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Mr Bligh's Bad Language: Passion, Power and Theatre on the Bounty (Canto original series) Paperback – March 25, 1994

ISBN-13: 978-0521467186 ISBN-10: 0521467187
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Mutiny on the Bounty summons to the popular mind images of violence and power on the high seas. Dening restores a sense of perspective in this fascinating study of the Bounty through images of space, language, and ceremony in Britain's Royal Navy of the late 18th century. Portraying Bligh as one of the least physically violent captains in the Royal Navy, he demonstrates the peculiarities on the Bounty that led to mutiny: ambiguous language, public vs. private space, the lack of ceremony, and the role of authority and power. Dening provides excellent details of the daily life of seamen and officers from the perspectives of history and anthropology. Readers will want to compare Leonard F. Guttridge's Mutiny: A History of Naval Insurrection ( LJ 9/1/92) for a legal/political perspective. Recommended for academic and large public libraries.
- Harold N. Boyer, Marple P.L., Broomall, Pa.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Kirkus Reviews

A learned, humane, provocative ``creative reading'' of the mutiny on the Bounty--the events; their meaning and representation in native lore, British life, the theater, and cinema; and their historical value. An engaging style and familiarity with political, naval, theater and film history, with anthropology, and with thinkers such as Foucault, Barthes, and L‚vi-Strauss enrich this ``celebratory narrative,'' as Dening (History/Univ. of Melbourne) calls it. The story is familiar but, Dening says, the emphasis, meaning, explanation, and value change depending on the point of view, the period, culture, and medium in which one represents the character of Bligh (a perfectionist who preferred to avoid physical punishment) and the sailors; the idea of discipline in the navy; the participants' various expectations; the natives they encountered; the brutality and brutalization, abandonment and retribution; and the survivors' colony on Pitcairn Island. In the theatrical terms Dening employs, the mutiny becomes an enactment of roles, a ritual representing universal experiences of sacrifice, deification, resurrection, possession, encounters between natives and strangers, and the ranging iconography of power as it appears among natives and seamen. Dening's ``cliometrics'' (the statistics on corporeal punishment in the navy); his discussions of Jonas Hanway, of Captain Cook's adventures among the Polynesians, of the British popular theater, of the five films based on the Bounty (including the moral one in the 30's, the political one in the 60's, and the psychological one in the 80's); the encyclopedic knowledge he brings--all add conviction to his imaginative interpretations and demonstrate his proposition that ``history is something we make rather than something we learn.'' A fascinating, essential chapter in the history of the Bounty. (Fifty halftones, three maps--not seen.) -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Canto original series
  • Paperback: 460 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (March 25, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521467187
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521467186
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #589,359 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Knot Hole Book Review on April 29, 2007
Format: Paperback
"I am a professor of parables," writes author Greg Dening, "and the Bounty is a parable. Indeed, there is much parable about ourselves in our peculiarly twentieth-century representations of the past of the Bounty." Five of those representations have taken the form of film. Dening has added a sixth, in the form of a three-act academesque. Thoughtful prologue(s), entr'actes, and an epilogue link the narrative to its historical context, its local mise-en-scene, and its modern role as an icon of cultural literacy. The drama takes place aboard ship (a wooden world where the language of every action reverberates upon the soul of the voyage), on the beach (the place where the conquering sea meets the vanquished land, a transitive action complete with subject and object), and on the island (where sailors fall from grace with the sea, "bad language" in anybody's book). The entr'actes bring us face to face with rituals of sacrifice, peace offerings, and politics, a brash yet brilliant contrast of original Polynesian culture with that of colonizing England. In Dening's final analysis, it's all a matter of management - management of work and play, management of the "oeconomy," management of the sublime - all work together to form one unabridged narrative of drama at sea in the eighteenth century. Superb.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By GPK on June 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
Dening provides an interesting history of the Bounty story - what makes it different is his focus on the disparity between fact and the fiction that developed surrounding the characters of Christian and Bligh.
I liked the book (I read in twice, in fact), and I was a little put-off by the other online reviews. Maybe the book is, as another reader put it, "scholarly" but I didn't view that as a negative. All books need not be written for the average Joe (and, incidentally, cliometrics can be found in any decent dictionary) - so what's the problem?
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23 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Orrin C. Judd VINE VOICE on October 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Social theorists have tried many definitions of human nature: human beings are the animals that make tools, that laugh, that play. I have another: Human-beings are history-makers. We eternally make our present by looking backwards. We present ourselves by expressing a significant past. To know us in our history is to know who we are. -Greg Dening (Performances)
At 4:30 A.M. on April 28, 1789 a series of events began which has ever since held a grip on Western imagination. Fletcher Christian lead a mutiny against Captain William Bligh aboard HMS Bounty. The aftermath of this rebellion included: Bligh's remarkable 4,000 mile journey with 18 loyal crewmen in an open launch; the sinking of HMS Pandora, which had been sent out to arrest the mutineers, with a loss of 34 men, including 4 of the Bounty crew; and the establishment of a weird sort of tropical commune on Pitcairn's Island by Christian and eight other men along with the Tahitian women (and a few friends and progeny) who may or may not have been the precipitating cause of the whole fiasco. Eventually Bligh would return to sea, three of the mutineers would be returned to England and hanged and all but one of the men on Pitcairn's Island would be murdered or die of disease.
Now there's obviously enough material there to justify the boatload of Bounty books, plays and movies that have poured forth in a steady stream over the past two centuries, but what Professor Dening has uniquely done is to consider the uses to which the story has been put over those years. He makes the convincing argument that Captain Bligh, contrary to popular imagery, was not particularly abusive of his men.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 23, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Greg Dening's work looks over the previous shallow interpretations, in both scholarly works and in popular culture, of Bligh's character and his actions aboard H.M.S Bounty.
In popular culture, Charles Laughton's portrayal of Bligh in the 1935 film whilst entertaining was played more for dramatic effect than historical accuracy but it was, after all, a film and its objective was entertainment, not enlightenment. In Dening's words, "'Captain Bligh' is almost a cliche of our times for misused power.".
Perhaps less understandable is the character assasination that was committed by more scholarly authors such as Hughes in "The Fatal Shore" and Clarks monumental "History of Australia". Though in both cases, these treatises do not deal directly with the incidents aboard the Bounty but in his Gubernatorial duties in New South Wales and his alleged cowardice in dealing with the "Rum Rebellion" and the events preceding.
This is an excellent work for the dedicated reader but it can be hard going for the more casual reader. Even those amongst us with superior vocabularies will require consultations with a dictionary from time to time. This is my sole criticism, however. Recommended!
Mark Harrison
Sydney, Australia
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Mr Bligh's Bad Language: Passion, Power and Theatre on the Bounty (Canto original series)
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