The Voyage of the Narwhal
The author combines fact and fiction to follow Erasmus Darwin Wells, the nineteenth-century naturalist, on his reckless pursuit of an open polar sea
A major novel by the author of Ship Fever, winner of the 1996 National Book Award for Fiction. Part adventure narrative, part love story, this unforgettable novel captures a crucial moment in the history of exploration, the mid-nineteenth-century romance with the mystery of the Arctic. Combining fact and fiction, Andrea Barrett focuses on Erasmus Darwin Wells, a scholar-naturalist accompanying the expedition of the Narwhal. Through his eyes we meet the various crew members and the expedition's blustery commander, obsessed with the search for an open polar sea. And through his eyes we experience the wild, disturbing beauties of that last unexplored region. In counterpoint to his views are those of the Esquimaux, witness to the expedition's exploits, and of the women left behind in Philadelphia, who can only imagine what lies beyond the north wind. Together, those who travel and those who stay weave a web of myth and history. In the real nineteenth-century expeditions, explorers' documents always cast the writer as hero. But what really happened up there, in the long winter darkness, entrapped in ice? On the Narwhal, everyone is frightened, nothing is certain, and heroes emerge in unexpected guises. Barrett's explorers discover-as all explorers do-not what was always there and never needed discovering, but the state of their own souls.
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