Notes on Dickens’ “The Wreck of the Golden Mary” (1856)


The Wreck of the Golden Mary

* I don’t have that much to say about this one. It’s hard to guess what the whole looked like, other than probably ‘not like this’? I’ve glanced at someone else’s summary, and they do get rescued, as I expected.

* This story’s grim. The fall from the high energy, jolly beginning feels almost like a betrayal. I wasn’t really expecting the child Lucy’s death, and I wasn’t really expecting the captain’s apparent demise, or where we’re left in the narrative (at least when it’s published in this form, which has a legitimate existence in its own right, as I think Dickens revised it as an independent piece for collected editions of his work).

* The narration flip from the Captain to the first mate and the matter of the shoes (the Captain has been without them since the wreck, hiding the problem and getting dangerously sick because there was nothing to be done) feels like a doubt-twist ending. It’s a small thing but also fairly powerful that, from the captain’s own account, we didn’t know about his suffering. It’s a gesture at once schmaltzy and subtle. This feels like something Dickens would normally do from the outside, as it were, but here it’s leant a kind of shocking power because of our hitherto apparently transparent relationship with the captain’s pov. We can suddenly abandon that close pov, entering a sort of epistolary log from the mate, and the Captain can have been withholding information from us.

* This is the first time we’ve been embedded in one of these Christmas stories where the sustained interiority has felt fairly distinct from Dickens’ own, and has been supported in a convincing character with a different backstory and general perspective.

* Maybe in a sense “The Wreck of the Golden Mary” is about living well under awful conditions and, if it comes to it, dying well. Even if the story “really” rescues them, it can’t save Lucy (and it possibly can’t save the Captain), and it’s still brought them to the brink, and thus pushed us into thinking about what it is to die decently in circumstances of extreme deprivation. That would still, in a strange way, be consistent with his broader redemptive Christmas story project.

* Steadiman is such a morality play name.

* Rarx is interesting (again, what a name for a vile, avaricious man!), I bet he does more in the full version.

* I’ll include Callow’s thoughts on this here:


Charm words: 1

I proposed that, whenever the weather would permit, we should have a story two hours after dinner (I always issued the allowance I have mentioned at one o’clock, and called it by that name), as well as our song at sunset. The proposal was received with a cheerful satisfaction that warmed my heart within me; and I do not say too much when I say that those two periods in the four-and-twenty hours were expected with positive pleasure, and were really enjoyed by all hands. Spectres as we soon were in our bodily wasting, our imaginations did not perish like the gross flesh upon our bones. Music and Adventure, two of the great gifts of Providence to mankind, could charm us long after that was lost.”


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