Sea-Brothers: The Tradition of American Sea Fiction from Moby-Dick to the Present

Sea-Brothers: The Tradition of American Sea Fiction from Moby-Dick to the Present

Sea-Brothers: The Tradition of American Sea Fiction from Moby-Dick to the Present

Sea-Brothers: The Tradition of American Sea Fiction from Moby-Dick to the Present

Excerpt

One hundred years ago Herman Melville published John Marr and Other Sailors, reclaiming after half a lifetime his old identity as a sailor-writer. Then, continuing until his death to write of the sea as he had known it during "the time before steamships," he gave us Billy Budd, Sailor, the first masterpiece of American sea fiction since Moby-Dick. Melville's last two sea books provide a consoling sense of symmetry in his life and career. And they also mark a time in literary history when the tradition of American sea fiction that had preceded Moby-Dick was beginning to renew itself. Like Melville in his last years, a number of Americans who were born between the 1860s and 1890s knew that they were witnessing the last days of sailing ships; knowing also of the narrative tradition that had been established by James Fenimore Cooper, Richard Henry Dana, Jr., and Melville, they either wrote of the sea because they had been there or went to sea because they wanted to write. When their work began to appear in the late 1880s and 1890s, they could not have known that Melville was himself at work on his last sea books, but for some of them at this time, long before the Melville revival, Moby-Dick was as alive as it was for W. Clark Russell, the English sea-writer to whom Melville dedicated John Marr and Other Sailors. Moby-Dick contributed powerfully to a resurgence of American sea fiction that has developed over the last hundred years, first in the work of several writers who are now unknown, and then in the work of Stephen Crane, Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, and Peter Matthiessen. My aim in Sea-Brothers is to describe the literature of this tradition and to assess its contributions to American literature as a whole.

In his Inscription Epistolary to John Marr and Other Sailors, Melville referred to the traditional elements of sea fiction in a way that pro-

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