous by the strenuous periodic and Christmas labours of the Writer for Boys.52

It was not until he had established his reputation that Russell published stories explicitly aimed at a juvenile audience and he repeatedly lamented the depression of the marine novel to the level of the intelligence of boys.53 Russell was equally scathing of the genre of the small-boat voyage which flourished in the 1860s. Works such as John MacGregors The Voyage Alone in the Yawl Rob Roy (1867), and E. E. Middletons The Cruise of the Kate (1870) were light-hearted accounts of voyages taken in small private sailing vessels which became Victorian bestsellers.54 To Russell they were another illustration of the relegation of the sea story to a misrepresentative subgenre: It will not do for a man who wants to be reckoned a friend of seamen to get his knowledge of

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the sea out of yachting.55 The recovery of the sea voyage narrative and its elevation as a serious art form was to him a matter of national necessity and pride:
if sea-novelists will not make up their minds to go to sea as sailors, and learn to be correct by pulling and hauling and going aloft and the like, even the little boys will give us up, and the end of it must be that the greatest maritime nation in the world will have no other marine literature but the novels of Marryat and one or two others.56

The main distinctiveness of Russells work in the tradition of the sea story was his focus on the merchant service as opposed to the Royal Navy, which had been the near exclusive terrain of Marryat and the nautical writers of the 1830s. In My First Book he wrote: I could not recollect a book, written by an Englishman, relating, as a work of fiction, to shipboard life on the high seas under the flag of the merchant service.57 In his non-fictional writing he repeatedly underlined his intention to address public ignorance about the British merchant service: In one article he wrote:
These kingdoms form the greatest maritime nation that the world has ever beheld or that history makes mention of. It is, nevertheless, true that there is scarce a public in Europe more ignorant of and indifferent to sea affairs than the people of this country. If you speak to the man in the street about our mercantile marine he will look at you with a dull and silly eye. Pronounce the word sailor, and his imagination conjures up the bluejacket who lurched against him round the corner yonder. the man in the street heeds not, and knows nothing about our Mercantile Marine.58

Russells principal achievement in the history of the sea story was to move away from the heroics of the warships and the stereotypes associated with the bluecoat and find romance in the realism of the mercantile marine. As a retired sailor comments to a female passenger in A Strange Voyage:
Let them charm you in novels; but for the realities of the deep choose the stern, bitter seafaring life of the merchant service all the shipwrecks, all the seamanship, all the harsh toil which makes men real sailors are in it.59

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In the absence of a valuable British tradition, Russell traced his antecedents in the history of nautical literature to the American writers Richard Henry Dana and Herman Melville. He considered James Fenimore Cooper, the other great nineteenth-century American writer of the sea, ponderous, and rather priggish in style and, moreover, full of inaccuracies and nautical absurdities.60 The superior artistry of Melville in Moby Dick (1851) was only one reason why Russell ranked him ahead of Cooper. In an article in the North American Review he wrote that until Melville and Dana the commercial sailor of Great Britain and the United States was without representation in literature.61 These two writers had not shrunk from dealing with the harsh facts of a mariners life. He greatly admired Melville and in later years wrote introductions to reprints of Typee

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William Clark Russell and the Victorian Nautical Novel

(1846) and Omoo (1847), published in 1904 and 1905 by John Lane in the same series as the Marryat reprints. But the nautical work he admired most was Danas Two Years Before the Mast (1840). A diary of the authors time spent in the American merchant service, Danas work throws into narrative form a voyage from Boston round Cape Horn to California, and takes up the cause of the common sailor against his harsh treatment from captains and shipowners. To Russell it was important not just because it was a solid fact from beginning to end, but because it offered an insiders view of the profession of the merchant sailor. Dana, he argued,
showed the public down into the merchant ships forecastle, pointed to the bunks in which the sailors sleep, the dripping carlings, the evil-smelling slush-lamp, the water splashing through the scuttle, the poor clothes of the heavily worked men, the infamous food and vile water on which they subsisted.62

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Though he took inspiration from Dana, Russells standpoint in his own stories is different in one important respect. He claimed that Dana was the first to lift the hatch and show the world what passes in a ships forecastle, but although he built his own novels around the professional work of the merchant seaman he rarely adopted the perspective of the ordinary sailor of the forecastle. He sometimes wrote from the viewpoint of the passenger but more commonly took the perspective of the junior officer the chief mate or second mate. In fact, as I show in Chapter 4, his attitude towards Mercantile Jack was ambivalent, sympathizing with his plight but often painting him as ignorant, unthinking and too easily driven to acts of mutiny. What Russell really took from Dana was the connection between the sea story and skilled work which Margaret Cohen sees as being restored to the sea voyage narrative by the work of Melville, Victor Hugo and Joseph Conrad.63 Russell is a missing link in this historical and canonical trajectory. Although his nautical novels were nothing if not eventful, teeming with adventurous situations and sometimes purely fantastical, his reconstruction of the sea voyage narrative around the working lives of merchant seamen established a new direction for the nautical novel, one that helped raise the artistic standing of the genre and paved the way for later practitioners, such as Conrad, to pursue their own, more ambitious, artistic aims. It should not surprise us that Russell was widely invoked as a point of high comparison in reviews of Conrads early sea stories. However contrasting their artistic approach to the functions of plot and character, the shared commitment to shaping the narrative around practical work at sea made it natural for Conrads intimate knowledge of seamanship64 and broad acquaintance with the feelings of the merchant seaman65 to be compared with those of Russell. The comparison was particularly widespread in America where Russells critical standing was even higher than in Britain. The San Francisco

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Chronicle began its review of The Nigger of the Narcissus (1897) by stating that Russells position as the greatest storyteller of the sea had been unquestioned for nearly the life of a generation.66 That position of pre-eminence was recognized throughout the literary world. When Oscar Wilde parted from Alfonso Conway (a young man he had picked up on the beach at Worthing) he gave the unemployed newspaper seller, who wanted to go to sea as an apprentice in a merchant ship, a copy of The Wreck of the Grosvenor.67 The author had many admirers among his fellow writers, both young and old. Conan Doyle, who had been a ships surgeon and who instilled a love of Russell into Dr Watson, later wrote of his own reading tastes: If I had to choose a sea library of only a dozen volumes Clark Russell deserves a whole shelf for himself .68 Among other admirers, George Meredith, who grew up in a family of naval outfitters from Portsmouth, told the man he considered a brother of the pen that his description of blue water scenes have often given me pleasure.69 Among other writers of the sea, Herman Melville dedicated his penultimate published work, John Marr and other Sailors (1888), to Russell. Printed by the De Vinne Press in an edition of twenty-five copies, the book opened with an Inscription Epistolary in which Melville asserted that The Wreck of the Grosvenor entitled Russell to the naval crown in current literature and recalled how, on the books first appearance in America, all competent judges exclaimed:
The very spirit of the brine in our faces! What writer, so thoroughly as this one, knows the sea, and the blue water of it; the sailor and the heart of him; the ship, too, and the sailing and handling of a ship? Besides, to his knowledge he adds invention.70

One testament to the power of that invention, as well as the verisimilitude of Russells writing, is found in an incident recalled in W. B. Yeatss Reveries over Childhood and Youth, written in 1914. The poets maternal grandfather, William Pollexfen, was a sailor who had run away to sea at the age of twelve and later owned his own ship. In Reveries, Yeats recalls how one year in the mid-1880s the old sailor was stirred to a nocturnal adventure of his own:
When my grandfather came for a few days to see a doctor, I was shocked to see him in our house. My father read out to him in the evening Clark Russells Wreck of the Grosvenor; but the doctor forbade it, for my grandfather got up in the middle of the night and acted through the mutiny, as I acted my verse, saying the while, Yes, yes, that is the way it would all happen.71

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The authors greatest devotee was Algernon Swinburne, whose own poetic obsession with the sea naturally drew him to Russells seascapes and elemental adventures. There is no evidence that the two authors ever met or corresponded but they held a mutual appreciation for each others work. In The Ships Adventure Russell wrote of the sea air being full of the soft sweetness of Swinburnes rush-

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William Clark Russell and the Victorian Nautical Novel

ing sea verse.72 In September 1896 Swinburne wrote to Andrew Chatto, his own publisher, requesting copies of all Russells books published by Chattos firm.73 According to Lewis Melville, Swinburne would read out from the novels night after night to his friend Theodore Watts-Dunton.74 Later, when he proclaimed Russell the greatest master of the sea, living or dead, Swinburne declared: his name is a household word wherever the English language is spoken, and the splendid qualities of the British sailor known and understood.75 The following chapters will map the extraordinary literary voyage that took Russell from being a thirteen-year-old midshipman to the position of being a household word in the English language.

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