A founder of the Melville Society, Wilson (1913-85) wrote the study as his Ph.D. dissertation for Vanderbilt University, partly drawing from the recently discovered log of the ship on which 19th-century American writer Melville served after his whaling career. He refused to publish it for half a century because new material kept becoming available. Edwards (literature of the sea, Williams College) and Heffernan (Adelphi U.) have declared it complete. Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)Vanderbilt Univ Pr
Based on more than a half-century of research, Herman Melville's Whaling Years
is an essential work for Melville scholars. In meticulous and thoroughly documented detail, it examines one of the most stimulating periods in the great author's life--the four years he spent aboard whaling vessels in the Pacific during the early 1840s. Melville would later draw repeatedly on these experiences in his writing, from his first successful novel, Typee
, through his masterpiece Moby-Dick
, to the poetry he wrote late in life.
During his time in the Pacific, Melville served on three whaling ships, as well as on a U.S. Navy man-of-war. As a deserter from one whaleship, he spent four weeks among the cannibals of Nukahiva in the Marquesas, seeing those islands in a relatively untouched state before they were irrevocably changed by French annexation in 1842. Rebelling against duty on another ship, he was held as a prisoner in a native calaboose in Tahiti. He prowled South American ports while on liberty, hunted giant tortoises in the Galapagos Islands, and explored the islands of Eimeo (Moorea) and Maui. He also saw the Society and Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands when the Western missionary presence was at its height.
Heflin combed the logbooks of any ship at sea at the time of Melville's voyages and examined nineteenth-century newspaper items, especially the marine intelligence columns, for mention of Melville's vessels. He also studied British consular records pertaining to the mutiny aboard the Australian whaler Lucy Ann, an insurrection in which Melville participated and which inspired his second novel, Omoo.
Distilling the life's work of a leading Melville expert into book form for the first time, this scrupulously edited volume is the most in-depth account ever published of Melville's years on whaleships and how those singular experiences influenced his writing.