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 What Reviewers Have Said...

The historian Leslie Harris, a former president of Memorial University, reviewed Outrageous Seas in The Northern Mariner (Winter 2000), a journal of the Canadian Nautical Research Society.  He believes that the book  has added to our knowledge and interpretation of Newfoundland’s social and cultural history. Besides illustrating a number of important themes, this book encompasses  “the juxtaposition of puny man with the titanic and uncontrollable forces of nature . . . against which the dramatic history of Newfoundland is set,” and he believed, “the chronologically ordered series of tales assembled by the author . . . come close to the heart of the Newfoundland historical experience over a period of some 300 years.”  These narratives “add a particular dimension of our past, often, in Vico’s phrase, throwing ‘a bright prismatic light’ . . .  more important, perhaps, these shipwreck narratives are cultural mirrors in which many Newfoundlanders see themselves reflected.”  Harris concluded, “The editor’s splendid introduction provides a scholarly and lucid context for the tales he presents.  The stories are compelling and, of themselves, well worth reading.  They illuminate significant aspects of Newfoundland’s history.  They explain a great deal about patterns of thought and action that invoke a distinctive culture.”

 

In The Times Literary Supplement (June 30, 2000) the reviewer Margarette Lincoln noted that such published shipwreck accounts were rare and “therefore important to the historical record.”  Moreover, they “indicate the complexity and range of shipwreck experience [and] illuminate how a cultural identity may emerge over time, and incorporate themes of nationalism, masculinity and gender.”  She also felt that these narratives augment our appreciation not only of a provincial and regional but also Canada’s national identity: “This beautifully produced book makes them more accessible and adds to our knowledge of Canadian cultural history.”

 

Roger Sartry (The University of Toronto Quarterly, Winter 2000-01) described this book as “riveting reading.”   According to him Outrageous Seas has successfully captured “the pervasive awareness in the Atlantic communities of the menace of the sea during the age of sail.  He accepted the underlying argument that the sea was an undervalued cultural force in Canadian history.  He writes, “This exposure [to the sea] . . . is the tap root of Canadian culture older than and at least as fundamental as continental challenges, the better-known images of the foreboding forests of Ontario and Quebec, and the relentless vastness of the prairies and Rockies.  The editor builds a splendidly documented case.”

 

Peter E. Rider of the Canadian Museum of Civilization writes, "Beyond the stories themselves, Baehre gives us a substantial and carefully reasoned introduction.  Here the editor establishes his claim that the narratives in his collection amount to more than just a good read.  They were shaped by history and in turn have shaped history.  They created in the popular mind a region in which danger lurked, and this impression in turn moulded the expectations of those who went there.  Culturally, the narratives served to instruct readers in significant moral, spiritual, and psychological lessons . . .Volumes of narratives, at their best, are distinguished by notes and commentaries that are as useful and interesting as the work they support.  With some slight intrusions of personal bias and academic stiltedness, Baehre's work approaches this level.  Nevertheless, the power of the volume remains with the narratives.  They add not so much to our understanding of Newfoundland, however, as to our comprehension of the mariners who ventured into its perilous seas.  Even that, for those who are interested, is a significant accomplishment. (Histoire sociale-Social History, November 2000).

 

In The Mariner's Mirror: The Journal of the Society for Nautical Research (May 2003), Dan Conlin points out that in assembling 17 first-hand accounts with scholarly introductions which place them into context, Baehre has "tried something different. . . This cultural studies approach considers a huge range of philosophical themes but he does not lose himself in too much postmodernist abstraction.  His conclusion that the themes -- be they religious, reform or technical -- stressed by each survivor can tell us much about their times seems a worthy one. . . these harsh stories offer inspiring examples of strength, resourcefulness, kindness and even occasionally subtle humour, and Baehre's work in giving them a broader meaning is a welcome addition to shipwreck literature."

 

Rejoinder

(from the International Journal of Maritime History)
 

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