Costumes of American Literary Characters: Harvey Cheyne

Figure 1.--

Captain Courageous written by Rudyard Kipling is one of the best known boys' sea saga--after perhaps Treasure Island. The book is a compelling story about a pampered boy's journey into manhood. Captains Courageous is a powerful look at the impact that life-based values have on us as individuals. It is the inspiring story of the pampered, spoiled son of a wealthy owner of a steamship line and the captain of a fishing trawler working the Grand banks in the North Atlantic.

The Author

The author was decidedly British--Ruyard Kipling. Rudyard Kipling was born in Bombay on December 30, 1865, in the J. J. School of Arts, of which, his father, Lockwood Kipling, was then head. At the age of 6 years, he was left in a foster home in England. He was extremely unhappy at his foster home, but stayed there until 1878, when he entered a boarding school in England. His later writings indicate that he was happy at school, where he started writing. He returned to India in 1882 and joined his parents in Lahore where he worked as a journalist with Civil and Military Gazette. In 1887 he joined The Pioneer in Allahabad as an assistant editor and overseas correspondent. Before he went back to England and settled in London in 1889, he had already become famous for his verses and satirical writings such as Plain Tales from the Hills (1888) and Soldiers Three (1892). By the last decade of the 19th century Rudyard Kipling had become enormously successful as a poet and writer, and was seen as a successor to Charles Dickens. He married Caroline Starr Balestier in 1892. His two novels, The Jungle Book (1894-5) have now become widely translated classics. His other novels include Kim (1901) and Just So Stories (1902). He received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1907. Rudyard Kipling died on January 18, 1936 in London. He was buried in the Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey. His autobiography Something of Myself appeared in 1937.

The Book

Captain's Courageous was not Kipling's best known book--but it is an excellent tale. The changing relationship between the captain, his son make for some compeling character studies. This wonderful classic combines three unbeatable elements: a sea story, vivid characters, and a protagonist who undergoes a character transformation. The fishing schooner We're Here out of Gloucester, Massachusetts. The depiction of the day-to-day life of these hardy fishermen contributes, along with The Old Man and the Sea, captures their spirit most accurately, and that spirit is still alive in our traditional fishing communities.

This Kipling classic is difficult to find today. It has fallen out of fashion. Perhaps is a bit to preachy for today's tastes. One right-wing obserserver charges, "It is one of the great books being struck from publishers lists. Humanists and socialists who run America's public schools do not want its message to reach our youth. This outstanding sea story is a must read. Hard work, honesty and integrity are among the traits handled in the book."


Harvey Cheyne is the pampered son of a multi-millionaire who falls off an ocean liner and is rescued by a small fishing boat. After being punched in the nose by the captain of the small vessel for smart-mouthing him, Harvey quickly learns respect, toughness and gratitude. He steps up from self-centeredness into the difficult but fulfillng realm of unselfishness, and he inspires us to do the same. Captain Troop rescues young Harvey Cheyne Jr. after he has fallen overboard from one of his father's cruise ships while en route to a European boarding school. Having no choice but to remain with the crew, young Harvey feels the hard labor of the fisherman is beneath him, and he refuses to participate. However, the physical danger of life aboard ship and the hardships of the open sea ultimately bring Harvey to to the understanding of the value of teamwork, cooperation and most of all friendship that is required for survival.


The best known film version of the book was the Spencer Tracey--Freddy Bartholomeu. Oscar certainly loved Spencer Tracey , especially in 1937 and '38; for he was the first actor ever to win back-to-back Oscars for Captains Courageous and Boys Town (best actor category). Freddy was first pictured at a exclusive boys' boarding school where the boys all wear English-style short pants suits and kneesocks.

Christopher Wagner

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Created: July 12, 2000
Last updated: July 12, 2000