• Lara Neri

Chasing the White Whale

Updated: Sep 6, 2019

When I was at university there was a professor, Dr. Curtsinger, who was obsessed with Moby Dick. I never took any classes with him, but I remember the bumper sticker on his car that said "Call me Ishmael" and everyone talking about how much he loved the novel. I had not read it, and I didn't really want to…a huge book about a whale and a bunch of guys? No thanks.

Then a few years later (after studying Dostoevsky in St. Petersburg for a year, teaching in China, and gaining some important life experience) I returned to the University of Dallas to do my masters in literature, with a focus on Dostoevsky. I studied Dickens (who inspired Dostoevsky), Faulkner (who was inspired by Dostoevsky), and Russian novel. As I was working on my Master's thesis on Dostoevsky's masterpiece The Brothers Karamozov, someone suggested I go talk to Dr. Curtsinger. I made an appointment with him to discuss Dostoevsky, and within five minutes he was talking about Moby Dick. I became intrigued. I took a great American literature class and finally read it. I loved it. In fact, I ended up choosing it as one of my three focus novels for my master's, and I re-read it numerous times.

I finished my master's, moved around, got married, had four kids, and didn't think much about Moby Dick for about 17 years. Then last summer I decided I needed to re-read some of my favorite novels - all of Dostoevsky's, of course; David Copperfield; Kristen Lavransdatter; Moby Dick. All of these were so much richer through the lense of greater life experience, so much more significant and soul-shaking.

My reunion with Moby Dick on was enhanced by the fact that we were driving up the East Coast. On our way up to Boston we were listening to the novel on audiobook , which inspired a last minute detour through New Bedford. We visited the Whaling Museum and the Seamen's Bethel, and we also got to the Mystic Seaport Museum to see the last surviving wooden whaling ship.

Finally, 17 years after falling in love with the novel, I had made my first Moby Dick pilgrimage. It was wonderful, but incomplete.So this year I planned out a more thorough pilgrimage, and I wanted to share it with any fellow Moby Dick fans who might be interested…

If "Go A'Whaling You Must", Here's How to Do It in Three Days

In anticipation of your journey, purchase an Associate membership (for $150) to the New Bedford Whaling Museum. With this membership you will get reciprocal entry into all the museums that belong to the North American Reciprocal Museum Program as well as the Council of American Maritime Museums, covering your entry to all the museums on this pilgrimage and so many other excellent museums across the country.

Day One:

Mystic Seaport Museum

Mystic, Connecticut

I suggest beginning here because, although not directly related to Moby Dick, this amazing museum is an entire whaling village, complete with working shipyard (currently building a replica of the Mayflower) and the last surviving wooden whaling ship, the Charles Morgan.

They also have a couple other tall ships you can board with demonstrations of and opportunities for participating in hoisting the sails, raising the anchor, and hauling whaling boats out of the water The streets are lined with shops where you can learn things from how casks were made for holding the whale oil to which shanties were sung and why. You can sit at the Spouter Tavern near the docks, drink your Dark and Stormy, and feel you have been transported back to the 1850's. There is so much to do and learn here for all ages, and you can easily spend the entire day and still not take full advantage of all it has to offer. We were there from 9am to 5pm and could have spent another full day there.

The book shop there is also excellent...I picked up Why Read Moby Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick and look forward to reading it one of these days.