Hanging out with Herman Melville

Yes, Moby-Dick is a little bit daunting. With an impressive page count and the label of the “best American novel,” the book is a bit challenging to approach. To handle this challenge, F12 decided to unite and go it together—there is power in numbers.

One of my greatest personal victories this semester has been how much I have genuinely loved reading this massive tome. For the past month, a group of F12s has met nearly every day to read chapters of Melville aloud. There is something magical about reading aloud: the characters feel more real to me when my classmate James takes on the role of raving Ahab, or when we can laugh out loud at Ishmael’s subtle (and sometime not-so-subtle) humor.

ImageNot only do Melville’s vibrant characters come alive when their voices and thoughts are read aloud, but we also gain a better understanding of the book’s meanings. Melville loves a good, obscure allusion, and together our cumulative background knowledge far surpasses what we could understand individually. Michael can jump in and explain a bible allusion, Bea picks up on bookmaking references, and I can pick apart a Latin phrase.

We’ve read our Melville during Hurricane Sandy, on the Louisiana field seminar, in multiple airports, with tea and gingerbread in our student homes, and aboard ships in Mystic Seaport. We read the final chapters aboard the Seaport’s own whaling ship — the Charles W. Morgan.

But Moby hasn’t been the only whale hanging around Williams-Mystic lately: just before Thanksgiving was Whaling Week at Williams-Mystic! Chanteyman and whale expert Don Sineti treated us to an evening of songs and whale artifact show-and-tell, then on Friday morning we had a seminar featuring all of our professors.

This week we look forward to finishing up our science projects and presenting our findings, not to mention frolics in possible snowfalls!

Fair Winds,


Author: williamsmystic

A one semester interdisciplinary ocean and coastal studies program integrating marine science, maritime history, environmental policy, and literature of the sea.

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