William McFee’s CASUALS OF THE SEA is an example of one of the hundreds of novels that come out each year, receive good but not spectacular reviews, and then fall into obscurity after a year or so. The reason for the disappearance of such novels is not necessarily that they were not good pieces of literature, but that another set of novels were written to take their place on the reading tables of the general public.
CASUALS OF THE SEA could not be considered a modern classic in the sense of THE GRAPES OF WRATH or OF HUMAN BONDAGE, because it is not being continually read and criticized; but still it has merits, which rank it as a fine novel. One of the elements which made it a success and which continues to make it pleasant reading today is its treatment of the sea scenes. McFee had spent considerable time at sea and, in fact, had written much of the novel aboard ship, although it was completed while he was living in the United States. His experience with the common seaman made his characters and their adventures at sea seem quite real to the landlocked reader. The characterizations of ordinary seamen and the English common man gave substance to a story whose plot alone might not have held the reader’s interest.
An interesting sidelight of the book is McFee’s treatment of the advertising world when Minnie takes to writing slogans for cough medicine. It amuses the modern reader, familiar as he is with anti-Madison Avenue literature, to find that advertising could have produced ill effects apparent enough to make the field a source of scorn in a work written in the early part of the twentieth century.