However, as we discuss character motivations, the one idea that keeps resurfacing is the belief that women aboard ship were considered bad luck. That might have been true at various times and to varying degrees, but to use it as a motivation for my captain strikes me as too cliché.
First of all, I allude to his upbringing in a wealthy family early on in the book. While his mother spent his inheritance, he has since made it back in his career as a privateer. The superstitions that might plague a more common man, wouldn’t necessarily be held by those in the upper echelons of society.
He is also an educated man, something I show in his love of reading. Early in the book, he is perusing through a collection gifted to him by a friend. The books mentioned are some pretty high-brow stuff, as well as a certain well-known pamphlet penned by one Thomas Paine.
It’s been years since I read the Aubrey-Maturin series (from which Master and Commander hails), but if I recall, Patrick O’Brian alludes to women on the ships. His books are set about a quarter of a century later than mine, but close enough for many of the attitudes to be similar. Women don’t play a large, nor very flattering role in the series, so I don’t use his characters as role models. However, given how well researched O’Brian’s novels appear to be, I’ll take him at his word that women played a role on sailing vessels.
Finally, there is historical evidence that women served aboard ships. Perhaps not so much on military ships, but a privateer is not a military ship. (That is a post for another day) It was usually left to the discretion of the captain and there many stories of women such as Mary Lacey a.k.a. William Chandler, serving aboard ship. I imagine, much like the army had camp followers, ships would also have women who served as cooks, washerwomen, and, provided other, uh….services.
In the end, I leave the superstitions to the crew, giving my hero the intelligence to rise above. Having a beautiful woman aboard doesn’t hurt either. As my heroine proves, women may not be bad luck, but they can be a distraction!