The four-masted barque Moshulu, the ship on which Eric Newby sailed. She is today a restaurant ship at Philadelphia, PA, United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Eric Newby was a legendary travel writer, sort of your father’s Paul Theroux. He wrote several books which most people have heard of, if not read. If you have not read Newby, I recommend him highly. He wrote The Last Grain Race, about sailing a ship from Britain to Australia and return. It complements the books of Joseph Conrad very well.
When I was young and discovered an author I truly enjoyed, I would read all, or nearly all of the author’s works and then read a biography of the author. At that time I would read one or a few books at a time. Now I read many simultaneously. I have just finished reading Joseph Conrad‘s autobiographical account of his career, The Mirror of the Sea. In that book, he went into great detail how his first book, Almayer’s Folly came about. If you are a fan of Conrad, I suggest that you read The Mirror of the Sea at the same time you are reading any of Conrad’s books. I recently re-read Heart of Darkness for the nth time and I have just started re-reading Almayer’s Folly for the third time.
This is what we think we know: the Costa Corcordia ran aground due to human error, there may have been an electrical fault, and the captain abandoned ship in a cowardly manner. It may be months, if not years, before we know for certain what really happened. In the meantime, I suggest reading or re-reading as I just did, Joseph Conrad‘s Lord Jim. Conrad was a competent seaman, but he was an extraordinary observer of and writer about man’s relation to the sea.
Jim was an ordinary man, not a British lord, who exhibited cowardice at a critical moment on a ship that struck a concealed obstacle and then did not sink. The European crew abandoned ship and left 700+ Muslim pilgrims onboard to their fate. At a hearing, Jim was stripped of his license as a ship’s officer and then began to work as a liaison between ships and on-shore suppliers. As his story followed him eastward, he fled before it. Finally, he could flee no farther and he sought escape among the native Malays where he thought his story would not follow. They called him Lord Jim in their native tongue. There after another act of cowardice by a renegade who Jim allowed to depart caused the death of the chief’s son, he met his death at the hands of the grief-stricken father.
Conrad makes the point that no one knows if he will meet a challenge or retreat in cowardice until he is tested. An act of cowardice frequently causes death to others. Finally it results in the death of the coward himself at a later date.
“Only in men’s imagination does every truth find an effective and undeniable existence. Imagination, not invention, is the supreme master of art as life. An imaginative and exact rendering of authentic memories may serve worthily that spirit of piety towards all things human which sanctions the conceptions of a writer of tales, and the emotions of the man reviewing his own experience.”