American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

ALL THE BROTHERS WERE VALIANT (1919). The first published novel by Ben Ames Williams (1889-1953), All the Brothers Were Valiant chronicles the lives of a family of whalers in an unnamed harbor of New England, perhaps the Buzzard’s Bay region of Massachusetts. Joel Shore, youngest of five brothers, gains command of the whaling bark Nathan Ross when his brother Mark, its former captain, disappears. Found by his brother in the South Seas, Mark tells Joel an incredible story of smuggling diamonds and murder and offers to split the treasure if Joel will abandon duty and use the Nathan Ross to recapture the diamonds. When Joel refuses, Mark spreads rumors that sway the crew to mutiny.* Joel’s steady courage, however, rekindles Mark’s sense of family honor. Mark dies defending Joel against the mutineers, thus earning the traditional family epithet: “All the brothers were valiant.”

Williams, a midwesterner whose adopted home was rural Searsmont, Maine, built his early fame on tales of the sea such as the popular All the Brothers Were Valiant, a work published by seven different firms in Williams’ lifetime and adapted into films of the same title in 1923 and 1953. Williams builds a solid, believable background that gives credence to the plot of intrigue and adventure. Following his belief that setting influences character, Williams creates in his protagonist Joel Shore a man who has been molded by sea and shore; his courage is steadfast as the New England coast, while his patience reflects the varying fortunes of whaling and weather. The logbook of the House of Shore, quoted within the novel, further demonstrates the influence of the ocean on this aptlynamed family, for each entry begins by describing the conditions of the sea.

Carolyn Adele Gardner