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Wednesday, December 17, 2014


Whew, what a pilgrimage Eleanor led me!

As many of you will remember, this time last year I posted a running transcription of the sea-letter she wrote as a 21-year-old new bride on the East Indiaman Friendship.  The letter was originally published in 1819 and 1820 as a serial in a little journal called the Asiatic Register, which was published by the Jerusalem Coffee House for the edification of the servants of the Honourable East India Company. The job was not easy, as the columns were replete with typos, enigmatic dashes, and references to people long dead, and places lost to history. To make it even more complicated, it was evident that Eleanor had self-edited the letter when the Jerusalem Coffee House people suggested the publication, so that needed sorting out. Throughout, it was like delving deeply for treasure.

Not only did the sea-letter have to be heavily edited, but it had to be interpreted, too.  What was the background to the events she referred to, and what were the islands and outposts like on the day she viewed them?  What were the stories that lay between the lines?

Over the past year, that is what I have been doing -- telling the stories that lie between the lines of Eleanor's vivacious, sensitive, and startlingly Jane Austen-like diary. The commentaries that resulted, slotted into the sea-letter, have exceeded the word length of the journal by quite a country mile, but it has all been worth it, for the window into a colorful past that the task has opened.

Two very well-regarded historians did me the honor of agreeing to read the finished version.  One was maritime historian Lincoln Paine, and the other women's historian, Jo Stanley.

“In 1799, the twenty-one-year-old Eleanor Reid accepted her new husband's invitation to accompany him on a voyage from Ireland to Australia and back to England—via St. Helena, Cape Town, Sydney, Malacca, and Calcutta. She was a keen observer of the natural and social worlds, and her riveting memoir brims with insights at once worldly and intimate. I can imagine no abler guide to the remote yet cosmopolitan world through which Reid sailed than Joan Druett, whose introductory narratives provide the historical context Eleanor's Odyssey so richly deserves.” 

—Lincoln Paine, award-winning author of The Sea and Civilization

“This book is two joys in one. Eleanor's tale is told so compellingly that it could be mistaken for a novel - although it isn't. Full of wise insights, it is an important addition to the study of sea history.”

 – Jo Stanley, leading expert on women and the sea, and author of Bold In Her Breeches

You can buy the book HERE (Amazon) and HERE (Apple) and HERE (Kobo) and HERE (Page Foundry) ... and HERE (Scribd) and HERE (Nook).  It is available both in print and as an eBook.

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