The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle  
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.jpg
Cover for the novel
Author(s) Avi
Cover artist Douglas Smith
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Historical fiction
Publisher Avon Books
Publication date 1990
Media type Novel
Pages 226
ISBN 053105893X
OCLC Number 21149467

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle is a young adult historical fiction novel by the American author Avi that was published in 1990. It takes place during the transatlantic crossing of a ship from England to America in the 19th century. The book chronicles the evolution of the title character as she is pushed outside her naive existence and learns about life aboard a ship. The novel was well received and won several awards, including as a Newbery Honor[1] book.


Plot synopsis

A ship similar to what the Seahawk would have been like

The story begins in the early summer of 1832, as thirteen-year old Charlotte Doyle prepares to take a voyage from Liverpool, England to her family in their new home in Providence, Rhode Island. Her upper-middle class upbringing and her education in the very proper Barrington School for Better Girls gives her a very sheltered and narrow view of life. As the other families due to travel with her fail to appear, because a porter told them it was going to be a bad voyage, Charlotte finds herself as the only passenger and female on the ship, Seahawk. On her first day, an African sailor on the ship, Zachariah, tells her of what happened before with the captain, Captain Jaggery, and a man of the crew when they went against the captain. Blinded by her view of the captain as a gentleman, she disbelieves him. The captain and Charlotte become very close, and he says that if she ever sees anything suspicious, like a round-robin, a pact telling of an imminent uprising of the crew against the captain, she must tell him.

One day she is with one of the sailors, Ewing, as he is patching a jacket, when his needle snaps. Charlotte offers to get a new one for him from the forecastle, where the crew sleep. While looking for the needle, she sees a pistol and a round robin. After contemplating whether or not to tell the captain, Charlotte's fear drives her to inform him. Captain Jaggery heads off the rebellion, shooting the stowaway Cranick, who held a grudge against the captain for cutting off his arm on a previous voyage. Charlotte is distressed as Captain Jaggery orders Zachariah, one sailor that Charlotte has very strong feelings for, whipped 50 lashes. Charlotte tries to protect Zachariah by grabbing the whip, but accidentally slashes the captain's face. Jaggery is enraged and whips Zachariah mercilessly, leading to his apparent death and funeral.

After the captain has withdrawn his protection of Charlotte, she feels compelled to replace Zachariah's place as a crew member, as she feels guilt for her naive part in revealing the crew's plans. The crew allows her to join them after she successfully climbs up and down the tallest mast (the mainmast) on the ship. To climb the ship, she had to use either the ratlines, or shimmy up the mainmast itself. She chose the ratlines. While climbing down, she almost falls to her death, but she gets herself untangled. When she came down, however, the captain was there, and Charlotte tells him she is joining the crew. Annoyed by her change of heart, he dubs her "Mister Doyle" and moves her things from her cabin to the forecastle. Captain Jaggery even strikes her across the face for receiving help with work, and she vows to reveal his cruelty to the courts after they complete their voyage.

As the Seahawk enters a powerful hurricane, Charlotte falls from the ratlines and is saved by a man whom she believes was Zachariah, despite his apparent death. As she climbs back down, the crew finds the body of the first mate, Mr. Hollybrass, stabbed in the back, by the dirk Zachariah gave her. She is ordered to the brig, where she finds Zachariah, who has been hiding there since he'd been whipped. Captain Jaggery holds a trial and conveniently finds her guilty of Mr. Hollybrass' murder. Captain Jaggery tells Charlotte that he won't be the jury instead the crew will be the jury. As Charlotte has vowed to expose his cruelty when they land, he threatens to hang her unless she will align herself with him and become a respectable young woman again.

With Zachariah's help, she escapes the brig and plans to usurp the Captain. Instead, she finds the captain waiting for her. The Captain said that he was waiting for her all along. Keetch, a sailor, had told him everything. Jaggery reveals that he had killed Hollybrass, but claims that he had been threatened and had no choice. Not wanting to lose his title, he blames the death on Charlotte. He tells her she has three choices. She could 1) Take the muskets and disrespect her family and herself, by killing Captain Jaggery. 2) Put on her proper clothing and wait at the docks like a proper lady, forgetting all about the fights,and beg him for mercy, or 3) Be hanged, as she has had her trial. She refuses to take any of the choices, and flees the cabin. Jaggery attempts to kill her in front of the crew, but falls from the ship to his death off the bowsprit while chasing Charlotte, despite Charlotte's awkward effort to not let him perish. Zachariah tells the crew that a new captain must be named, and that it should be Charlotte, because she has done what they could not do. She was elected by the crew, but serves primarily as a figurehead due to her lack of experience. Zachariah openly exercises the powers of the captain, after her insisting it. They later land in Providence, Rhode Island, 12 hours later.

When the Seahawk arrives in Rhode Island, Charlotte returns to her old "proper" behavior and dress. She intends to hide what happened from her family, but her father reads her journal of the voyage. He is appalled by what he sees as "lies" and defamation of Captain Jaggery. He burns the diary and tells Charlotte that she will be punished and reformed. Charlotte finally decides to escape from her home one night, and returns to the Seahawk to work as a sailor again with Zachariah and the crew on the Seahawk.

Main characters

  • Charlotte Doyle - Charlotte is the thirteen-year-old upper-class girl with a proper education and proper manners. As such, she has grown accustomed to a refined style of living. Sheltered from the harsher sides of life, she has a narrow-minded view of things and places great value in propriety. She is returning to her family from a private girl's school in England. Also at the end she became a true sailor.
  • Zachariah - Chef, surgeon, carpenter, and preacher of the Seahawk. Although uneducated, he is a leader amongst the crew and becomes friends with Charlotte. Zachariah serves as a foil to Captain Jaggery.
  • Samuel Hollybrass - First mate of the Seahawk. Since he was new to the ship, he is unaware of Jaggery's true nature and thus is very loyal as first-mate. After seeing many actions of the captain's cruelty, he argues with Jaggery for driving the Seahawk into the hurricane. Hollybrass is murdered with Charlotte's dirk by Captain Jaggery.
  • Captain Andrew Jaggery - Captain of the "Seahawk." Antagonist.


There are several themes that have been noted in The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. A prominent one is authority, particularly how authority relates to gender and class with Charlotte almost being "brainwashed by her father into acceptance of male, and class, authority."[2] Also prominent is the evolution of Charlotte's morality, as displayed by her evolving relationship with Jaggery.[2] Charlotte begins the story "an adolescent of resolute will and civilized expectations" and trusts Jaggery because of his resemblance to her father .[3] Over the course of the novel she becomes distrustful of the higher class Jaggery and instead sides with lower class crew as they plot their horrible mutiny.[4] As Charlotte becomes more realistic and less idealistic, she "comes to terms with the complexity of the 19th-century society in which she lives."[5] This transformation is not a smooth one with the ocean echoing the turmoil "within Charlotte's heart and mind."[3]


The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle received a positive critical reaction when it was published. In its starred review of the book, Kirkus Reviews called it, "tautly plotted, vividly narrated, carefully researched: a thrilling tale deepened by its sober look at attitudes that may have been more exaggerated in the past but that still persist.".[2] The Five Owls review journal noted the, "innovative mixture of history and fiction" and said the book was, "expertly crafted and consistently involving, it is sure to excite, enthrall, and challenge readers." [3] Horn Book, while giving it its highest rating of outstanding, said the book was "a rousing adventure story.".[6] Booklist contended it was not just an adventure story saying the dynamic between Charlotte and Zachariah "allows the story to rise above swashbuckling adventure, though that element is there too. From its riveting opening its surprise ending, this is a story harder to forget."[7] The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle has been listed in several books as a best book or core collection book for children.[8][9][10]


The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle was a Newbery Honor Book in 1991.[1] A member of the Newbery committee that year felt the book deserved to win the Newbery Medal and described the book as being about, "a spunky young lady goes from polite idealist impressed by good manners and gallantry to a realistic young woman who comes to terms with the complexity of the 19th-century society in which she lives."[5] It won several other critical awards including the Golden Kite Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, and the Judy Lopez Award.[11] The book also appeared on several notable or best of books, including the ALA's Notable Children's Book, ALA's Best Book for Young Adults,[11] and School Library Journal's Books that Shaped a Century.[12] The book was not only popular with adult critics, but also children, winning several children's choice awards including, the Evergreen Award, Massachusetts Children's Book Award, the Sunshine State Young Reader's Award, and the Beehive Award.[11] an interview with M.S. says, "this book teaches you various life lessons and is indeed valuable. from exposition, to climax, to resolution, this book got me hooked. I fell in love with the sea just as Charlotte Doyle had."


A film adaption of the book is in development. It is to be written and directed by Danny DeVito, reportedly with Saoirse Ronan as Charlotte Doyle, Morgan Freeman as Zachariah, and Pierce Brosnan as Jaggery.[13] [14]


  1. ^ a b "Newbery Medal and Honor Books, 1922-Present". American Library Association. 2009. Retrieved 2009-12-31. 
  2. ^ a b c "The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle". Kirkus Reviews. 15 September 1990. 
  3. ^ a b c Mercier, Cathryn (1991 January/February). "The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle". Five Owls 5 (3). 
  4. ^ "The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle". Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices. 1990. 
  5. ^ a b "Choosing the Newbery Winner". Washington Post: p. X16, Book World. 12 May 1991. 
  6. ^ "The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle". Horn Book. 1990. 
  7. ^ Elleman, Barbara (September 1990). "The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle". BookList. 
  8. ^ Gillespie, John T.; Barr, Catherine (30 May 2004). Best Books for Middle School and Junior High Readers: Grades 6-9. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited. p. 156. ISBN 1591580838. 
  9. ^ Price, Anne (October 2005). Middle And Junior High School Library Catalog (9 ed.). H. W. Wilson. ISBN 0824210530. 
  10. ^ Price, Anne; Yaakov, Juliette (30 September 1991). Children's Catalog. H.W. Wilson. ISBN 0824210093. 
  11. ^ a b c "The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle". HarperCollins Children's. Retrieved 2010-01-01. 
  12. ^ "One Hundred Books that Shaped the Century". School Library Journal. 2000-01-01. Retrieved 2010-01-01. 
  13. ^ New York Times
  14. ^ BROUWER, Julie (2009-06-07). "LAWSUIT A BLOW TO TRUE CONFESSIONS". Sunday Mirror (London): p. 26. Retrieved 2010-01-01. 

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