At age 16, George Cupples convinced his father to let him go to sea as a ship's boy on an Indiaman. After the 18-month out-and-back voyage, he returned to Scotland, entered university and spent the rest of his life in Edinburgh, where he devoted himself to writing and dog breeding. He was, by the way, a correspondent of Charles Darwin. Cupples' experience at sea contributed heavily to The Green Hand (1856), which loosely follows the outward voyage of an indiaman.


The story of the green hand (not, as I unthinkingly supposed at first, a verdant metacarpus, but an inexperienced sailor) is a yarn told to amuse passengers and crew on an outbound indiaman. The green hand doesn't stay green long, and for most of the tale is a naval officer, so there is some interest for those who prefer Historic Naval Fiction. Be prepared for additional complexity, however. The narrative sometimes looks like Chinese boxes, with yarns within yarns that take the reader in unexpected directions. Characters sometimes turn up in a different level of narrative and situations are recapitulated. False identities abound and some characters, notably the mysterious Jones, never reveal their true colors. There is plenty of action, too. As the central thread of boy-pursues-unobtainable-girl plays out, the green hand deals with just about every challenge and wonder the sea can serve up.

In its time, The Green Hand was very highly thought of and was reprinted many times. No lesser light than William Clark Russell rated The Green Hand alongside Mr. Midshipman Easy and Moby Dick as one of the greatest novels of the sea. This novel is not a page-turner. If you are looking for edge-of-your-seat action to keep you panting for the next page, don't pick up The Green Hand today. Wait until you are ready to sink down into an easy chair and luxuriate in thick, rich Victorian prose. If you give this book the time it takes to re-tune your modern ear to the language of another era, you will be rewarded. Take your time. It's OK to read only a few pages at a time. Be prepared to spend a week or two with one book.

Readers need to understand that Cupples was a man of his time and used the racial epithet freely. None of his characters seem to question the assumption that white men are superior to other races. These attitudes and concomitant language are offensive to most modern sensibilities.

Description of: The Green Hand: Adventures of a Naval Lieutenant

Author: George Cupples

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