A Lady’s Captivity Among Chinese Pirates

Fanny Loviot, 1858/ 2008, NMM Publishing £8.99

So – I was just about to review Paul and suddenly realised I had no book to read. A cardinal sin, that needed immediate rectification.

The volume I chose has only the slenderest connection with Greenwich – its only link is that it was discovered among the archives of the Caird Library and republished by the NMM, but it’s fun and I liked it. So shoot me.

I confess I only bought it for the cover. Production values are a big thing for me, shallow Phantom as I am, and I really liked its small sized, heavy papered, hardback-with-dustjacket presence. Oh – and it fitted in my pocket for the walk home…

Our heroine Fanny Loviot, the far-too-brief introduction tells us, was, despite the book’s title, no lady. Sadly the annoyingly short intro is too coy to tell us what she actually was, but she ‘won’ her passage to America in the French Lottery set up to rid the country of ‘undesirables’ and made her way to California in the 1850s.
It’s a surprisingly easy read, considering the stilted 19th Century style, and full of swashbuckling fun. The introduction, as I’ve mentioned is fine – but far too flimsy – it poses more questions than it answers – not least how Fanny actually got into her adventures in the first place, and what happened to her in the long run.

Half the book is a description of Gold Rush San Francisco and her exploits there with her ‘sister,’ who may or may not have existed (it’s suggested the publisher made her invent a female companion for chaperoneage-purposes.)

Gunfights and fistfights, arson and greed, Fanny describes it all in high-falutin’ Victorian prose, including descriptions of her own life, disguised as a man and travelling for her business – never actually spelled out.

When her lodgings and business were razed by fire, she decided to go to Hong Kong, and it was on her journey back that her ship was captured by junkfuls of Chinese pirates, straight out of Central Casting. The Pirate Captain is in the Chow Yun Fat mode, complete with shaved-head-and-ponytail ensemble and his crew are enjoyably dastardly. The adventures of Fanny and her companions really are just waiting to be made into a Hollywood movie.

All that’s needed is to innocent-her up, have her fall in love with the captain of the ship that’s captured and make the French Vice Consul of Hong Kong corrupt instead of nice and, bish-bosh – you got a script.

You read it here first, folks. A Lady’s Captivity Among Chinese Pirates has just GOT to be turned into a blockbuster – it needs so little to be done to it to make it classic Joseph Campbell stuff.

Of course, one of the very few things it does need is a name change. Not nearly lurid enough for today’s tastes…

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