Shipwreck of the Whaleship Essex
Melville's famous description of the sinking of the Pequod by the white whale -- one of the most exciting moments in American literature -- was based on a true story documented in 1821 by first mate Owen Chase in his Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whaleship Essex, and by his shipmate and captain in two separate accounts.
Each account tells of a sperm whale's attack on the Essex in the South Seas, and of the crew's three-month struggle while stranded in small open boats. Of twenty men, eight survived. Six who died were eaten by their shipmates, one -- the cabin boy -- after lots had been drawn. The captain writes that he exclaimed, "My lad, my lad, if you don't like your lot, I'll shoot the first man that touches you." The boy replied, "I like it as well as any other." "He was soon dispatched, " the captain writes, "and nothing of him left...my head is on fire at the recollection."
This volume reproduces these gripping accounts, as well as Herman Melville's notes on the narratives. It sheds light on both our darkest impulses and our most ascendant selves, and gives rare insight into the workings of one of the most important literary minds of all time.
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I have read this and Moby Dick which it inspired. This has an immediacy personal touch which comes from personal experience. Herman Melville was probably the more stylistic writer. Now I have "The Whale" to look forward to on T.V. A truly gripping tale. I hope they do it justice.