Melville Sea Dictionary: A Glossed Concordance and Analysis of the Sea Language in Melville's Nautical Novels

Melville Sea Dictionary: A Glossed Concordance and Analysis of the Sea Language in Melville's Nautical Novels

Melville Sea Dictionary: A Glossed Concordance and Analysis of the Sea Language in Melville's Nautical Novels

Melville Sea Dictionary: A Glossed Concordance and Analysis of the Sea Language in Melville's Nautical Novels

Excerpt

Melville's experience at sea formed a solid base for his art. At nineteen, he shipped out for Liverpool on the packet St. Lawrence as a "boy." Two years later, he signed articles aboard the whaling ship Acushnet (subsequently jumping ship) and then the Lucy Ann (subsequently mutinying). He had experience aboard the Charles and Henry as a harpooner and aboard the frigate United States as ordinary seaman before returning home. To his half dozen years as a crew member should be added his sea experience as a passenger to and from London in order to negotiate publication of White-Jacket personally. During this time, his journal tells us, he had much opportunity to recall the old emotions of being at the masthead. Melville's years at sea gave him a reality and a language far more immediate and direct than mere reading could have, affecting his life and writing profoundly.

Melville first six novels--Typee, Omoo, Mardi, Redburn, White- Jacket, and Moby-Dick--transmute such experience into art and form a unified corpus of important sea literature. In them we discover, among other things, much about nineteenth-century seamen, nautical language, sea creatures, and Melville's perspective about the sea itself. While none of Melville's later works is so directly nautical, he did not completely abandon the theme of the sea after writing the epilogue to Moby-Dick. The short stories The Encantadas, Benito Cereno, and Billy Budd, the novel Israel Potter, and the epic poem Clarel all use the sea in unique ways. These works, however, stand apart from the six sea novels in several respects: they are not as directly about the sea or sea adventures, chronologically they do not form as discrete a unit (other writings on other subjects intervene), and they are not as clearly autobiographical.

The present study is an identification and exploration of the nautical language revealed in the pages of a magnificent nautical author. The study isolates, in a glossed concordance, the vocabulary that Melville used in naming the sea, its geography and meteorology, its flora and fauna, and the men and ships that cross it. The study also analyzes the sea language etymologically, morphologically, and contextually, revealing both semantic and syntactic patterns. It deals with the sea word as a lexical item, as an element within a sentence, and as an element within a chapter.

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