I did not want to be taken for a fool – the typical French reason for performing the worst of deeds without remorse… Jules-Amédée Barbey d’Aurevilly


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The wreck of the Medusa : the most famous sea disaster of the nineteenth century  Jonathan Miles  New York : Atlantic Monthly Press : Distributed by Publishers Group West, c 2007  Hardcover. 1st ed. and printing. xv, 309 p., [16] p. of plates : ill., map ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 279-296) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

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A spellbinding account of the ill-fated voyage of the most famous shipwreck before the Titanic, the events that inspired Theodore Gericault’s magnificent painting The Raft of the Medusa. In June 1816, the Medusa, flagship of a French expedition to repossess the colony of Senegal from the British, set sail. She never arrived at her destination.

Commanded by an incompetent Captain, she ran aground off the desolate West African coast. The evacuation of the frigate was chaotic and cowardly – the privileged few claimed the lifeboats and – 146 men and one woman were herded aboard a makeshift raft which was then abandoned in mid-ocean, cut loose by the convoy of lifeboats which had pledged to tow it to safety.

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Without a compass or many provisions, hit by a vicious storm the first night and exposed to sweltering heat during the following days, the group set upon each other: mayhem, mutiny, and murder ensued. The drifting raft carried those who survived to the very frontiers of human experience. Crazed, parched and starving, the diminishing band slaughtered mutineers, ate their dead companions and organized a tactical extermination of the weakest among them.

Meanwhile, the victims from the boats who made it ashore, undertook a dangerous two-hundred mile slog through the sweltering, mid-summer Sahara. Having laid the foundations for this tragedy, the Restoration Navy and neo-conservative administration, rightly fearing the political fallout from the disaster, did everything in their power to muffle the Medusa story.

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Among the handful of survivors from the raft were two men whose written account of the tragedy catalogued the trail of government incompetence, indifference, and cover-up. Their book became a best-seller which rocked Europe and inspired the artist, Theodore Gericault who threw himself into an exhaustive study of the Medusa tragedy, turning it into a vast canvas.

Set in the politically fragile world of Restoration France, the murk of Georgian London and along the dangerous West African coast where the French were covertly regenerating the outlawed slave trade, Medusa witnesses terror and outrage turned into a best-seller, and that best-seller transformed into one of the masterpieces of Western art.

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