ROBIN LINDLEY is a
BAGSHAW: In marked contrast to the
and attorney, and the
features editor of the
History News Network
( hnn.us). His articles have appeared
in HNN, Crosscut, Salon.com, Real
Change, Documentary, Writer’s
Chronicle, Billmoyers.com, Alternet.
org, and others. He has a special
interest in the history of conflict and
human rights. He can be reached at
archives on fishing back then, there is
almost nothing on the brothels then.
I had to research 19th-century brothels in other parts of America. There are
studies of New Orleans at about that time
and there’s statistical data out of New
York. And then there’s semi-historical
writing on the brothels of the Wild West.
LINDLEY: These women are overlooked in
history and you’re making a place for them.
BAGSHAW: Yes, but not many brothels
have been written about. There’s The
Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which
is a light treatment of the situation with
everyone having fun—not very realistic.
LINDLEY: You vividly describe the
dangerous fishing and tremendous storms
off Georges Bank. What is Georges Bank?
BAGSHAW: It’s a fishing bank off the
coast of Massachusetts. And back then
it was one of the most lucrative fishing
grounds in the world. The Gulf Stream
comes into it from the south, and it has
a shallow bed. And cold water from the
Gulf of Maine intersects with the Gulf
Stream. That’s why it’s so dangerous.
And that’s where a lot of fish come in.
LINDLEY: Did you go back to
Gloucester and do archival research?
BAGSHAW: I spent a good amount of
time in Gloucester on research. There’s
a good local library and it has an
excellent archive of local history. And
there’s a maritime museum.
I also visited Mystic Seaport, Conn.,
and they have a Gloucester fishing
schooner, the L.A. Dunton, in the water
and [it’s] all made up the way it would
have been when it was fishing. It was a
little later and a little bigger than the
schooners at the time of the novel, but
otherwise typical of those ships. You can
walk inside, see the bunks, see how the
men would have lived.
LINDLEY: You also bring up 19th-
century legal history, and stress
that widows had no right to sue for
compensation for the deaths of their
husbands at sea.
BAGSHAW: The greatest injustice was
the Harrisburg case [The Harrisburg,
119 U.S. 199 (1886)]. The court found
there was no cause of action for
wrongful death at sea under maritime
law. It didn’t matter why somebody
died. That was partially changed in 1920
when the “Death on the High Seas Act”
was passed. Deaths that weren’t covered
after that were then covered after an act
in 1970. But even today, for mariners and
others who die at sea, their wrongful
death recovery is a shadow of what we
get at shore.
When the Deepwater Horizon oil
LINDLEY: Is there anything else you’d
platform operated by Transocean and
drilling for BP in the Gulf of Mexico had
a big fire a few years ago, several people
on the platform were killed. Congress
was outraged to find that there were no
punitive damages or pain and suffering
damages that the widows could collect
because of what was left of this old
case. Congress proposed changing the
law, but only for people working on oil
platforms. All the other people who go
to sea on fishing boats, merchant ships,
and other vessels, never managed to get
the attention of Congress, and in the
end it did nothing, no relief even for the
widows of men killed on oil platforms.
like to mention about Georges Bank or
BAGSHAW: If anyone wants to write,
start. I just started. I wrote a first draft
of Georges Bank straight through. Then
I showed it to people who actually
knew something about creative writing,
and they gave me an education about
everything I was doing wrong. But that
was fixable. I then did a second and
third and fourth draft, and every time
I was making it better, and I felt really
good. It’s very satisfying.
I love the process. It’s great to
get a book published, but if it never
happened, I’d still be working on my
Fishermen's Wives Memorial,
Eastern Point Lighthouse in