Saturday, February 12, 2011

Melville's Moby Dick in the news

Although headlines about the discovery of the "Two Brothers" wreck speak of a Moby Dick connection, detailed reading shows the connection is a bit abbreviated. From

Two years earlier [than the sinking of the Two Brothers], Pollard was the captain of another Nantucket whaler, the Essex, which was rammed by a sperm whale and sank in a more tragic shipwreck that became the basis for Mellville's tale about Captain Ahab and the vengeful white whale, Moby-Dick.

Pollard and other survivors of the Essex ended up drifting at sea for three months before they were rescued, resorting to cannibalism of their dead shipmates to stay alive. After the wreck of Two Brothers, Pollard never captained a ship again, and spent the rest of his career back as a night watchman.

Melville met Pollard in the 1840s, but the character of Ahab is believed to have been modeled not on the unlucky sea captain but perhaps on the Essex's first mate, Gleason said.

The account of the Essex on wikipedia brings up an interesting derivation issue:

word of the sinking reached a young Herman Melville when, while serving on the whaler Acushnet, he met the son of Owen Chase who was serving on another whaler. Chase lent his father's account of the ordeal to Melville, who read it at sea and was inspired by the idea that a whale was capable of such violence. In time, he wrote Moby-Dick: or, The Whale, in which a sperm whale is said to be capable of similar acts. Melville's book draws its inspiration from the first part of the Essex story, ending with the sinking.
In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex is a National Book Award winning work of maritime history by Nathaniel Philbrick. It tells the story of the Essex, including the point of view of Nickerson in addition to that of Chase.

The wikipedia entry might suggest that Melville was inspired by the written account of first mate Owen Chase, not that the character of Ahab was modeled after first mate Owen Chase.

***Philbrick wrote an account of Custer and Little Big Horn, mentioned elsewhere on IPBiz.

key word: Owen Chase, first mate of the Essex


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