WHH Short Fiction: “The Captain of the Onion Boat”

Essay: “The Captain of the Onion Boat”, William Hope Hodgson 1910.

This is a sentimental tale about two separated lovers.

Captain John Carlos was set to marry Marvonna Della, a rich heiress. However, he was missing at sea for more than a year. Thinking he was dead, Marvonna joined the convent of St. Sebastian.

Ten years later, Carlos is going to the convent periodically to pine over the sight of Marvonna walking up the convent’s stairs in sight of the docks. Having taken her vows, Marvonna won’t leave the convent though she knows Carlos is there.

The captain’s mate has noted that both Carlos’ and Marvonna’s hearts are broken, and he suggests Carlos send Marvonna a message. He does, and Marvonna slips away with him one night.

The story ends with a remark that the convent will never disclose the secret of Marvonna leaving them since she gave them a bunch of money when she entered, and they’ll want to keep the money rather than publicize Marvonna’s broken vows.

Towards the end, Hodgson asks one of his characteristic rhetorical questions about whether Marvonna’s actions will be disclosed: “Or, maybe, there were natural human hearts in diverse places, that – knowing something of the history of this love-tale – held sympathy in silence, and silence in sympathy. Is this too much to hope?”

The story is overly long and a bit too flowery in its prose.

This story definitely shows that Hodgson wrote a lot of different things besides what he’s remembered for today. And all the Hodgson short stories I’ve done in this seriess so far were reprinted in the same collection: Men of the Deep Waters.

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