Herman Melville's Whaling Years

Front Cover
Vanderbilt University Press, 2004 - Literary Criticism - 332 pages
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.


What people are saying - Write a review

Herman Melville's whaling years

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

This meticulous study of the four years Melville spent aboard whaling vessels in the Pacific during the 1840s is the result of Heflin's dissertation at Vanderbilt. Heflin worked on it for most of his ... Read full review


Merry Christmas i
Pacific Islands 74
Captain Valentine Pease Jr
The Agreement and the Law
There She Blows
A Dead Whale or a Stove Boat 8 2
Galapagos Islands
Nukahiva and the Marquesas
Jimmy and Toby
The Troublesome Crew of the Lucy Ann
Sandwich Hawaiian and Society Islands
Nantucket Whaler
Mutiny Mayhem and the TownHo
The Marquesas

Tumbez and More Cruising
Authentic Eden in a Pagan Sea

Other editions - View all

Common terms and phrases

About the author (2004)

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.

Mary K. Bercaw Edwards is the author of Melville's Sources (1987) and teaches Literature of the Sea for the Williams College-Mystic Seaport Maritime Studies Program. She works aboard the only remaining whaleship, now berthed at Mystic Seaport, and has accrued 56,000 miles under sail.

Thomas Heffernan lives in Garden City, New York.

Bibliographic information