The True Story Of Mutiny on the Bounty by Caroline Alexander

1:17:08 Class structure in 18th Century Britain and 21st Century America
1:22:27 East Coast vs West Coast distinctions in America
1:26:52 Kevin says West Coast friendships are meaningless
1:29:12 Luke names the most dramatic personality difference causing happiness and misery
1:29:54 Growing up in a cult. People in LA have sex to prove that when they say hello, they really mean it
1:31:51 Ben Stein comes to LA
1:37:12 Kevin says fiction teaches him more about life
1:39:33 Kevin’s thoughts on Lolita and Nabokov
1:42:13 Young men love Nabokov
1:47:13 My cruel friends and GFs
1:49:50 Kevin on Philip Roth
1:51:24 Kevin on John Updike, The Coup was not as good as VS Naipaul’s Bend in the River
1:52:54 Kevin likes the Christian Ingmar Bergman better than the atheist Bergman, praises SCTV Bergman spoofs
1:55:31 Kevin on Federico Fellini, prefers Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz
1:57:01 Kevin hated Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ
2:02:36 Kevin’s politics? Patriot.

From the New York Times book review:

The popular versions of the story are usually over-motivated — either a tyrannical Bligh, à la Laughton, or a maddeningly effete Christian, à la Brando — because the actual mutiny seems, if anything, under-motivated. Had Christian appeared at the courts-martial held in Portsmouth harbor in 1792, he might have explained what hell it was that drove him to his actions. It would be worth knowing. The testimony of the mutineers who were court-martialed makes them, and Christian, seem terribly thin-skinned for late-18th-century sailors. Bligh may have been guilty of little more than being inconsiderate of their feelings…

How Heywood evaded punishment (some less well-connected mutineers were executed), and how Bligh became the undeserving villain of a tale that should have made him a hero, is a story of enormous complexity, one with ramifications that seem to spin off in every direction, into the bowels and high offices of the Royal Navy, into the faded lineage of the English and Manx gentry, into the associations of the Christian family with some of the major Romantic writers…

The ending the family feared most would, in fact, have been for Christian to tell his story before a court-martial, where the insubstantiality of his motives would have been weighed against the grievous substance of his crime. As for Bligh, he retired as a highly respected rear admiral, but not before failing as governor of New South Wales.

…”What caused the mutiny on the Bounty?” Alexander asks. ”The seductions of Tahiti, Bligh’s harsh tongue — perhaps. But more compellingly, a night of drinking and a proud man’s pride, a low moment on one gray dawn, a momentary and fatal slip in a gentleman’s code of discipline — and then the rush of consequences to be lived out for a lifetime.”

Telegraph: “It is a terribly sad tale, and one that is utterly without heroes – Bligh, though remarkable, is not a hero, nor is Fletcher Christian, nor the oily and now provably mendacious Peter Heywood. This book should find an enduring place as the definitive rendering, and its appearance should elevate Caroline Alexander to the ranks of the finest historians of the most romantic, and most romanticised, period in British Imperial history.”

The Observer:

A new book reveals fresh evidence recasting the villain of the Bounty as the famous saga’s true hero. A poor boy made good, he was smeared by the mutineers’ aristocratic familes.

Christian, far from the downtrodden innocent, was a bankrupt aristocrat who appears to have acted out of spite and wounded pride. As a ‘gentleman’ he was affronted by Bligh’s candid language, and may never have recovered from the indignity of having had to borrow money from his nemesis.

Bligh’s fate as villain of the piece was sealed by spin: a concerted smear campaign by the well-connected families of Christian and his associates, ensuring that over centuries of storytelling, culminating in Hollywood, the tale would be embellished to leave Bligh on the wrong end of one of history’s great miscarriages of justice.

…’I hope this establishes Bligh as the hero and not the villain,’ Alexander said. ‘The origin of it all is a nasty class snobbery. Bligh is accused of not being a “gentleman” – and only a gentleman can understand why Fletcher Christian had to do what he did. That was the basic argument.’

The mutiny erupted after Bligh clashed with Christian over the seemingly mundane issue of missing coconuts. Alexander said: ‘Bligh clearly accused Christian of being a thief or a scoundrel. Later supporters of Christian tried to make out that was sufficient for the mutiny. How could a man of honour be expected to live having heard such incredible words?

‘It was only later, when times changed, this no longer washed in the same way. It was then that stories started creeping in about Bligh threatening Christian with corporal chastisement, and then flogging Christian, and then you jump into the Hollywood period.’

Alexander said the propaganda offensive to blacken Bligh’s name was launched in his own lifetime. ‘Christian’s brother Edward, a lawyer, was mounting the campaign, interviewing everybody he could get his hands on who’d been on the Bounty, and using the press to great effect. He was like a spin doctor.’

* The Tahiti women were, writes Alexander, “not only very beautiful, but sexually uninhibited and experienced in ways that amazed and delighted their English visitors.”

From Wikipedia:

* As Bligh was being set adrift he appealed to this friendship, saying “you have dandled my children upon your knee”. According to Bligh, Christian “appeared disturbed” and replied, “That,—Captain Bligh,—that is the thing;——I am in hell—I am in hell.”

* The modern historian John Beaglehole has described the major flaw in this otherwise enlightened naval officer: “[Bligh made] dogmatic judgements which he felt himself entitled to make; he saw fools about him too easily … thin-skinned vanity was his curse through life … [Bligh] never learnt that you do not make friends of men by insulting them.”

From Boston.com:

Despite his temper and sharp tongue, there’s no record of cruelty, and none was alleged by the court-martialed mutineers…

The injustice of it gets Alexander’s blood up; you can hear it in her voice.

“Once you penetrate 18th-century thinking and realize how much name, reputation, honor, and duty counted,” she says, “you become aware of what was done to Bligh, how savage that mauling was. For his service in all those battles, he should have been knighted. Many lesser men were.”

She knows, however, that it was not only “spinning” that turned Bligh into a monster and the mutineers into innocents. The Romantic era, which dawned after the French Revolution, fell in love with the image of Christian as the solitary tragic hero. He appears directly or indirectly in the poetry of Byron and Wordsworth and possibly even partly inspired Coleridge’s “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” When John Adams, the sole surviving mutineer, was found on Pitcairn’s Island in 1808, not only was he not arrested, he was lionized in England as the benign patriarch of a tiny British colony.

Though Alexander’s book is on The New York Times’ bestseller list, the name of Bligh will probably always stand for cruelty. We like it that way. The more accurate 1984 movie was a box-office failure. One reviewer groused that it was “historically sound but dramatically unsatisfying. Without a true villain, the film becomes a series of anecdotes rather than a tightly knit story.”

“I saw a quote by President Kennedy,” Alexander says, “that the enemy of truth is not the lie but the myth. Once you have a myth, you can’t deconstruct it. It’s got a gorgeous life. The Charles Laughton version we’ll always have with us. To the end of time, there will be Fletcher Christian, the romantic mutineer.”

From the Sydney Morning Herald:

Even more remarkable, however, are the specifics of Bligh’s fall from grace. Another tale in itself, it proceeded from the political and social pressures exerted by the families of Christian and Heywood before disappearing into the murky, labyrinthine workings of the Royal Navy.

Here, Alexander’s fine eye for the telling detail proves useful as she leads the reader through one complicated maze of bureaucratic facts after another. Suffice to say, when the dust finally settled, Heywood got off lightly and Christian – murdered on Pitcairn Island – was enshrined as a Romantic hero by such family friends as Wordsworth and Coleridge.

“It was Lieutenant Bligh’s ill luck to have his own great adventure coincide exactly at the dawn of this new era, which saw devotion to a code of duty and establishment authority as less honourable than the celebration of individual passions and liberty,” writes Alexander.

This was not the only setback in Bligh’s long and turbulent career. Among many other incidents, there was also the matter of his rudely aborted governorship of NSW. But, above all, Bligh was a survivor and, evincing the same sublime poise with which he navigated that overcrowded boat through storm-ravaged seas for seven weeks, he eventually retired as a distinguished rear-admiral.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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