Thursday, May 14, 2015

Put Ashore - Much Continued

I have added to my thoughts circumstances in which a woman or women were put ashore when it was discovered that they were not what they were thought to be. Here I am thinking of women who dressed as boys or men so that they may find a place on a crew of a ship bound for far off seas. There is a long list of historical women who did just that and were only discovered to be female after they were in some way wounded or some other unforeseen act.

Some of these women never made it back to sea, while a handful of others did. What freedoms did the sea offer those of the "weaker sex" that life on land did not? Travel to far off and exotic places is one - that is as long as you weren't put ashore there.

So life aboard ship was a life of adventure, an often perilous adventure filled with uncertainty. Perhaps, that was the most sought after thing - uncertainty. In the Victorian era, each person's place in society and their roles was fixed - you were born into an identity that instantly and immediately held you in a socioeconomic place and if you tried to step outside the boundaries of that inherited lot you could lose whatever job your position allowed you to gain or even be imprisoned. Uncertainty must have been a seductive notion.

I have an inclination that this notion of being defined by the roles society positions you in was very unattractive to Jessie. How would she find local venues to express what she had witnessed first hand in ports all over the world once she was landlocked? For me, the only answer is in her writing and in the first person accounts she shared with family members and friends.

There is a French word for Victorian male travelers who had the financial means to roam freely and to look or gaze at the world at large. The word is flâneur.

Victorian women travelers, there were many of them, to some degree explored freely but it was a guarded freedom. They often had chaperones and they raised their fans to conceal their faces when they did "look" at what the local women could not view without repercussions.


When I imagine both Jessie and Virginia lifting the ship's spyglass or sextant to their eye and looking across the waters, I acknowledge that act as a freedom most land bound Victorian women did not share.

Mary Cassatt, the famous American painter, represented a women's right to look or gaze in her famous painting, "The Opera."

Compare the woman in her painting to these maritime women looking:

Perhaps, being put ashore was also a way for a husband to limit his wife's ability to see the world at large and to comment on that world. Was it a re-placing of blinders - those devices often put on horses so that they could not look to the left or the right and become distracted from the path ahead?

 And isn't it interesting how much bonnets work as blinders for the sun and so much more:

Was the act of being put ashore somehow seen as enforcing Christian conduct for both married and unmarried women who had briefly viewed the beautiful and the despair of the world at large while aboard their husband's or father's ship? Being put ashore - limited or censored views of a larger world that only men should view.

Gender politics and maritime history. Now to edited all of those thoughts into character driven dialog that doesn't distract the reader too much from the story I want to tell - the story of my great-great Aunt Jessie and her life at sea and after. More coffee and maybe a walk around my neighborhood lake might be required before I sit with my manuscript again later this day.

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