The big clipper was slanting her masts alee when the captain's wife appeared on the quarter-deck and braced herself for the snap roll to windward. As the ship roared on for Boston harbor, Jenny Broadwinder found her sea legs, moved to the lee rail, and stood gazing out over the water.
At a glance, one might believe her sea-weary and dreaming of land and flowers after a long voyage from India; or one could imagine that she was thinking of a home which the handsome captain on the weather side might have promised her after four years of married life at sea. (p.11)
Summary: In 1856, Jenny Broadwinder, the wife of Captain Philip Broadwinder, comes to one of the owners of her husband's ship with a proposal. Captain Broadwinder had been challenged by Captain Mayo Keys, from another shipping firm, to a race; Jenny proposes to the owner, Cartwright, that Cartwright work with the other firm to establish the race as a matter of friendly business rivalry and publicity; in exchange, if Philip wins the race, he will get the half-ownership in his ship, towards which he has been working. Cartwright, unimpressed by Philip but struck by Jenny, agrees -- in theory on business principles but in practice because of Jenny -- and the race is set up.
Captain Philip Broadwinder is a talented captain in many ways. There is no captain who more thoroughly has the admiration of his men. He makes his firm quite a bit of money, because his dash and style makes him popular everywhere he goes. He knows his trade quite well, although Cartwright thinks, with some truth, that he relies a great deal on his luck, which has never run out. He means no harm and is altogether honest. But one of the things we learn during the race is that Captain Philip Broadwinder of the Calcutta Eagle is excellent a captain as he is because of his wife. He sometimes forgets substance in the pursuit of style, and she reminds him of what he's forgetting; she aids him in various ways in dealing with the crew; and she quite clearly does a lot of the behind-the-scenes bookkeeping parts of the captain's life, not because Broadwinder is incapable or unwilling to do it but because it's the sort of thing he would never prioritize. Captain Broadwinder married to Jenny Broadwinder is a smarter, steadier, more effective captain than Captain Broadwinder would be alone.
It's less obvious, but I think important to the story, that Jenny Broadwinder also benefits from the arrangement. She has a life that she enjoys, she gets along very well with Philip with never more than an occasional marital spat of the usual sort, and he gives her a venue for her talents that she would not have at all without him. And, as important, but I suspect harder for more recent readers to appreciate, 'Captain Philip Broadwinder', as known to the public, is as much an expression of her as it is of Philip himself, and she likes it that way. She does not have his flamboyant charm, his ability to be the distillation of everyone's image of a sea captain; she neither is able nor wants to be the public face of the 'Prince of Sea Captains', but the 'Prince of Sea Captains' is something she thinks worthwhile, a creative work that Philip himself, for all his flaws, can undeniably make possible to her. Looking at many online reviews of the work, a lot of readers don't like the ending. But it's an ending consistent with what we know of Jenny Broadwinder: to break the 'Prince of Sea Captain' image would be a loss as great for her as it would be for Philip, perhaps even more so. It would destroy everything she had been working for.
I confess I found the husband-wife banter to be a bit much; it is done very well but there is a limit, I think, to how much one can appreciate such a thing as a spectator. But there is a very real sense in which this is a story about the marriage itself, and about how a healthy, even if imperfect, marriage is not merely something that you happen to have, but something that contributes part of who you are.
"The ship that will race another soon? OF course. Of course." The old man contemplated this for a time. "The captain's wife, friend, is a lovely creature. Indeed, and I am wondering fit he great achievement of my life could be an agent of unhappiness. It must not be, for the object of one's life on this earth is to do good in order to prepare for the next reincarnation. I promised Buddha of the great Shwe Dagon pagoda of Ragoon that I would look deep lest my artistry do evil."
"Evil? Do evil?" Cartwright began. "Now you look here--"
He got no further. The other raised a hand and said, "If honor exceeds all else in you, we can trade. But honor is not a virtue when one argues that he is the possessor of it. So I place you at a disadvantage, for which I beg a thousand pardons even as I await some word from you." (p. 170)
Recommendation: Recommended; it's an interesting, swift read.
Garland Roark, The Lady and the Deep Blue Sea, Doubleday (Garden City, NY: 1958).