Cover image for Ahab's wife, or, The star-gazer : a novel
Title:
Ahab's wife, or, The star-gazer : a novel
Author:
Naslund, Sena Jeter.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : William Morrow and Co., [1999]

©1999
Physical Description:
668 pages : illustrations, 25 cm
General Note:
A novel inspired by Herman Melville's Moby Dick.
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780688171872
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

"Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last."

This is destined to be remembered as one of the most-recognized first sentences in literature--along with "Call me Ishmael." Sena Jeter Naslund has created an entirely new universe with a transcendent heroine at its center who will be every bit as memorable as Captain Ahab.

Ahab''s Wife is a novel on a grand scale that can legitimately be called a masterpiece: beautifully written, filled with humanity and wisdom, rich in historical detail, authentic and evocative. Melville''s spirit informs every page of her tour de force.

Una Spenser''s marriage to Captain Ahab is certainly a crucial element in the narrative of Ahab''s Wife, but the story covers vastly more territory. After a spellbinding opening scene, the tale flashes back to Una''s childhood in Kentucky; her idyllic adolescence with her aunt and uncle''s family at a lighthouse near New Bedford; her adventures disguised as a cabin boy on a whaling ship; her first marriage to a fellow survivor who descends into violent madness; courtship and marriage to Ahab; life as mother and a rich captain''s wife in Nantucket; involvement with Frederick Douglass; and a man who is in Nantucket researching his novel about his adventures on her ex-husband''s ship.

Ahab''s Wife is a breathtaking, magnificent, and uplifting story of one woman''s spiritual journey, informed by the spirit of the greatest American novel, but taking it beyond tragedy to redemptive triumph.

"Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last."

This is destined to be remembered as one of the most-recognized first sentences in literature--along with "Call me Ishmael." Sena Jeter Naslund has created an entirely new universe with a transcendent heroine at its center who will be every bit as memorable as Captain Ahab.

Ahab''s Wife is a novel on a grand scale that can legitimately be called a masterpiece: beautifully written, filled with humanity and wisdom, rich in historical detail, authentic and evocative. Melville''s spirit informs every page of her tour de force.

Una Spenser''s marriage to Captain Ahab is certainly a crucial element in the narrative of Ahab''s Wife, but the story covers vastly more territory. After a spellbinding opening scene, the tale flashes back to Una''s childhood in Kentucky; her idyllic adolescence with her aunt and uncle''s family at a lighthouse near New Bedford; her adventures disguised as a cabin boy on a whaling ship; her first marriage to a fellow survivor who descends into violent madness; courtship and marriage to Ahab; life as mother and a rich captain''s wife in Nantucket; involvement with Frederick Douglass; and a man who is in Nantucket researching his novel about his adventures on her ex-husband''s ship.

Ahab''s Wife is a breathtaking, magnificent, and uplifting story of one woman''s spiritual journey, informed by the spirit of the greatest American novel, but taking it beyond tragedy to redemptive triumph."Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last."

This is destined to be remembered as one of the most-recognized first sentences in literature--along with "Call me Ishmael." Sena Jeter Naslund has created an entirely new universe with a transcendent heroine at its center who will be every bit as memorable as Captain Ahab.

Ahab''s Wife is a novel on a grand scale that can legitimately be called a masterpiece: beautifully written, filled with humanity and wisdom, rich in historical detail, authentic and evocative. Melville''s spirit informs every page of her tour de force.

Una Spenser''s marriage to Captain Ahab is certainly a crucial element in the narrative of Ahab''s Wife, but the story covers vastly more territory. After a spellbinding opening scene, the tale flashes back to Una''s childhood in Kentucky; her idyllic adolescence with her aunt and uncle''s family at a lighthouse near New Bedford; her adventures disguised as a cabin boy on a whaling ship; her first marriage to a fellow survivor who descends into violent madness; courtship and marriage to Ahab; life as mother and a rich captain''s wife in Nantucket; involvement with Frederick Douglass; and a man who is in Nantucket researching his novel about his adventures on her ex-husband''s ship.

Ahab''s Wife is a breathtaking, magnificent, and uplifting story of one woman''s spiritual journey, informed by the spirit of the greatest American novel, but taking it beyond tragedy to redemptive triumph.


Author Notes

Sena Jeter Naslund was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1942. She received a Bachelor's degree from Birmingham Southern College, where she received the B.B. Comer Medal in English, and a Master's degree and a doctorate from the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. She has taught at the University of Louisville, the University of Montana, Indiana University (Bloomington), Vermont College, and the University of Montevallo. She has written several books including The Disobedience of Water, Ahab's Wife, Four Spirits, Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette, and Adam and Eve. She has won numerous awards including the Harper Lee Award, the Hall-Waters Southern Prize, the Southeastern Library Association Award, and the Alabama Library Association Award.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Una, named by her mother after the personification of Truth in Spenser's Faerie Queene, is so vividly portrayed that she seems more real than fictional in Naslund's fanciful opus. A questioning woman, before she ever met the legendary Captain Ahab, she was a defiant daughter, a lover of literature, an accomplished seamstress, a seafaring adventurer (disguised as a boy aboard a whaling ship), survivor of a horrific shipwreck, and a spiritual seeker. This narrative, written in Una's voice, captures the exciting and pivotal times of mid-nineteenth-century New England, reflecting the pressing issues of the day, such as slavery, the position of women, and the influence of religion. It is part adventure, part love story, brimming with references to literature--Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, and others. Una's life intersects with literary personalities both "real" and fictional--as in the case of her chance meeting with Hawthorne, his face covered with a black veil, an eerie mixture of the author and his own fictional characters. In Boston, Una befriends Margaret Fuller and is introduced to transcendentalism through Fuller's "Conversations with Women"; in Nantucket, she shares night sky watching with astronomer Maria Mitchell and is moved by hearing Frederick Douglass speak. And, of course, there's Ahab. Una is the wife of the captain of the Pequod during his fateful pursuit of Moby Dick, and she is the mother of their son. She has the ability to rise and rise again after illness, destruction, and loss. And through it all she possesses a sense of wonder, the experience of divinity in all things. A complex and sophisticated book, brilliantly written, beautifully illustrated. --Grace Fill


Publisher's Weekly Review

"Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last," says Una Spenser, the eponymous narrator, in the first sentence of this deliciously old-fashioned bildungsroman, adventure story and romance. Naslund's inspiration, based on one reference in Moby-Dick, may not satisfy aficonados of Melville's dense, richly symbolic masterpiece, but it should please most other readers with its suspenseful, affecting, historically accurate and seductive narrative. At age 12, Una escapes her religiously obsessed father in rural Kentucky to live with relatives in a lighthouse off New Bedford, Mass. When she is 16Ädisguised as a boyÄshe runs off to sea aboard a whaler, which sinks after being rammed by its quarry. Una and two young men who love her are the only survivors of a group set adrift in an open boat, but the dark secret of their cannibalism will leave its mark. Rescued, Una is wed to one of the young men by the captain of the Pequod, handsome, commanding Ahab, who has not as yet met the white whale that will be his destiny. These eventsÄrecounted in stately prose nicely dotted with literary allusionsÄtake the reader only through the first quarter of the book. Una's later marriage to AhabÄa passionate and intellectually satisfying relationshipÄthe loss of her mother and her newborn son in one night, and her life as a rich woman in Nantucket are further developments in a plot teeming with arresting events and provocative ideas. Una is an enchanting protagonist: intellectually curious, sensitive, imaginative and kind. But Naslund also endows her with restlessness, rash impetuosity and a refreshing skepticism about traditional religion, qualities that humanize what verges on an idealized personality, and that motivate Una's search for spiritual sustenance. Unitarianism and Universalism are two of the religions she investigates; other "dark issues of our time" include slavery, and the position of women. Social and cultural details texture the lengthy, episodic, discursive narrative. Una's search for identity brings her friendship with such real life figures as writer Margaret Fuller and astronomer Maria Mitchell, and with such colorful fictional characters as an escaped slave and a dwarf bounty hunter. Even Halley's Comet makes an appearance. Provocatively, Naslund (The Disobedience of Water) suggests a new source of Ahab's demented rage to kill the whale who has "unmasted" him. Some elements of the novel jar, especially Naslund's tendency to pay rhapsodic tributes to Una's questing spirit; a surfeit of noble, large-souled and amazingly generous characters; and the symmetrical neatness of the plot. In the last third of the book, readers may become weary of Una's spiritual reflections and the minutiae of her daily routine. But these are small faults in a splendid novel that amply fulfills its ambitious purpose offering a sweeping, yet intimate picture of a remarkable woman who both typifies and transcends her times. Illustrations by Christopher Wormell. 150,000 first printing; $150,000 ad/promo; 20-city author tour; BOMC main selection; Simon & Schuster audio. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

At age 12, Una a nonconformist, is sent from Kentucky to Nantucket because she refuses to believe in Christianity. At age 16 she runs away to sea, posing as a cabin boy aboard a whaler. She enjoys her adventure until the first whale is killed and processed, and then one day her ship is rammed by one of them. After weeks in a lifeboat, she is rescued and taken back to Nantucket aboard the Pequod with Captain Ahab. Una and Ahab find they have much in common, from their passionate tempers to their stubborn tenacity, so they marry and have a son. When Ahab returns to sea, he becomes obsessed with the white whale, Moby Dick. News comes back that the Pequod sank, leaving a single survivor called Ishmael. When Una meets him, her life begins again. Masterfully read by Maryann Plunkett and beautifully written, this tale gives another possible perspective on the dour Captain Ahab and his family. Recommended.--Joanna M. Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island, Coll. of Continuing Education Lib., Providence (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Ahab's Wife Or, The Star-gazer: A Novel Chapter One Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last. Yet, looking up--into the clouds--I conjure him there: his gray-white hair; his gathered brow; and the zaggy mark; I saw it when lying with him by candlelight and, also, taking our bliss on the sunny moor among curly-cup gumweed and lamb's ear. I see a zaggy shadow in the rifting clouds. That mark started like lightning at Ahab's temple and ran not all the way to his heel (as some thought) but ended at Ahab's heart. That pull of cloud--tapered and blunt at one end and frayed at the other--seems the cottony representation of his ivory leg. But I will not see him all dismembered and scattered in heaven's blue--that would be no kind, reconstructive vision; no, intact, lofty and sailing, though his shape is changeable. Yesterday, when I tilted my face to the sky, I imaged not the full figure but only his cloudy head, a portrait, glancing back at me over his shoulder. What weather is in Ahab's face? For me, now, as it ever was in life, at least when he was looking at me alone and had no other person in view, his visage is mild--with a brightness in it, even be it a wild, white, blown-about brightness. Now, as I look at those billowed clouds, I see the Pequod. I half-raise my hand to bid good-bye, as it was that last day from the east-most edge of Nantucket Island, when, with a wave and then a steadfast, longing look, till the sails were only a white dot, and then a blankness of ocean--then--a glitter-- I wished his ship and him Godspeed. Nantucket! The home where first I found my body, my feet not so much being pulled into this sandy beach as seeking downward, toes better than roots; then, my mind, built not to chart this blue swell of heaving ocean, but the night sky, where the stars themselves, I do believe, heave and float and spin in fiery passions of their own; Nantucket!--home, finally, of my soul, found on a platform eight-by-eight, the wooden widow's walk perched like a pulpit atop my house. These three gears of myself--body, mind, and soul--mesh here on this small island--Nantucket! Then, why, when I look into the mild, day sky, do the clouds scramble, like letters in the alphabet, and spell not Nantucket, but that first home, Kentucky? And those clouds that did bulge with the image of Ahab show me the map of that state, flat across the bottom and all billowed at the top? I did not consult Ahab about my decision to spend my pregnancy in a rough Kentucky cabin with my mother, instead of staying in the gracious home of a captain's wife on Nantucket. But I wrote him, of course, and sent the letter after him on the ship called the Dove, so he could imagine me aright. That time spent with my mother outdoors in the sweet summer and golden Kentucky autumn was augmented by our indoor companionship of sewing baby smocks and cooking and reading again those great works of literature my mother had brought with her to the wilderness, green-bound books I had read as a child or she had read to me. Sometimes my mother and I stood and looked at our faces together in the oval mirror she had brought with her from the East. Along with her library chest of books, the mirror with its many-stepped molding distinguished our frontier cabin from others. Thus, elegantly framed, my mother and I made a double portrait of ourselves for memory, by looking in the mirror. When in early December the labor began but tried in vain to progress, my mother went from our cabin, driving the old mare in the black buggy through a six-inch crust of snow, for the doctor. In my travail, I scarcely noticed her leaving. When my mother did not come home and did not come home, and the pains were near unbearable and the chill was creeping across the cabin floor and into my feet as I paced, I grasped the feather bed from my bunk and flung it atop her bed. In desperation, between spasms, I gathered all the gaudy quilts in the house, and then leaving the latchstring out so that I would not have to venture from my nest when she returned, I took to my childbirth bed. There, softness of two mattresses comforted me from beneath and warmth of myriad quilts, a cacophony of colors, warmed me from above, but still I worked my feet and legs and twisted my back. Despite the heat of my labor, I could feel my nose turning to ice, long and sharp as a church steeple all glazed with frost. Parsnip! I thought of; frozen and funny--a vegetable on my face! I chortled and then prayed, wondering if prayer and laughter gurgled up, sometime, from the same spring. Let nose be parsnip, parsnip be steeple, steeple be nose-whatever that protuberance, it is frozen to the very cartilage. Warm it! Save me, gods and saints! Wild and crazed by pain, my thoughts leaped about in antic dance, circling one picture after another. Nose! Steeple! Parsnip! My desperate, laughing prayer from within that quilted hump below its parsnip was only that I should be delivered and nothing at all for the welfare of the rest of the world. I wanted to wait for my mother's return and I was afraid because I had little idea of how to catch the baby. So even as I prayed, I prayed against myself, that time would not pass nor take me any closer to the port of motherhood. I thought of Ahab, as if his ship were wallowing, going neither forward nor drifting back but immobile in a confused sea. Copyright (c) 1999 Sena Jeter Naslund Ahab's Wife Or, The Star-gazer: A Novel . Copyright © by Sena Naslund . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. xvi
Extractsp. xvii
1 A Mild Blue Dayp. 1
2 The Dirgep. 10
3 The Crossingp. 13
4 Reveriep. 17
5 The Windowp. 20
6 The Steamboatp. 23
7 The Paddlewheelp. 28
8 The Islandp. 29
9 A Diffieult Farewellp. 36
10 The Giantp. 40
11 Winters. Summersp. 45
12 New Bedfordp. 52
13 Bostonp. 59
14 The Petrelp. 65
15 A Storm at Nightp. 77
16 The Brightness of Brightnessp. 89
17 A Rosep. 97
18 Our Lady of the Roeksp. 99
19 The Return of the Petrel, with Three Lettersp. 108
20 A Combp. 115
21 The Fourth Letterp. 117
22 The Camelp. 123
23 The Sea-Faney Innp. 128
24 The Sussexp. 136
25 The Cabin Boyp. 142
26 The Companionp. 151
27 Captain Coffin's Story--Secondhandp. 158
28 A Whaleboat by Moonlightp. 165
29 Captain Morrell's Story--Thirdhandp. 168
30 Captain Ahab's Story--My First Acquaintance with Himp. 173
31 Aloftp. 178
32 "Pardon Me"p. 181
33 Reunionp. 185
34 Revelationp. 190
35 Sea Stormsp. 192
36 The Frost Windp. 198
37 Collisionp. 201
38 The Coursep. 209
39 The Distance of the Starsp. 212
40 The Sentencep. 217
41 What Do You Fetch for Your Mouth?p. 218
42 The Beginning of the Debatep. 222
43 Father and Sonp. 224
44 The Human Animalp. 225
45 The Alba Albatrossp. 225
46 Ganglionp. 231
47 Postscript on the Abovep. 233
48 Soaringp. 233
49 Portrait of a Virgin Listeningp. 235
50 Icarusp. 236
51 The Testp. 242
52 The Funeralp. 244
53 The Contestp. 246
54 I Am Marriedp. 249
55 Aboard the Pequodp. 253
56 The Hurricane Housep. 259
57 Ahab's Jottingsp. 261
58 Kit's Ruminationsp. 262
59 Starbuck Introduces Himselfp. 263
60 Ahab Overheardp. 264
61 A Letter to the Lighthousep. 265
62 Poor Kit's a-Coldp. 267
63 Arcticp. 268
64 Ahab in His Cabinp. 277
65 Aloft, the Pequodp. 279
66 Starbuck: Ship's Logp. 283
67 Starbuck Communes with Mary, His Wifep. 284
68 In the Steward's Pantryp. 288
69 Ahab's Comfortp. 289
70 Nantucket--the Faraway Islep. 292
71 Ahab Prepares for the Next Voyagep. 300
72 Breakfastp. 311
73 Shamep. 314
74 B'twixtp. 318
75 Enter: The Gaoler and the Judgep. 325
76 On the Moorp. 330
77 A Slow Springp. 334
78 Churchesp. 337
79 Baptismalp. 344
80 Firep. 352
81 Ahab Addresses the Flamesp. 356
82 Ahab's Wifep. 358
83 A Sky Full of Angelsp. 362
84 Resurrectionp. 366
85 The Purpose of Artp. 370
86 The Office of a Friendp. 380
87 Childhood as an Islandp. 386
88 The World of Rebekkah Swainp. 389
89 Kentucky Seasonsp. 392
90 A Winter Talep. 402
91 The Burdenp. 405
92 The Lonternp. 410
93 Shakespeare and Companyp. 415
94 The Guidep. 420
95 Getting Startedp. 425
96 Forest Murmursp. 427
97 In the Cupolap. 440
98 To Summerp. 450
99 Wifep. 457
100 The Mitchellsp. 458
101 Vestal Streetp. 462
102 Ahabp. 469
103 From Cupola to Wharfp. 470
104 Idyllp. 473
105 The Cometp. 480
106 Frannie's Letter from an Inland Lighthousep. 483
107 An Angry Letter from Aunt Agathap. 485
108 Letter to an Inland Lighthousep. 487
109 The Minister in the Woodsp. 488
110 The History of Snow and Restlessnessp. 497
111 Altar Rockp. 499
112 Motheringp. 501
113 Chowder Swirlsp. 505
114 The Birthing Roomp. 508
115 The Legp. 510
116 Christmas Evep. 513
117 A Last Glimpse of the Pequod: Christmas Dayp. 516
118 The Jeroboam Returnsp. 519
119 The First Part of Ahab's Third Voyage After His Marriagep. 524
120 Moon Watchp. 529
121 Letter from Susanp. 533
122 The Samuel Enderby of London Puts in for Repairs at Nantucketp. 538
123 The Distress of Justicep. 542
124 To Siasconsetp. 546
125 The Hedgep. 550
126 Journey Toward the Starry Sky, in Present Tensep. 553
127 Sconset Morningp. 559
128 More of Morning: Tashtego's Feather Makes the Letter Sp. 560
129 The Neighbor Beyond the Hedgep. 562
130 The Roar of Guiltp. 569
131 The Return of the Delightp. 572
132 The Perseidp. 580
133 The Woolsackp. 582
134 Letter from Margaret Fuller, from Englandp. 589
135 Letter from David Poland, Virginiap. 592
136 Letter to Beloved Kinp. 593
137 Letter from Margaret Fuller, from Italyp. 594
138 The Judge's Invitationp. 596
139 Mrs. Maynard's Notep. 597
140 Preparationsp. 598
141 Franniep. 599
142 Liberty and the Dolphinsp. 611
143 A Suitable Marriagep. 615
144 What Has Proved to Be a Last Visitp. 616
145 A Songp. 618
146 A Squeeze of the Handp. 620
147 Una Preaches to the Wavesp. 622
148 The Great Fire: June 1846p. 623
149 Reflections on a Wreekp. 625
150 During the Pleasure Partyp. 629
151 Celestialp. 636
152 A New Friendp. 637
153 A Sermon Overheardp. 641
154 Plansp. 647
155 Recitation by Beach Firep. 649
156 Letter from Susan, Forwardedp. 655
157 The Roof Walkp. 661
Epiloguep. 664
Acknowledgmentsp. 667