On Thursday evening, June 28, from 6:30 to 8, Gloucester native Bradley Bagshaw will be doing an appearance at the Gloucester Lyceum and Sawyer Free Library, reading and signing his debut novel “Georges Bank.”
“Georges Bank” was release on June 12 by Seattle-based publisher Clyde Hill Publishing.
“Georges Bank” – which has already garnered the attention of Hollywood, with a noted film producer signing an exclusive and closed-end option to market the novel to movie studios – is a nineteenth century tale set in the stormy waters off Gloucester, Massachusetts, home to Kipling’s “Captains Courageous” and Junger’s “Perfect Storm,” and in the steamy fishermen brothels ashore. Maggie O’Grady, an Irish immigrant, is impregnated by her first employer, a rich Boston merchant, who discards her penniless in a Gloucester brothel. Maggie raises her son in the brothel and in time finds love with a fisherman. The book chronicles their struggles at sea and ashore.
The fisheries of Georges Bank and the other waters of the North Atlantic drive much of the story. Between 1860 and 1885, three hundred sixty-four fishing schooners set out from Gloucester and never returned, and two thousand four hundred twenty-two Gloucester fishermen died at sea, a staggering loss for a town whose population ranged from eleven to nineteen thousand during those years. Bagshaw mines the extensive written history of the Gloucester fishery to tell in chilling detail the story of its appalling dangers and of the men who faced them.
But the real meat of the story takes place ashore with the plight of the women and children left behind when their husbands and fathers died at sea. There was no government support in those days, nor were there good ways for women to earn a living when left to fend for themselves. Those not supported by family or swift remarriage did the best they could, and sometimes that meant prostitution. The harsh life of the desperate women forced to prostitute themselves is realistically shown in this novel. But so is the kindness and basic humanity of women forced to earn their keep as practitioners of the oldest profession.
In 1859, Maggie O’Grady was an adventurous seventeen-year-old in Enniskerry, Ireland when the town celebrated Bonfire Night, an ancient summer solstice ritual. She is sexually assaulted and then driven from Ireland when her assailant lies about the assault, and her village blames her for it. She is victimized again by her Boston employer who sends her to the brothel to be rid of her. She befriends the prostitutes, and eventually takes over the brothel herself. She becomes wealthy but loses her innocence to the demands of running such a business.
The novel climaxes with Maggie’s fight to keep her son when his rich merchant father comes to claim him, and in the courtroom battle of two widows for damages against the boat owner whose negligence caused their husbands’ deaths. The latter is patterned after a nineteenth century courtroom battle, The Harrisburg case, that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Bradley Bagshaw grew up in Gloucester and has lived with the sea since exploring Gloucester Harbor in a beat-up dory at age ten. Sailing instructor was his first job at sixteen, which was followed by summer jobs on the Gloucester docks as a stevedore and a forklift driver. After Harvard Law School, he moved to Seattle and to a career suing fishing companies for mistreating their fishermen. Starting in 2007, Bagshaw and his wife sailed eleven thousand miles from Seattle to Tahiti and back on a thirty-nine-foot cutter. On that trip, he conceived the idea for “Georges Bank.”