Tuesday, September 07, 2004

The Place of Moby Dick

The travel section of the NY Times has an article about Herman Melville's experiences in Western Massachusetts. He wrote Moby Dick at a farmhouse in the Bershires, an area where many New Yorkers set up summer homes. During the mid and late nineteenth century there was an intense literary scene in the area that included Holmes and Hawthorne.

After meeting Hawthorne, Melville purchased Arrowhead, a 1780 farmhouse in Pittsfield about 15 miles north of Monument Mountain, now a half-hour drive north on Route 7 to Holmes Road. Though distant from the ocean, the Berkshires had an enormous influence on the author, who was pleased with the "sea-feeling" of his country home in winter. He wrote Duyckinck: "I look out of my window in the morning when I rise as I would out of a port-hole of a ship in the Atlantic. My room seems a ship's cabin; & at nights when I wake up & hear the wind shrieking, I almost fancy there is too much sail on the house, and I had better go on the roof and rig in the chimney." Even today, on certain stretches of road, the Berkshires rise up like imposing swells in a heavy sea.

During his first year at Arrowhead, Melville obsessed over a whale — most of "Moby-Dick" was written there — but he started his day feeding livestock, giving breakfast to his horse and cutting pumpkins for his cow, "for it's a pleasant sight to see a cow move her jaws — she does it so mildly & with such a sanctity." After breakfast, he lighted the fire in his study, perhaps stirring up memories of his whaling days with a harpoon poker that still leans against the stone hearth.

"Moby-Dick" was dedicated to that other monumental influence over Melville during his Berkshires residence — Hawthorne. The two authors spent hours in the loft above Arrowhead's barn, away from the noises of the family. At the time, Hawthorne lived in the Little Red House on the Stockbridge-Lenox boundary, writing "The House of Seven Gables." He described the autumnal view of Monument Mountain as a "headless sphinx, wrapt in a rich Persian shawl." The sphinx remains, though the "luscious sunshine" off the chestnut trees has since been lost to blight.

The article describes other interesting sites in the area.


At 5:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Have you been to Arrowhead? We went there and to the Mount when I worked at the Emily Dickinson Homestead.


At 6:52 PM, Blogger Nathanael said...

Not yet. We have worked our way around all the attractions in the Berkshires, so I guess we will see Arrowhead soon. Yesterday we were in the area: we hiked for 100 minutes on the Appalachian Trail, and I bought a cool pair of shoes.

At 6:52 PM, Blogger Nathanael said...

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