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Conference Proceeding

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In Sena Jeter Naslund’s 1999 novel Ahab’s Wife, books and their details of remembered passages are embedded in consciousness, especially in times of crisis. Ahab’s Wife is at once a sure-fire page-turner worthy of status as book club selection as well as a deeper text, overtly paying homage to Melville’s dense narrative. Moreover, this novel invites at least one re-reading and becomes more appealing with further study. The richly allusive text is powerful not simply for its grand scope of female adventure--one that the New York Times asserted was overdone optimism--but for its layered and interwoven references to works of literature that are Una’s maternal inheritance. My study is a combination of a three-layered task. The first is to notice, mark and catalog the allusions to literature and references to history. (To assist in this, I prepared a spread sheet to track the cross references to particular authors, titles, and categories of information.) The second makes observations on the shape of the book in light of these lists of references. The third layer is analysis: how do the observations add up; how can we evaluate our reading experience based on the patterns of reference woven into the book; what might cause the disagreements over the assessment of the book? I will argue that, thanks to the multiple entry points--not simply from Melville’s whale story--but from much of the literature and events of the times, Naslund’s novel offers multiple ways to read.

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Previously unpublished

AhabAUTHORsortAsPDF.pdf (597 kB)
Spreadsheet of Allusions in Ahab's Wife, alphabetical by author

PageSORTahabswife.xlsx (32 kB)
Page ordered list of Allusions in Ahab's Wife (Select Enable Editing to view in Landscape as designed)

PageSortChartAllusionsAhabsWifeAsPDF.pdf (579 kB)
Allusions in Ahab's Wife, Page order PDF Conversion of Exel Chart