Ramage: A rousing sea adventure during the Napoleonic Wars

When I was about 10 years old, I went with my parents to a garage sale. There, in addition to some potted plants and miscellaneous bits of furniture, we picked up a dozen assorted paperbacks of various genres. This marked my transition from children’s books to grown up fare. One of these novels was called Ramage’s Diamond,  written by British author Dudley Pope. It told the story of a young naval captain Lord Nicholas Ramage, serving in Nelson’s navy at the beginning of the 19th century.

Besides introducing me to all sorts of nautical terms and detailed descriptions of naval maneuvers, the novel was notable for its in-depth characterization, its insight into the naval politics of the time and for its depiction of the strong ties that bind men who risk their lives in war.

I knew the book was one of a series of novels written by Pope about the Ramage character, but I didn’t come across any of the other books in all these years. In the hope that I would enjoy other stories in this genre, I read Patrick O’Brien’s H.M.S. Surprise which tells the story of another fictitious naval captain Jack Aubrey, during the same period. Unfortunately, I didn’t really enjoy the book, although the Oscar nomnated film Master and Commander based on the first Jack Aubrey book is very well made and quite entertaining.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, I finally got hold of Ramage, the first book in the series. It was a wonderful experience to revisit a character that I had first ‘met’ more than 30 years ago…to finally read the back story of how he moved up from lieutenant to captain, met his future wife, scraped through a court martial and met some of the key members of his crew who would thereafter transfer along with him from ship to ship. As with Ramage’s Diamond, what really makes it such enjoyable reading for me is its description of the simple acts of bravery, chivalry and loyalty. Having said that, this is by no means a naive or simplistic account of life at sea during the wars…there is equal measure of cowardice, false pride and political intrigue. The descriptions of the naval maneuvers are fascinating. One can only marvel at the construction of these ships, which enabled them to be steered to an accuracy of a few feet by skilled captains and their well trained officers and men.

I am now on the lookout for C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower series. Of the 3 fictitious captains of the Napoleonic era (Ramage, Aubrey and Hornblower), it is Horatio Hornblower  who is the most well known, having starred in a 1951 film (played by Gregory Peck) and in a TV series. In fact, it was Mr Forester who encouraged Dudley Pope to start writing fiction, so as a fan of the Ramage novels, I feel I owe it to him to read at least one Hornblower novel!

Perhaps one day, there will be a big budget film adaptation of Ramage…given how expensive filming at sea is, this is only likely if the studios can get hold of a big enough director or star as a box-office guarantee. Until then, I can look forward to finding and reading the remaining 16 Ramage novels.

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