Tuesday 4 August 2015

How Jonah and the Whale Inspired Moby Dick

In 1850, when Herman Melville walked along the cobblestone street to Bethel Church in Boston's North Square, he did not expect to come away with inspiration for a blockbuster novel.  But that's exactly what happened.

Born in New York City in 1819, Herman Melville was not only a novelist and poet, but also a sailor and customs inspector.  It was in the mid-1800's that he attended Bethel Church in Boston's North Square, only a stone's throw from Paul Revere's house.  There, he sat in a centuries old pew, listening to Father Taylor's sermon about Jonah being swallowed by a whale.  With a background as a sailor, Melville already had a working knowledge of a ship and the sea.  He decided to write the Great American novel.

His character, Rev. Mapple, resembled Father Taylor.  Captain Ahab was named after King Ahab, an evil idol worshipper from the Bible.  The whale, Moby Dick, was inspired by a real life whale that sunk the Essex, a whale ship, in 1819.

The Essex's voyage was doomed from the start.  It was stove by a whale and lost at sea for weeks.  Its crew ended up eating the remains of those who perished.  The book initially suffered a similar fate, only selling a few thousand copies in Melville's lifetime.  The author, after losing two sons, descended into alcoholism and died.  Over a century and a half later, it is considered to be one of the great American novels.

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