Great sailing ships and frigates, wild storms and becalmed seas, fierce battles and tedious blockade duty were all part of the world of the British Navy at the time of Jane Austen. My summer reading has been Alexander Kent’s naval series about the British Navy fighting the French in the time of the Revolutionary Wars and the Napoleonic Wars. His fictional character Richard Bolitho begins as a twelve-year old midshipman and then the reader goes with him on his journey as a Lieutenant, then Captain, Commodore, Rear-Admiral and finally a full Admiral before his death in battle.
Having read the Patrick O’Brian books some years ago, plus many others about the navy, once again I am immersed in the period. All this stems from my interest in Jane Austen’s brothers, Frances (or Frank) and Charles, being officers in the navy during the Napoleonic Wars.
Jane Austen very subtly weaves her knowledge of the navy into Persuasion and Mansfield Park. For instance in Mansfield Park Fanny and Edmund know the astronomy of the night sky. An American Professor of Astronomy, Alma Zook, has written a paper titled ‘Star-gazing In Mansfield Park’. After examining the few lines of conversation between Fanny and Edmund she concluded that Jane Austen was exactly right in her observations for the Northern sky at Northampton at that time of the year. You can download her article from JASNA Persuasions magazine on this link. I think Jane learnt from her sailor brothers who were required to be experts on the night skies as part of their navigation roles in the British Navy. At the time she was writing and publishing her naval novels her brothers were Captains and I have always imagined great discussions when they were home on leave.