There is an article about Herman Melville in the July-August 2019 issue of Smithsonian Magazine.
Among other things, William T. Vollmann reminds readers that August 1st, 2019 will be the 200th birthday of the complicated, brilliant, bedeviled author of, among other classics, Moby Dick. I suggest reading it online.
Melville the writer is so associated with New York City and its environs—Gansevoort Street was named for a famous grandfather, or maybe the Albany Gansevoorts, Dutch landowners—that there still seems something familiar, even neighborly, about him. Or maybe it is the fact that we all have, or had, our own personal white whale(s) with which to contend. Stutterers, for example, have Billy Budd as a sort of patron saint; Billy’s inability to defend, or express himself verbally, gets him, well, hanged. (Readers need to know that that particular short story had been left incomplete in a drawer. Melville was apparently still working on the final interpretation of that battle between good and evil when death overtook him). Bartleby the Scrivener? Well, once upon a time, Bartleby, the hired man who simply “prefer(red) not to,” was pin-up boy of certain civil servants in some government jobs. And I’m only scratching the surface of a couple of Melville’s characters. Don’t get me started.
Moby Dick, the movie with Gregory Peck, was only one whaling story, and not the best one. In 2015 appeared, for example, In the Heart of the Sea, a film based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s non-fiction book about the sinking of the American whaling ship ‘Essex’ in 1820. That was the event that inspired the novel Moby Dick. The movie is very well made, with a hunky Australian actor portraying the main harpooner. I forget now who played the whale. There is a nice woman in a frilly dress. Seeing it with friends, we felt drenched with sea water at the end. Recommended for those with strong stomachs, or those who pretend they have one.
Finally, in 1982 Elizabeth Kray of The Academy of American Poets, cobbled together and published, Four Literary Historical Walks, one of which features our birthday boy, to whit, ‘A Walk Through Herman Melville’s New York During the Years 1819-1855’. If you cannot locate a copy, I will sell you my copy for $100.
—John Early, Charles Street resident