Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates

Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates

by David Cordingly

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780812977226
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/09/2006
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 108,760
Product dimensions: 5.09(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.72(d)

About the Author

David Cordingly was for 12 years on the staff of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, where he was curator of paintings and then head of exhibitions. He is a graduate of Oxford and the renowned author of the definitive book on pirates, Under the Black Flag, as well as Seafaring Women and Cochrane: The Real Master and Commander. Cordingly lives with his wife by the sea in Sussex, England.

Read an Excerpt

1
 
Wooden Legs and Parrots
 
Robert Louis Stevenson was thirty years old when he began writing Treasure Island. It was his first success as a novelist, and although Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Master of Ballantrae are considered finer works by many critics, it is the book with which his name is indelibly associated. The first fifteen chapters were written at Braemar among the Scottish mountains in August and September 1881. The late summer weather was atrocious, and Stevenson and his family huddled around the fire in Miss Mcgregor’s cottage while the wind howled down the Dee valley and the rain beat on the windows. There were five of them staying there: Stevenson’s parents, his American wife, Fanny, and her twelve-year-old son, Lloyd Osbourne, who was Stevenson’s stepson. To pass the time, Lloyd painted pictures with a shilling box of watercolors. One afternoon Stevenson joined him and drew a map of an island. He was soon adding names to the various hills and inlets. Lloyd later wrote, “I shall never forget the thrill of Skeleton Island, Spyglass Hill, nor the heart-stirring climax of the three red crosses! And the greater climax still when he wrote down the words ‘Treasure Island’ at the top right-hand corner! And he seemed to know so much about it too—the pirates, the buried treasure, the man who had been marooned on the island.” In an essay which he wrote in the last year of his life, Stevenson revealed how the future character of the book began to appear to him as he studied the map. It was to be all about buccaneers, and a mutiny, and a fine old Squire called Trelawney, and a sea cook with one leg, and a sea song with the chorus “Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum.”
 
Within three days he had written three chapters, and as he wrote each chapter he read it out to the family, who, apart from Fanny, were delighted with the results and added their own suggestions. Lloyd insisted that there should be no women in the story. Stevenson’s father devised the contents of Billy Bones’ sea chest, and suggested the scene where Jim Hawkins hides in the apple barrel. During the course of the next two weeks Stevenson had a visit from Dr. Alexander Japp, who was equally enthusiastic and took the early chapters along to the editor of Young Folks magazine. He agreed to publish the story in weekly installments, but after fifteen chapters Stevenson abruptly ran out of inspiration and could write no more. The holiday in Scotland came to an end, and he moved south to Weybridge, where he corrected the proofs of the early chapters and despaired at what still remained to be done. Stevenson was the victim all his life of a chronic bronchial condition which racked him with coughing fits and hemorrhages. These frequently threatened his life and led to constant travels in search of a healing climate. He had not been well in Scotland, and it was therefore planned that he should pass the winter with Fanny and Lloyd at Davos in Switzerland. They traveled there in October, and the change of scene worked wonders. “Arrived at my destination, down I sat one morning to the unfinished tale; and behold! it flowed from me like small talk; and in a second tide of delighted industry, and again at a rate of a chapter a day, I finished Treasure Island.”
 
When it was first published in weekly installments in Young Folks magazine (from October 1881 to January 1882), it failed to attract any attention, or indeed to sell any additional copies, but when published separately as a book in 1883, it soon proved popular. The Prime Minister, Gladstone, was reported to have stayed up till two in the morning in order to finish it, and it was widely praised by literary critics and by other writers. Henry James thought it a delightful story, “all as perfect as a well-played boy’s game,” and Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “I think Robert Lewis Stevenson shows more genius in a page than Scott in a volume.” G. K. Chesterton particularly admired Stevenson’s evocative style: “The very words carry the sound and the significance. It is as if they were cut out with cutlasses; as was that unforgettable chip or wedge that was hacked by the blade of Billy Bones out of the wooden sign of the ‘Admiral Benbow.’ ”
 
Treasure Island was intended as a book for boys, and has an immediate appeal as an exciting adventure story; but like Robinson Crusoe and Alice in Wonderland, it has been enjoyed by adults as much as by children. The subtle observation of character, the vivid imagery of the language, and the disturbing undercurrents running beneath the surface of the story have fascinated readers and provoked endless study of the text. The story was adapted for the stage, and every year in London and elsewhere well-known actors and less well known parrots are auditioned for productions. There have been at least five films based on the story. In 1920 a silent version featured a woman (Shirley Mason) playing the part of Jim Hawkins. The 1934 version had Jackie Cooper cast as Jim and Wallace Beery as Long John Silver. In 1950 the Walt Disney corporation sponsored a lavish production with Bobby Driscoll as Jim and Robert Newton giving a definitive performance as Long John Silver. Orson Welles played the same part in the 1971 version, and in 1990 Charlton Heston played Silver and his son played a somewhat older than usual Jim Hawkins.
 
Thanks to Stevenson’s illuminating letters and essays, we know a great deal about the various sources which inspired him during the writing of the book, as well as the models for some of the principal characters. The catalyst was the treasure map, but he also drew on his memories of the works of Daniel Defoe, Edgar Allan Poe, and Washington Irving. He took the Dead Man’s Chest from At Last by Charles Kingsley, and admitted his debt to “the great Captain Johnson’s History of the Notorious Pirates.” Interestingly, he was scathing about Captain Marryat’s The Pirate, which he thought was an arid and feeble production.
 
The dominating personality in Treasure Island is, of course, Long John Silver. He is better known than any of the real pirates of history and, together with Captain Hook, has come to represent many people’s image of a pirate. He is tall and powerful and has a wily character which alternates between jovial good humor and utter ruthlessness in the pursuit of gold. His left leg was cut off after he had been hit by a broadside when serving as quartermaster of Captain Flint’s ship off Malabar. He does not have a wooden leg but carries a crutch, “which he managed with great dexterity, hopping around on it like a bird.” In Captain Johnson’s General History of the Pirates there is a memorable description of “a fellow with a terrible pair of whiskers, and a wooden leg, being stuck around with pistols, like the man in the Almanack with darts, comes swearing and vapouring upon the quarter-deck.” It is possible that Stevenson had this figure in the back of his mind when he came up with Long John Silver, but he always said that his sea cook was based on his friend W. E. Henley, a writer and poet who made a considerable impression on everyone who met him. Lloyd Osbourne described him as “a great, glowing, massive-shouldered fellow with a big red beard and a crutch; jovial, astoundingly clever, and with a laugh that rolled out like music. Never was there such another as William Ernest Henley; he had an unimaginable fire and vitality; he swept one off one’s feet.”
 
Henley was the son of a Gloucester bookseller and contracted tubercular arthritis as a boy, which crippled him and led to his having one foot amputated. He traveled to Edinburgh to see the eminent Professor Lister about his condition, and while in the Scottish capital he was introduced to Stevenson. Henley had little talent as a writer, but he became a forceful and independent editor of several magazines and anthologies. In a letter to Henley from Switzerland shortly after completing Treasure Island, Stevenson wrote, “I will now make a confession. It was the sight of your maimed strength and masterfulness that begot John Silver in Treasure Island. Of course he is not in any other quality or feature the least like you; but the idea of the maimed man, ruling and dreaded by the sound, was entirely taken from you.”9 Stevenson later expanded on this and explained that his aim had been to take an admired friend and to deprive him of his finer qualities, leaving him with nothing but his strength and his geniality, and to try and express these traits in the person of a rough seaman.
 

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Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Pirates 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 30 reviews.
The_Captain More than 1 year ago
No piratey collection would be complete without this book. I enjoyed it so much that this book has found its rightful place next to my flintlock pistol, cutlass, and mahogany chest bursting with bits of shiny and other valuable swag. This book is an excellent, informative resource on piracy, offering an in-depth look into the lives of those cutthroat sea-rovers and drivelswiggers who practiced pillaging and plundering. If you're looking for an exciting pirate-themed book full of buried treasure, walking the plank, or pirate maps with an "X" marking the location of a glittering treasure, this book is not for you; however, if you desire an absolutely thrilling read that will suck you into the realm of piracy through hardcore facts and gruesome historical details, this book is a must-have. If you are really into pirates and their history, do yourself a favor and purchase this book. Cut out me tongue and leave me dancin' the hempen jig if I be tellin' a mishap!
ncgolden More than 1 year ago
I walked into BN and asked an employee for a book recommendation and they gave me this. I bought the book and for the first few pages thought that I had made a bad choice. After getting into the actual material though, I was stuck. The book is written from the point of view that we have been bombarded with a very romantic and fictional view of pirates in popular culture. David Cordingly attempts to bring our ideas back to earth and does so in singular fashion. He distinguishes between specific pirate "variations" and shows off an enormous amount of research into the movements of actual pirates and buccaneers. With his frequent use of humor and surprisingly lighthearted (for the subject matter) stories, the author has produced a work that will appeal to the casual reader as well as the serious scholar.
wurdnurd More than 1 year ago
A well-researched account of piracy and its impact on popular culture, it's fairly obvious that this book was written almost 15 years ago. At the same time, it's stunning to realize that, of all the depictions of pirates in modern culture, Disney (or Jerry Bruckheimer and co) actually got it more right than wrong. While I was disappointed that women's voices were barely heard (as pirates) or were dismissed (as victims), and the afterward was ridiculously misogynistic, I still enjoyed learning how pirates actually behaved and survived during their height. I would especially love an updated afterward that reflects that, just like terrorists of today, the pirates were products of desperate times and unfair systems, and reflect the current rise in piracy in the global climate.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was a excellent source of information on pirates and what really happened on board the ships. Very graphic and gruesome, not romanticized at all in that respect. It was not written for 'entertainment'! I am reading quite a few books on the subject right now, and it is the book I refer to for in depth explainations. Outstanding!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book was definately not what I expected either. But all in all I still think that it was a good book. Just hard to follow
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was expecting the author to present the material in a more entertaining way however, this book read more like a history book and was very difficult to finish.
NielsenGW on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Cordingly¿s foray into the world of pirates is vast and action-packed. This book focuses on the ¿Golden Age¿ of piracy (1650-1725) and tries to deliver as accurate a picture as possible. While his accuracy is spot-on, his style leaves one jarred. Cordingly has trouble with transitioning between piratic episodes and sometimes goes into great detail in places and little in others. This is also one book where it pays to read both the introduction and the glossary in order to tell the difference between privateers, pirates, buccaneers, and corsairs, as well as to navigate through all the hefty nautical jargon. Entertaining but dense.
MiaAndPatrick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a really great book about pirates! Its a lot more accessible to the modern reader than Johnson's History. It gives a good overview of the golden age of piracy.
AngelaG86 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. The author covered all the "best" pirates, and a lot of lesser-known pirates.
jphillips3334 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Anyone with an any kind of interest in the life of pirates should read this book. A well researched book on the reality of pirates and how it contrast to the pop culture's romantic version that most people know. Includes interesting appendix of pirate executions from 1700-1730, pirate attacks from 1716-1726, and a nice bibliography of pirate related books both fiction and non-fiction.
IslandDave on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Cordingly does good research into the stories and experiences of pirates, concentrating his efforts on the most documented and verifiable, those frequenting the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, and along the US East coast. The first half of the book is a four-star review of those tales, especially good for someone who is just learning about famous pirates. There is discussion of Drake, Morgan, and Teach, as well as many other pirates. However, the second half of the book loses the narrative and gets bogged down in dry and disconnected bits of piracy, such as a long discussion on types of pirate vessels (which is fine, until...) that devolves into a discussion of movie versions of said ships (as pointed out in another review). Some of the later chapters cover material that was already alluded to (such as hunting pirates) and which could have been better incorporated into the narrative of the first half.That all said, three stars. Good intro to West Indies pirates and their exploits, but generally lacking a central narrative and voice (in the latter half) to carry out all the concepts covered in the book.
Nyota24 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The description in one of the other reviews says it all: Pirates are like dinosaurs for grown-ups! Cordingly knows them backward and forward (pirates, not dinosaurs), and there are lots of great stories here. I thought his chapter on women pirates and pirates' women was great; how wonderful to see he's written a book with that title! Just one trouble -- can't he leave us a little bit of the pirate fantasy?
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Cornellian More than 1 year ago
The depth and breadth of research and detail in this book is phenomenal. However, the author never gets into a steady story and I found it generally difficult to read more than one or two chapters in one sitting. The book would make an excellent textbook or reference guide, but generally fails to entertain. If you like your Disney-fied images of pirates with parrots, peg-legs, and planks, stay away from this book. But if you really want to know what life on the high seas was like for these men (and women!), I doubt that any book is better.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago