Edited Transcripts

Piracy! (In Literature) with Wildstar Beaumont

Piracy! (in Literature) Salon Poster
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Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Our speaker today has been one of the most regular visitors to the Aether Salon. Every year, near ‘Talk Like a Pirate Day’ he presents a new aspect of piracy, privateering, sailing and the society surrounding those activities. Admiral Wildstar Beaumont, the stage is yours.

Wildstar Beaumont: thank you Herr Baron 🙂
Wildstar Beaumont: So …
Wildstar Beaumont: Pirate Literature …
Wildstar Beaumont: where, of course, as Master Jimmy and Herr Baron pointed out in their notices, we discuss about books about pirates, and not about stolen intellectual property
Wildstar Beaumont: 🙂
Wildstar Beaumont: Ahoy! Happy day after “talk like a pirate” day and welcome to my 2020 Salon Talk.
Wildstar Beaumont: This year we move from the historical perspective to the fictionalized perspective, discussing about literary works about pirates.
Wildstar Beaumont: These two perspectives are actually closer that one might expect because in pirate literature, even if completely work of fiction, the historical references, and even historical characters are often present, and very often authors made an effort to be historically accurate, inserting fictional characters in the background of historical events.
Wildstar Beaumont: It was reading pirate adventures books that I first learned about historical episodes such as Harry Morgan’s taking of Panama or about the Indian Sepoy’s Mutiny in the mid XIX century.
Wildstar Beaumont: So, we can consider pirate fiction a sub-genre of historical fiction, sometimes considered together with nautical fiction (about which we will say a couple of words later), sometimes separate.
Wildstar Beaumont: There is an entry in Wikipedia: list of fictional pirates. It has literally hundreds of names.
Wildstar Beaumont: We cannot hope to cover but the most popular works in this hour, but I encourage you to explore on your own. It is really a journey of fun discoveries
Wildstar Beaumont: Especially in English speaking popular culture the characteristic of pirates derive from the Golden Age of Piracy (which, incidentally, we have explored in one of my previous talks) between the 17th and 18th centuries, with most example of pirate fiction being set in this era and in the Caribbean location.
Wildstar Beaumont: We will therefore mostly mention works covering this period but is it worth noticing that piracy – and fictionalized piracy – also took place in other regions and other periods
Wildstar Beaumont: Piracy has been a constant in the Mediterranean sea from ancient times to the 19th century. In one of my early presentations we mention Julius Caesar being kidnapped and ransomed.
Wildstar Beaumont: French novels have dealt with piracy in the Mediterranean in more recent centuries. Among these, a popular series is the Angélique series, dealing with the adventures of Angélique, the Marquise of the Angels (French: Angélique, Marquise des Anges). Part of her adventures deal with her being kidnapped and rescued from pirates from the north-African states.
Wildstar Beaumont: And also one of the most popular pirate books « The Sea Hawk » is actually set among Barbary Pirates
Wildstar Beaumont: Even if we tend to classify them in a different cultural segment, we must also not forget that Vikings were basically pirates.
Wildstar Beaumont: The word Viking itself is derived from the Old Norse víkingr signifying a sea-rover or pirate.
Wildstar Beaumont: And there was (and unfortunately still there is) piracy in the far east, and we are going to mention it at the end of my presentation when I’ll mention Italian author Emilio Salgari
Wildstar Beaumont: Even if you haven’t read it in the original Klingon version 😉 , it is impossible not to mention William Shakespeare in almost any literary discussion.
Wildstar Beaumont: There are indeed pirates in Shakespeare – for instance in Anthony and Cleopatra. Illyria , central in the “12th night”, is mentioned as a site of pirates in “Henry VI part 2”.
Wildstar Beaumont: However, Shakespeare’s work where pirates play the biggest role is Pericles, where they providentially intervene to prevent the murder of the heroine, Marina. True, the pirates then sell her into prostitution, but Marina guards her virginity and converts her would-be clients to virtue.
Wildstar Beaumont: There is little doubt that Daniel Defoe contributed greatly to the literary image of pirates through his works. He is widely believed to have also written Madagascar, or Robert Drury’s Journal, during Fifteen Years Captivity on that Island (1729) based on the real-life adventures of Robert Drury and possibly drawing on the works of other writers.
Wildstar Beaumont: In Captain Singleton, the original title page boasts that the book contains Singleton’s “many Adventures and Pyracies with the famous Captain Avery and others”. (Avery was a distinctly non-fictional pirate.)
Wildstar Beaumont: Bob Singleton confesses himself “an original Thief”, but patriotically preys only on Spanish ships
Wildstar Beaumont: And of course pirates also make their appearance in Defoe’s most famous work: Robinson Crusoe
Wildstar Beaumont: Sir Walter Scott could not have avoided pirate themes in his vast work:
Wildstar Beaumont: The Pirate is set in 17th-century Shetland, and it centers on the rivalry between the gallant Mordaunt Mertoun and the buccaneer Clement Cleveland, whom he has rescued after a shipwreck. (Unsurprisingly they turn out to be half-brothers)
Cleveland’s fellow pirates are captured thanks to a weird prophetess called Norna of the Fitful-head.
Wildstar Beaumont: Of course, discussing about pirates, we must mention Treasure Island: most of us have probably had their first contact with pirates with Treasure Island
Wildstar Beaumont: When learned about me preparing this talk, a friend came back to me : “you are going to mention Treasure Island and Long John Silver, aren’t you ?!!” 🙂
Wildstar Beaumont: The sound of Blind Pew tapping his way along with his stick outside the Admiral Benbow inn is one of the most spine-tingling in all children’s fiction, but Stevenson knew that the best pirate combines terror with charm.
Wildstar Beaumont: Thus the horror at human perfidy when Jim Hawkins, hidden in the apple barrel, overhears Long John Silver’s evil plans
Wildstar Beaumont: A treasure map, Captain Flint, “pieces of eight”: every element of Stevenson’s yarn has entered the collective unconscious.
Wildstar Beaumont: Rafael Sabatini wrote some memorable adventure fiction.
Wildstar Beaumont: Two of his most famous works, Captain Blood and The Sea-Hawk, were blockbuster novels in their day.
Wildstar Beaumont: Influential in their own right, they became even more so as the basis for legendary films of Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn.
Wildstar Beaumont: Sabatini was a proponent of basing historical fiction as closely as possible on history.
Wildstar Beaumont: “Captain Blood” is based on the story of Blood on Henry Pitman, a surgeon who tended the wounded Monmouth rebels and was sentenced to death by Judge Jeffreys, but whose sentence was commuted to penal transportation to Barbados where he escaped and was captured by pirates.
Wildstar Beaumont: The story diverges in the second part (unlike Captain Blood, Henry Pitman did not join the pirates but eventually returned to England), where the character takes from other historical figures such as Henry Morgan
Wildstar Beaumont: “Captain Blood” was an enormously popular work, but instead of continuing the series with sequels, Sabatini wrote fifteen more short stories set during Captain Blood’s pirate career, most within the timeframe of the original book.
Wildstar Beaumont: The “Sea Hawk” takes place mostly in the Mediterranean among Barbary Pirates. The story concerns a retired Cornish seafaring gentleman, Sir Oliver Tressilian, who is villainously betrayed by a jealous half-brother.
Wildstar Beaumont: After being forced to serve as a slave on a galley, Sir Oliver is liberated by Barbary pirates. He joins the pirates, gaining the name “Sakr-el-Bahr” (the hawk of the sea), and swears vengeance against his brother
Wildstar Beaumont: It is usually not considered his best work, but it is worth mentioning James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Red Rover”
Wildstar Beaumont: A notorious pirate is chased by a disguised agent of the Royal Navy. The pirate is a brooding anti-hero who is converted to the cause of American freedom.
Wildstar Beaumont: It is typically said that the characters are not very convincing but the description of ships at sea and sea storms are nevertheless reputed excellent.
Wildstar Beaumont: The Gold-Bug – a short story – not to be confused with the Golden-Prim 😉 – only marginally address pirates, and it is mostly to be considered detective fiction, but it is still interesting to mention.
Wildstar Beaumont: Poe’s unnamed narrator tells the story of his relationship with the reclusive William LeGrand. LeGrand becomes convinced that he knows the location of treasure buried by the infamous pirate Captain Kidd. After a bizarre series of rituals, LeGrand leads him to the buried chest.
Wildstar Beaumont: The story involves cryptography with a detailed description of a method for solving a simple substitution cipher using letter frequencies.
Wildstar Beaumont: if you google it you’ll find easily the original encrypted text
Wildstar Beaumont: The Coral Island
Wildstar Beaumont: In this Victorian bestseller, one of the first works of juvenile fiction to feature exclusively juvenile heroes,
Wildstar Beaumont: Scottish author RM Ballantyne relates the adventures of three boys marooned on a South Pacific island, the only survivors of a shipwreck. A schooner arrives, but just as they think that they have been rescued, they see the skull-and-crossbones.
Wildstar Beaumont: The pirates capture Ralph, the book’s narrator. However, they fight with the Polynesian locals and Ralph is freed. The leading pirate, “Bloody Bill”, is mortally wounded but has time to repent his piratical life.
Wildstar Beaumont: Even if not properly today’s theme (but it might for a future talk), if we like adventures on the sea, we cannot mention some of the famous work of naval fiction, such as C. S. Forester’s Hornblower series, Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey–Maturin series, Alexander Kent’s The Bolitho novels and Dudley Pope’s Lord Ramage’s series.
Wildstar Beaumont: All these work deal with the Napoleonic Wars, makings this a particularly inspiring historical period for naval adventures.
Wildstar Beaumont: Of course, during their adventures, our Royal Navy heroes sometimes meet pirates, giving us the perspective of “the other side”
Wildstar Beaumont: interesting things to say about the Aubrey cycle
Wildstar Beaumont: but they will be told another time 😉
Wildstar Beaumont: Let me finish mentioning one of the superstar of Italian children and teen literature. While not particularly popular in the English-speaking world, Emilio Salgari has legions of fans in Spanish speaking countries, especially Latin America, in France, Germany and of course in his native Italy. Many generations of children, including yours truly, grew up dreaming of exotic lands on the pages of his books
Wildstar Beaumont: Salgari’s works spanned across all the possible genres of adventure fiction from ancient Egypt to the old West even touching Science Fiction. Even if he never reached the consideration Jules Verne reached among critics, around the turn of the XX century the fans were evenly split between Verne-fans and Salgari-fans
Wildstar Beaumont: Among all of his works, two cycles are considered the most popular and both are pirate-themes: the series of the Black Corsair and the series of Sandokan, of which you can see here covers of early 1900 Italian editions.
Wildstar Beaumont: Set in the Caribbean, the Black Corsair novel narrates the exploits of Emilio Roccanera, Lord of Ventimiglia who takes the identity of the Black Corsair to attempt to avenge his brothers, slain by the Duke Van Guld, now Governor of Maracaibo.
Wildstar Beaumont: During his adventures he falls in love with Honorata, who, who could have guessed, turns out to be his nemesis’ daughter.
Wildstar Beaumont: He decides to maroon her on a fragile boat, and she lands on a not so desert island where she eventually becomes the Queen of the locals who believe her to be a sea deity.
Wildstar Beaumont: Eventually they get back together, and the series goes on following the adventure of their daughter, nephew and various allies.
Wildstar Beaumont: Some of the greatest historical pirates and buccaneers of the era appear in the series: François L’Ollonais, Michael the Basque and Henry Morgan
Wildstar Beaumont: Salgari’s greatest hero, however, is Sandokan, the leader of the Tigers of Mompracem, Pirates in the South China Sea.
Wildstar Beaumont: He is the last of a dynasty of rulers of Borneo, whose parents were massacred by the British to seize the throne and therefore turned pirate to seek revenge.
Wildstar Beaumont: Sandokan, together with is second in command, Portuguese adventurer Yanez de Gomera, is introduced in “The Tigers of Mompracem”, which portrays their relentless struggle against the Dutch and British powers that seek to wipe them out.
Wildstar Beaumont: In subsequent novels, they battle against James Brooke, the Raja of Sarawak (an historical figure), and also travel to India to measure themselves against the Thugs, notorious band of stranglers devoted to the goddess Kali
Wildstar Beaumont: Historical facts are depicted in the books, such as the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
Wildstar Beaumont: And this is it for today. Thank you for being here and for having me. I hope this was interesting and I am open to questions 🙂

Liz Wilner: what is your absolute favorite pirate fiction book or author?
Wildstar Beaumont: my favorite book … probably Captain Blood
OldeSoul Eldemar: Why was Captain Blood a favorite ?
Wildstar Beaumont: Olde .. why Captain Blood … it is one for which I have good memories
Wildstar Beaumont: keep in mind that I read most of these works decades ago 🙂
Wildstar Beaumont: Captain Blood I remember – was a fun book with good characters and a good complexity of the plot
Wildstar Beaumont: and I read the book before watching Errol Flynn’s movie 🙂
Wildstar Beaumont: Errol Flynn and Olivia De Havilland … great Hollywood couple
Wildstar Beaumont: :))

Ephemeria: Wat about female pirates? Were there any?
Wildstar Beaumont: Female pirates … I mentioned the two most famous in one of my previous talks
Wildstar Beaumont: Anne Bonney and Mary Read
Wildstar Beaumont: in terms of fiction I do not have much memories of female pirates apart from the third book of Salgari’s cycle
Wildstar Beaumont: “Jolanda the Black Corsair’s daughter”
Wildstar Beaumont: where Emilio and Honorata’s daughter joins Henry Morgan in his attack to Panama

Wildstar Beaumont: anyway … I touched classical books … but in more modern work , often mixed with fantasy … you can find many example of female characters in pirate themed fiction
Wildstar Beaumont: not to mention steampunk and space pirates 🙂
Wildstar Beaumont: this is a good list for modern work : https://www.barnesandnoble.com/blog/sci-fi-fantasy/16-essential-pirate-fantasy-novels/

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