The Shipping News

and The Ashley Book of Knots


In her introductory acknowledgements of The Shipping News, E. Annie Proulx states, "And without the inspiration of Clifford W. Ashley's wonderful 1944 work, The Ashley Book of Knots, which I had the good fortune to find at a yard sale for a quarter, this book would have remained just the thread of an idea."

Many chapters of The Shipping News begins with a picture and brief explanation of one distinct type of knot. Often, connections between the knots can be made with events found in the chapter.

Following are some images found in The Ashley Book of Knots:

Caption: Old sailors' knot work.

Opening paragraph of The Ashley Book of Knots :

"Of Knots, it is necessary that I speak..." A Naval Repository, 1762.

"The sailor, from the very nature of his craft, has a dependence upon rope and a consequent familiarity with knots that is demanded of no other workman. It follows that the most important knots owe both their origin and their names to the requirements of a ship at sea. So diverse are these requirements that the number of knots devised by the sailor is probably ten times greater than the sum of all other handicrafts combined. Nor is this surprising if we consider that on a full-rigged ship, in everyday use, are several miles of rigging, and an able seaman, of necessity, is acquainted with every inch of this extent."


Image from page one of The Shipping News

Opening paragraph of The Shipping News :

"HERE is an account of a few years in the life of Quolye, born in Brooklyn and raised in a shuffle of dreary upstate towns."


For me, the most intriguing aspect of The Shipping News is the fact that nearly every chapter's title is derived from a specific type of knot found in The Ashley Book of Knots. That one book found at a yard sale for a quater could impel an individual to write a Pulitzer Prize winning novel amazes me. I am interested in the motivation and driving forces that incite an author to create, and because of this I looked up the Ashley Book of Knots for myself. I was amazed at the sheer amount of knots that can be and have been created and that one man documented them all. I still question why Annie Proux chose the knots that she did, considering that there were thousands that were not chosen.


Page designed by Robin J. Hatfield