In the summer of 1850, Herman Melville finds himself hounded by creditors and afraid his writing career might be coming to an end—his last three novels have been commercial failures and the critics have turned against him. In despair, Melville takes his family for a vacation to his cousin’s farm in the Berkshires, where he meets Nathaniel Hawthorne at a picnic—and his life turns upside down.
The Whale chronicles the love affair that grows out of that serendipitous afternoon. Already in debt, Melville recklessly borrows money to purchase a local farm in order to remain near Hawthorne, his newfound muse. The two develop a deep connection marked by tensions and estrangements, and feelings both shared and suppressed.
Melville dedicated Moby-Dick to Hawthorne, and Mark Beauregard’s novel fills in the story behind that dedication with historical accuracy and exquisite emotional precision, reflecting his nuanced reading of the real letters and journals of Melville, Hawthorne, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and others. An exuberant tale of longing and passion, The Whale captures not only a transformative relationship—long the subject of speculation—between two of our most enduring authors, but also their exhilarating moment in history, when a community of high-spirited and ambitious writers was creating truly American literature for the first time.
“The Whale is fiction, of course, although the author is careful to depart as little as possible from the historical record, but the accuracy of the premise is of less interest than Beauregard’s immense skill in rendering Melville’s inner voice—an impressive feat of authorly ventriloquism. Beauregard has captured the true hide and grit of that God- and nature-haunted 19th-century mind in all its rough, baroque, oddly tender poetry.”
—The Washington Post
“Vivid and beautifully written, smart, and achingly sensual, this novel is at once a passionate love story and a gripping portrait of an artist wrestling with himself on the cusp of his greatest achievement. A potent and transporting read.”
—Madeline Miller, author of The Song of Achilles
“A brilliantly conceived, sparklingly written, carefully researched, and moving account of the surprising relationship between Hawthorne and Melville, as well as a credible and poignant story of the sufferings, sorrows, flights of fancy, and plain hard work that went into the writing of a great book: Moby Dick.”
—Sheila Kohler, author of Becoming Jane Eyre