Mark Beauregard’s The Whale: A Love Story is the novelization of the unfulfilled romantic longing between Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne during the short time they lived near one another in Massachusetts from 1850-1851.
During this time, Melville was pursued by creditors and lived off of loans from his father-in-law. His writings yield lackluster profits, and he struggled financially. He met Nathaniel Hawthorne at a picnic and was instantly captivated, falling in love that spiraled into obsession. Melville craved a life beyond his grasp – fame as a novelist, a house far beyond his means, a desire for an unavailable lover.
Beauregard suggests his desperation is paralleled in the story of Moby Dick. Ahab is chasing an unattainable goal for revenge; but, as Hawthorne explains in a letter to Melville, this lust for revenge is not for the loss of his leg, but for the loss of his heart. Beauregard skillfully incorporates actual correspondence between the two men, showing the agony of Melville’s unrequited longing and Hawthorne’s suppression of his desire for Melville.
The Whale: A Love Story blends historical accuracy and speculation of the level of admiration between these two literary icons. The fiery urgency of Melville and the agonizing denial by Hawthorne makes for a tale of woeful desperation. This book humanizes the authors who were writing at the dawn of American literature. It made me view Moby Dick with a new perspective and understand the honesty and manic intensity behind the pursuit of the whale. Highly recommended.