Books/Resource: “The Wooden World” by N.A.M. Rodger – Part I

25 October, 2007 at 12:18 am Leave a comment

You know what it’s like: you write a story, and suddenly you stop, scratching your head and asking yourself: “Good, I know how to fire a gun and I know that gunpowder shouldn’t be stored next to open fire. But what was served for dinner?”

Among many other factors it’s the small details that make a story believable, help the reader to really “get into it” and be transported back to the 18th century. It’s those small details about everyday life that can make a story three-dimensional.

Good – but what if one doesn’t know anything about said details? I know what I’m talking about here – I rather not tell you how many books I’ve read and how many hours I’ve spent on research to learn even the most basic facts. That’s why I write sappy gay romances, dear friends – if people worry about the fate of the heroes, they will hopefully not notice the outrageous nonsense I might write about life aboard a ship! Cunning, isn’t it… 😉

Back to people who know what they’re writing about:

THE WOODEN WORLD
An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy
by N.A.M. Rodger

I’ve finally managed to order a copy of that book (at the moment, there are some used copies for sale on amazon – BUY!), and I’ve spent the last days reading it. All I can say is: I fully agree with critic Daniel Baugh: “(…) This is the best book on shipboard life in the eighteenth century that has ever been written. (…)”

It is. If you work on a small budget, and can’t afford tons of books – this is the one you should buy. Even before Collingwood’s biography. No, seriously.

Over the next days I’ll post some samples, and we’ll start with a very interesting subject:

CLEANLINESS

“(…) Next after the cleanliness of the ship came the cleanliness of the men, and more particularly of their clothes. Efforts were generally concentrated on clothes because the men’s opportunities for washing themselves were limited at sea; there was little fresh water to spare, soap was ineffective in salt (and an expensive luxury) and there was no suitable place to bathe. We hear of a commander with a bathtub at sea, but it is doubtful if this was a common convenience even among officers. Clothes were an easier target, and a more important one, for dirty clothes were rightly suspected to be the bearers of gaol fever and other infections, and were often burnt to destroy them. Admiral Smith’s divisional system of 1755 required the men to shift their linen twice a week, and it seems probable that in well-run ships during the war this was the practice as well as weather and circumstances would allow. Washing clothes at sea was not easy; in the absence of soap ‘chamberlye’ (urine) was used as a detergent, and the clothes rinsed in fresh water if there were enough available. (…)”

There’s a thing like too much realism, of course…

At the end of the day we write about a fictional world, even if we try to stick as close to history as possible. But I know I’ll grin the next time I read a story where — insert character of your choice here — tells Norrington that he “smells like spring/autumn/clover/oranges/lovely scent of your choice”. I have already a hard time not to think of “wet, rancid sheep”… 😉

More to follow. My inner geek is happy.

PS: I found this very interesting website about the washing with the contents of le pot de chambre.
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Entry filed under: books, resource, royal navy. Tags: , , .

Rec: "Anything AoS" Resource updated: Molly Joyful’s list of naval and historic resources

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