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William Morley Punshon McFee (1881-1966) was born at sea on a ship both designed and captained by his father. Accordingly, it is not surprising that, after being raised in London and working in engineering, he took to sea at age twenty-four as a junior engineer aboard a steamer called the Rotherfield. Within three years, he had published his first book, Letters from an Ocean Tramp (1908). During his nearly twenty-year career at sea, McFee rose to become Chief Engineer on a passenger vessel with routes between New York, Cuba, and Latin America. Amazingly, he published novels and non-fiction throughout this period. In 1924, McFee retired from the sea, settling in New York to devote his attention to his writing.
A letter from William McFee to Christopher Morley entitled, "Casuals of the Sea," undated
In this document, half-letter and half-essay, McFee explains how he came to write one of his most successful novels, Casuals of the Sea (1916). "I am enough of a critic," he writes "to know that the genesis of that book was out of the ordinary, and possesses sufficient interest, for historical reasons, to be recorded." McFee's account touches on a broad range of matters, from his literary inspiration, to his choice of setting, to the novel's form.