Ahab’s Wife – Naslund / Spenser’s Una

Ahab’s Wife or The Star-Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund
Pub Oct. 1999. 688p. illus. Morrow, $28 (0-688-17187-7).

Ahab’s wife, Una (nee Spencer), named by her mother after the personification of Truth in Spenser’s Faerie Queene, is so vividly portrayed that she seems more real than fictional in Naslund’s fanciful opus. (ref Booklist) “Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last.” This is destined to be remembered as one of the most-recognized first sentences in literature – along with “Call me Ishmael.” Naslund has created an entirely new universe with a transcendent heroine at its center who will be every bit as memorable as Captain Ahab. (ref Reading Group Guides) The result is 668 pages of an interesting tale that focuses squarely on Una Spencer. The narrative traces the young woman?s childhood in Kentucky and her adolescence in Nantucket. Author Naslund has composed her book in a style that emulates Melville?s, with long scenes bearing a quiet dignity. Despite some interesting developments and the occasional appearance of the enigmatic Captain Ahab, Ahab?s Wife demands reading, but disappoints at the end, because it doesn?t seem to have a reason for having been written, other than as a lightweight piece of entertainment. (ref Unit101)

Fiction more real than “reality” – hold that thought (again).

[Post Note : the above was just copied off the page where I found the original reference. Since then, I have read and reviewed the book here, and had the conversation in the comments below.]

Renascence Editions
A (massive) Online Repository of Works Printed in English Between the Years 1477 and 1799
Francis Bacon (Advancement of Learning, et al)
George Berkeley (A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge)
Thomas Hobbes (Leviathan)
Joseph Hall (Charaters of Virtues and Vices)
David Hume (Enquiry Concerning the Human Understanding )
Samuel Johnson (The Vanitie of Human Wishes)
John Milton (Paradise Lost, Paradise Regained et al)
Thomas Paine (Age of Reason )
Adam Smith (The Wealth of Nations)
Edmund Spenser (The Faerie Queene),
Jonathan Swift (Gullivers Travels, complete)
Thomas Wilson (The Arte of Rhetorique)
and many more.

8 thoughts on “Ahab’s Wife – Naslund / Spenser’s Una”

  1. I am at a loss as to Una’s choice of her third husband……
    Does anyone have any insights as to this mystery?????

  2. That is truly spooky. Though I made reference to this book in 2002, I am in fact reading it for the first time only now in 2010. I am 8/10ths of the way through … and can’t yet answer your question.

    Interesting, but not a great book. I am having trouble leaving it, and expect to finish it, a couple of days maybe.

  3. I’m interested in hearing your opinion ….esp in relation to the 3rd husband….
    Like you, I had trouble l found myself not wanting to leave the book.
    I wonder too, if there will be a sequel to the book.
    Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

  4. Pingback: Psybertron Asks
  5. Hi Pam, the 3rd husband is really no mystery.

    The husbands are Kit, Ahab and …. David Pollack (call me Ishmael) … the sole survivor, who lives to write his book alongside Una writing hers out at ‘Sconset on Nantucket.

    They were never “legally” married she actually says, but the final chapters have many references to their long life together. Not too hard to imagine a sequel maybe … Ishmael’s Daughter ? Time to get writing. Need to invent a backstory for Ishmael himself – wonder if it’s been done ?

    Review here http://www.psybertron.org/?p=3267

  6. From Pam
    “I would like to read your “Ishmael’s back-story”, when its completed. I think he is a much more complex character than what we read in this book.

    I look forward to any sequel to Ahab’s Wife……too. I find myself with questions about why Una felt such a kindred-ship with Ishmael.
    Was it the confidence she had that he might help with the delivery of her baby…. the fact that David returned to the Ky cabin & took her to meet the steamboat……??? His transformation from being a bounty hunter to an abolitionist ????
    It prob means nothing, but during the time of Una’s meeting with David, she accentuates his short stature….then when they meet again after Ahab’s death, ….nothing is mentioned about David’s physical description when he returns as Ishmael… ( with the exception of the wolves’ fur/head & his eyes)…..or we could just conclude that she likes men with beards….(lol)
    I guess , all my questions, mean i just wasn’t ready for the book to end…….Hum…..
    Thanks for sharing your views on this …..You have my email address if you have any revelations about the story that we have not discussed.”

  7. Interesting … I think David (Poland) is the most compelling character in the book … undergoes a natural evolution, rather than a dramatic episode. He was my odds-on bet to be the third-husband after she knelt to embrace him.

    Kindred spirits – Ishmael and Una ? – they both lived and sailed with Ahab, and survived to tell (write) the tale – literally – no-one else from the crew survived. I think she liked men (people) with experience – beyond the norm – experience worth writing about. I think the whole book is a “writer’s” book – all those letters.

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