Narrativity in Naval Logbooks. Michiel de Ruyter and the Narrative Function of Verb Variation

Cora van de Poppe


In the seventeenth-century Dutch navy, low-born men who were practically trained found themselves able to climb the social and professional ladder from ordinary sailors to celebrated naval officers. Perhaps the best-known example is Michiel de Ruyter (1607–1676). This article examines how De Ruyter employed his modest writing skills in his obligatory ships’ logbooks to report to the Dutch government. Applying a narratological perspective to his factual recounting of naval events, I argue that De Ruyter’s linguistic variation represents a strategy he employed to articulate and foreground certain events within a larger narrative discourse. The focus here is on verbs as a key means to create a sense of eventfulness. De Ruyter’s logbooks are characterised by a simple style typically lacking in verbs. The mere presence of a verb thus not only helps describe but also draws attention to a particular event. In addition, De Ruyter varied his verbs as a way to make significant naval, political, or meteorological events meaningful to his readers on land.


Michiel de Ruyter; naval ships’ logbooks; scheepsjournalen; narrativity, narrativiteit; verb variation; werkwoordvariatie

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