American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

CARLISLE, HENRY COFFIN (1926- ). Born in San Francisco, Henry Coffin Carlisle served in the U.S. Naval Reserve from 1944 to 1946, earned a B.A. and M.A. at Stanford University in 1950 and 1953, and entered the book trade as an editor in New York City. He now lives in San Francisco and maintains a summer home on Nantucket.*

He began writing nautical fiction with Voyage to the First of December (1972), which retells the story of the 1842 Somers* mutiny* from the perspective of the ship’s surgeon, Robert Leacock. The novel explores the event’s psychological undercurrents and sympathizes with the three men who were precipitately executed.

The Jonah Man (1984, repub. 2000) is a fictional autobiography of George Pollard, the Nantucket whaleman who captained the Essex* when it was rammed by a whale in 1820. Along with part of his crew, he escaped in a whaleboat, where he survived by resorting to cannibalism before he was rescued by another ship. His next voyage also ended in shipwreck,* forever marking him as a doomed man, a “Jonah.” The Essex disaster inspired the final chapters of Moby-Dick* (1851) and a short section of Clarel (1876), where Herman Melville* characterizes Pollard as a Jonah. Carlisle’s novel mentions both sources. By presenting Pollard’s experiences autobiographically, Carlisle adds psychological and spiritual depth to the story, along with credible descriptions of life at sea and in nineteenth-century Nantucket. [See also MUTINIES; NICKERSON, THOMAS; SEA-DELIVERANCE NARRATIVES]

Dennis Berthold