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CARLISLE, HENRY COFFIN

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.