The Lovely Ship by Storm Jameson (1927)

This novel is part of a trilogy about Yorkshire shipbuilders: The Lovely Ship (1927), The Voyage Home (1930) and A Richer Dust (1931). It was reprinted in the 1970s, and is now available as an e-book.

Review by Helen N:

Storm Jameson was a prolific writer and this is an early novel which has some failings which probably come from that inexperience. She was a strongly political writer and the story of the heroine, Mary Hansyke begins when she is born in 1841, in a poor weaver’s cottage. This introduces one of the themes of the novel – the changes brought about by the industrial revolution, as the story traces the fortunes of her uncle’s shipyard in Danesacre (Whitby). Later on the unions enter the story but by then Mary is an employer and on the side of management.

The main problem I have with the book is that it veers between the story of shipbuilding in North-East England , how Mary needs to change with the times and deal with a slump after great prosperity,  and her romantic relationships with her second husband and a lover who returns from her youthful past. These themes alternate rather than being interwoven and have a different kind of interest for the reader.

There is a more serious problem with Richard, her son from her first marriage. At his birth Mary is a loving mother but after the death of her husband as the plot becomes more complicated, Richard disappears from the narrative. He pops up again just after the birth of her second daughter by which time  he is 11 years old. Mary does not relate at all to her daughters but by this time Richard is old enough to be interested in the ships.  He then vanishes again until after the return of the man who broke her heart when she was young, Gerry Hardman. The reason why this disappearance of Richard matters is because at the climax of the book, Mary is preparing to run away with Gerry and live in exile abroad and the thing that stops her is her love for Richard. If that had been better integrated with the narrative it would seem less of a surprise. (I gather that Storm Jameson had a similar intermittent relationship with her son)

The character of Mary herself – and according to the title page The Lovely Ship is “the story of part of the life of Mary Hansyke” – is strangely remote. Early on in the story her childhood with a feckless mother forces her to grow up quickly – so quickly that her speech is not that of a nine-year old child at all. Although her loves and emotions are delicately and truthfully described she herself fails to come to life in a way that arouses the reader’s interest. Some of this may be due to Storm Jameson’s use of an authorial voice at odd moments, which further distances Mary from the reader:

“It was characteristic of Mary that she did not resent him. (Mempes)….I believe she was incapable of a personal grudge. It looked like weakness but I do not think it was”

There is no indication who this mysterious “I” is.

At one point in the narrative she is admonished in the text as “Absurd Mary” – not by the narrator because there is none identified.

Near the end of the book “Less than a week later, chance, which had played on them already so many tricks, interferes in their lives again”

I would like to read a later work by Storm Jameson because there is enough that is interesting about the book to suggest that she is indeed a writer who takes her work seriously. Other readers might enjoy this book – I found it hard work!

You can compare this to our much more positive review of Jameson’s later novel Company Parade (1934).

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