One of the most famous novels in American literature is Moby Dick. We are all
familiar with the climactic scene where the enraged white whale charges and sinks
the Pequod. How many readers know that this episode is based on a real incident in
Nantucket whaling history? In 1820, a sperm whale attacked the whaleship Essex,
leaving the crew shipwrecked in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Herman Melville
read an eyewitness account of this tragedy. As one of his letters said it had a
“surprising effect” on him.
“The Real Moby Dick” is an exploration of art imitating life. In one year, Melville
wrote his masterpiece in an astounding creative burst. This lecture delves into
Melville’s genius and the topic of creativity. By studying Melville, we gain a deeper
understanding of the mysterious act of creating a work of art. Artists, writers, and
musicians can better understand how their own works come to life.
Kathryn Griffin Swegart holds a Master’s degree from Boston College and is the author of The Wreck of the Essex. She has studied this fascinating story for many years. She and her husband live on a gentleman’s farm in Rome, Maine.