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.
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Wilson Heflin (1913-1985) taught at the University of Alabama and the United States Naval Academy. A founding member of the Melville Society, he served as its president in 1958. Incoming president of the Melville Society.Review:
An invaluable and long overdue addition to Melville scholarship that also makes for a fascinating read.
--Nathaniel Philbrick, author of In the Heart of the Sea and Sea of Glory
Truly the definitive work. Few recoverable aspects of Herman Melville's Whaling Years could have escaped Wilson Heflin's lifelong search. Call these contents the bricks and stones from which Melville erected his literary cathedral. The facts themselves are fascinating, but so is the thoroughness of the quest.
--W. Jeffrey Bolster, author of Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail
Melville in Moby-Dick left his "cetological System" standing unfinished, like the Cathedral of Cologne. Wilson Heflin's study of Melville's whaling years, magnificent in scope, dazzling in vastness and variety of sources, was left unfinished, his lifetime of devoted scholarship proving not long enough to put the copestone on so heroic an undertaking. Now Heflin's great narrative is brought into print by the dedicated scholarship of Thomas F. Heffernan and Mary K. Bercaw Edwards. The reader of Herman Melville's Whaling Years is offered the top-gallant delight of following a fine mind through decades of multifarious researches and profound analyses. In this masterpiece of scholarship, Heflin takes his rightful place as one of the handful of scholars who have added most bounteously to knowledge of Melville.
The author and editors have done a superb job of giving the reader a "feel" of the travels as Melville made them. The manuscript moves us, literally and physically, illustrating the shape and pace of a whaling voyage to the South Seas. . . . Another compelling part of this manuscript is the sheer detective work that one quickly realizes went into the research. . . . This book provides a strong sense of the utter complexity of any of the voyages that took men into these new areas. We are taken into the nitty-gritty of supply and storage, of wind and sail, of how the great whales were captured, cut, and rendered. Yes, we have this in Moby-Dick, but there to metaphorical purpose. Heflin's book stands more as the benchmark, the reference, the compendium in which one can check the facts of such a voyage as the crew of the Pequod took.
--Philip F. Gura, William S. Newman Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
This rich storehouse of a study of Herman Melville's whaling years promises to be both an instant classic and a constant resource. . . . It reconstructs the story of Melville's four-year Pacific adventure with clarity, force, and freshness, using an astonishing variety of new and out-of-the-way sources.
--Christopher Sten, President, The Melville Society
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