Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


*Withycombe. Village in western England’s Somerset district that is the ancestral home of Roger Byam, the novel’s fictional narrator. Writing from Withycombe at age seventy-three, Byam recounts his initiation to life at sea when he was a midshipman on HMS Bounty in the late 1780’s.


*Spithead. British naval base near southern England’s Portsmouth Harbour, where Byam reports for duty aboard the Bounty in 1787. While the ship’s sailing is delayed for a month, Byam becomes acquainted with his shipmates and gets his first taste of the severity of naval discipline when he witnesses a sailor being flogged around the fleet—an incident that foreshadows Captain William Bligh’s severe treatment of the Bounty’s crew.

*HMS Bounty

*HMS Bounty. Historical British warship about half of whose crewmen mutinied on April 28, 1789. With a length of only ninety feet and a displacement of only 215 tons, the Bounty was a cramped vessel for the long mission on which it was sent, and the special provisions made to accommodate the breadfruit plants make conditions for the crew even worse. After the ship goes to sea, Captain Bligh places the men on short, often inedible, rations, has both seamen and officers flogged, and is suspected of stealing from the ship’s stores himself for his own profit. Meanwhile, a rift develops between Bligh and Fletcher Christian, his second-in-command. After suffering the rigors of a long and exhausting voyage, as well as Bligh’s discipline, the crewmen enjoy a long respite on Tahiti—a tropical paradise whose conditions are polar opposites of those aboard the Bounty. However, after the ship departs from the island, Bligh returns to his former autocratic self and even confiscates gifts his men received on Tahiti. After First Mate Christian leads the mutiny, he takes command of the ship and becomes as autocratic as Bligh. Not being one of the mutineers, the narrator Byam is a among a handful of men whom the mutineers return to Tahiti. The later fate of the Bounty is related by a different narrator in the authors’ sequel to...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Bone, David W. “The Captain’s Cocoanuts.” The Saturday Review of Literature 9, no. 11 (October 1, 1932): 141, 144. An experienced seaman and writer himself, Bone discusses the accuracy of the authors’ descriptions of the sea and sea life. Also examines how they created characters from reading historical documents.

Briand, Paul L., Jr. “Bounty from the Mutiny.” In In Search of Paradise. New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1966. A fascinating look at the collaborators’ writing process, including their extensive research into the historical incident.

Hall, James Norman. My Island Home: An Autobiography. Boston: Little, Brown, 1952. Includes the author’s recollections of how the two men came to write Mutiny on the Bounty, how they conducted their research, how they set about fictionalizing the historical material, and how they envisioned that material from the beginning as leading to a trilogy of novels.

Roulston, Robert. James Norman Hall. Boston: Twayne, 1978. In the first book-length critical study of Hall’s work, Roulston examines in some detail the Bounty trilogy. He declares the novel a melodrama, perhaps something short of true literature, but finds it to be among the best of the genre.

“A Vivid Tale of Maritime Adventure.” The New York Times Book Review, October 16, 1932, 7. A very favorable review of Mutiny on the Bounty as a model of the historical novel. Gives useful background information about the historical basis for the events detailed in the novel.