Like the Weather
One of the highlights of the Shift Time festival is the first performance of a new work by Opera North on Saturday 11th July at Theatre Severn. Called The Weather Man, it explores the relationship between FitzRoy and Darwin on the Beagle. Performance details here
Here’s my short review of a book about Admiral FitzRoy, which would make a good introduction to the man who made Darwin’s journey possible. (This review first appeared in my fanzine, Tortoise, in 2006.)
This Thing of Darkness, by Harry Thompson,
Headline Review, pb 2006, ISBN 0 7553 0281 8
This is a novellisation of the story of Robert FitzRoy, Captain of the Beagle. When I first read Charles Darwin’s own account of this famous voyage, I was gripped by the sheer adventure of it. Here, with Captain FitzRoy as the main character, and with his earlier voyage and later life to give context to the story, it comes to life vividly. Apart from using a little artistic licence here and there, Thompson has stuck very closely to the facts, and has obviously done a great deal of research in order to write the book. The character of FitzRoy — a most able and admirable young captain, dogged by bouts of severe mental illness — is extremely well presented; the other characters also have depth, if slightly less than the protagonist.
The story is told with a fair amount of quiet humour and plenty of detail. Conversations rarely feel stilted or false. There is a good sense of the period and one can clearly visualise the places visited. The author is not afraid of using descriptive passages, and the nautical, scientific, political and philosophical arguments are remarkably easy to follow.
FitzRoy’s career after losing command of the Beagle provides little more than a succession of bitter disappointments and disasters, ending in tragedy. But the book remains engrossing, as by now FitzRoy is someone we know well and care about. The author’s notes at the back are also informative and readable, a welcome reminder of how very much was achieved on that journey and as a result of it.
The book is available from Amazon: here