See my review of Grace Darling: Victorian Heroine, by Hugh Cunningham. It's just come out in Women’s History Magazine, no 58, Spring/Summer 2008, p.38. If you want to get the magazine, the url is http://www.womenshistorynetwork.org/.
Here's a taste of the review:
" The Grace figure was used as exemplar of admirable behaviour, particularly in moral tracts for children, as Cunningham shows. As someone working on gender and the sea, I see this ‘story’ as also subtly highlighting issues about female mobility and women’s use of the sea. The real Grace shows that women were:
- part of family labour in lighthouse keeping
- perfectly capable of rowing competently, and therefore had both motility (a sense that one could be mobile) as well as mobility, rather than staying at the hearth.
" The iconic ‘Grace’ showed that society could accept women’s mobility if it was rare rather, and if it women were mobile for supportive reasons than just seizing the freedom of the waves for themselves. Read against the grain, Grace’s brief voyage was very public proof that women and water were not antithetical. Indeed, she may have inspired thousands of women mariners, as did Arthur Ransome’s fictional Nancy Blackett. "