Friday, November 6, 2015

The Gaping Maw of the Sea

Image of boats attacking whales, 1836
With a big-budget movie coming out next month "based on the incredible true story that inspired Moby-Dick," and with our own Moby-Dick exhibit coming down later this month, we had to take a look at our first edition of the Narrative of the Essex (New York: W. B. Gilley, 1821). What a title page! It says it all, and with the hyperbole of a movie trailer:
Title page of Narrative of the Essex
Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing  Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex, of Nantucket; which was attacked and finally destroyed by a large Spermaceti-Whale, in the Pacific Ocean; with and account of the Unparalleled Sufferings of the Captain and Crew during a space of ninety-three days at sea, in open boats, in the years 1819 & 1820. By Owen Chase, of Nantucket, first mate of said vessel.
That's a mouthful, but not as bad as what the crew had to resort to (spoiler alert: they eat each other!).

The image above is from a more sedate book on whaling, also used by Melville as source material: Thomas Beale's The Natural History of the Sperm Whale (London: John Van Voorst, 1836).

To see the Narrative of the Essex ask for Melville G530.E7 1821; the Natural History of the Sperm Whale is Melville QL737.C4B4. Moby-Dick, or, the Plurality of the Whale will be on display here in Rauner Library through November 15th.

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