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Seafaring Women

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About the Author

David Cordingly was for twelve years on the staff of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, where he was curator of paintings and then head of exhibitions. He is a graduate of Oxford and the author of Under the Black Flag, an acclaimed history of piracy. Cordingly lives with his wife and family by the sea in Sussex, England.


The shipwrecked sailor is a familiar figure, but what of the woman lighthouse keeper who rescued him? Readers of sea lore know the pirate Calico Jack, but what about his mistress Anne Bonny and her lover, Mary Read? An Oxford-trained maritime museum curator, Cordingly (Under the Black Flag) writes back into naval history these and other women who went to sea with their lovers, either as wives or as cross-dressing "cabin boys." Although he sometimes wanders away from his primary subject to describe great moments in maritime history only distantly connected to women, his tales are so compelling it's hard to begrudge him the digressions. And while many of his anecdotes are quite titillating, his understated British voice keeps readers from feeling embarrassed for keyhole peeping. For instance, his sangfroid account of how a cross-dressing woman sailor's testimony led to a male sailor's execution for the crime of sodomy allows readers to draw their own conclusions. The only shortcoming to this delightful volume is its lack of illustrations. (Mar. 2) Forecast: Published in conjunction with a companion exhibit in Newport News, Va., and the author's tour of maritime museums, this book will find solid sales among female adventure fans and the many devoted readers of Patrick O'Brian's seafaring sagas. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Cordingly (Under the Black Flag), former curator of paintings and head of exhibitions for the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, here offers a fascinating survey of the role of women on shore and at sea during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, the great age of sail. Recent studies of this period reveal that "a surprising number of women went to sea," some smuggled aboard, some as the wives or mistresses of captains, and some dressed in men's clothing, working undiscovered (often for an entire voyage) alongside their shipmates. Set out in the form of a voyage, the author's historical narrative begins at the seaports; follows the varied stories of women sailors, sailors' women, and men without women at sea; examines the mystic relationship between women and water; moves on to adventures in foreign ports; and returns (with a brief investigation of lighthouses and female lighthouse keepers) to the seaports. Almost as action-packed as the sea yarns of C.S. Forester or Patrick O'Brian, Cordingly's carefully documented account presents a facet of maritime life that might surprise even Horatio Hornblower or Jack Aubrey. Recommended for public and academic libraries.DRobert C. Jones, Central Missouri State Univ., Warrensburg Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

"This is a book to inform, stimulate, and amuse--an irresistible diversion." --Baltimore Sun One of the best books of 2001* "A valuable addition to nautical literature and a useful contribution to the study of women's history....[Cordingly's] book leaves no doubt that women have played a far larger role in the nautical life than is commonly understood." --Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post* "Cordingly transcends the ideological limits of gender history and brings a world to life." --The Wall Street Journal "Revisionism at its most delightful. With no particular gospel to preach, Cordingly works his way through layer after layer of overlooked and unconnected written records, finding evidence of women almost everywhere." --Houston Chronicle "Cordingly brings a wide range of research together in one expansive volume." --Boston Herald

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