Alethea Hayter. The Wreck of the Abergavenny: One of Britain's Greatest Maritime Disasters and its Links to Literary Genius. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2002. ISBN 0-333-989171. Price: £14.99.
Wolfson College, Oxford
Résumé | Extrait
The wrecking of The Earl of Abergavenny off Weymouth in 1805 with the loss of 260 lives was, as Hayter's subtitle notes, "One of Britain's Greatest Maritime Disasters." The corresponding "Links to Literary Genius" exist because the drowning of the captain, John Wordsworth, moved his brother, the poet, to write a series of elegies that included the monumental "Peele Castle." During the 1960s a spate of academic publications on John's death argued that Wordsworth was psychologically unable to deal with the event, and that this might account for his later retreat into religious and political conservatism. The wrecking has remained a familiar part of Wordsworth biography ever since, and Hayter's subtitle promises further discussion of this important matter.
Hayter divides her narrative into three parts, "Launching," "Sinking," and "Salvage." This scheme allows her to explore both the central story of the loss of the ship, and its close relation to the emotional and financial hopes and losses of the Wordsworth family. While the central chapters ("Sinking") are concerned with the wreck itself, the story extends backwards to include John working his way up through the ranks ("Launching"), and forwards to the reaction of John's family and friends to the news of his death ("Salvage").
The central difficulty faced by biographers of John Wordsworth is that of making their subject sympathetic. He was a quiet, solitary man who left only 51 letters, which (like Wordsworth's own) are often businesslike and mundane. Worse still, on those few occasions that he does speak out strongly on a subject, it is often in an objectionable way. Writing to Mary Wordsworth about a neighbour who has cut down some fir trees near Grasmere he says, "I wish I had the monster that cut them down in my ship & I would give him a tight flogging" (104). To Wordsworth himself, John describes Longman, his brother's publisher, as "a most damnable Jew," and in the same letter exults that his own business is "coming on most famously [—] I shall soon be as rich as a Jew—my investment to China will amount to about 10,000£ & the longer the war last the better it will be for me" (82-3).
Hayter faces some of these difficulties head on, but does so through an unsuccessful attempt to exonerate John by relativizing such statements. Commenting on his "robust" attitude towards the personal benefits of war, she writes:
I find this to be an extraordinary claim, given that in the year that the Abergavenny sank, in addition to Britain's massive militia and volunteer corps, there were 120,000 men in the pay of the Navy, and 135,000 in the Army, the majority of whom had families and dependents. Half of those who drowned on the Abergavenny were soldiers on their way to serve in India.
These matters aside, Hayter presents a very readable account of John's early years ...
|Auteur :||Jonathan Roberts|
|Ouvrage recensé :||Alethea Hayter. The Wreck of the Abergavenny: One of Britain's Greatest Maritime Disasters and its Links to Literary Genius. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2002. ISBN 0-333-989171. Price: £14.99.|
|Revue :||Romanticism on the Net, Numéro 27, 2002|
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