The island of Nantucket filled Herman Melville’s imagination. His time on the Nantucket whaleship Charles and Henry led to the magnificent portrayal of Nantucket early in Moby-Dick. But it was the sinking of the Nantucket whaleship Essex by a sperm whale that inspired the dark ending of the book. And when yet another whaleship, the Ann Alexander, was sunk by a sperm whale, Melville wondered if art is powerful enough to raise monsters from the deep.
Melville scholar Mary K. Bercaw Edwards is a professor of English and the director of Maritime Studies at the University of Connecticut. Her most recent book, Sailor Talk: Labor, Utterance, and Meaning in the Works of Melville, Conrad, and London, was published in March 2021. A U.S. Coast Guard-licensed captain, she has 58,000 miles at sea, all under sail.