Backstage at San Francisco Opera > October 2012 > Herman Melville's Arrowhead
Herman Melville's Arrowhead
It is not surprising that many people assume Herman Melville wrote his classic novel Moby-Dick on Nantucket, a small island off the coast of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. It is, after all, the setting for much of the book, home port to the Pequod and home to many of the story’s most central characters. But in reality, Melville never set foot on the island before Moby-Dick was published in 1851. He wrote the book at a secluded farm in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, over 100 miles from the nearest large body of water.

An excerpt from the Berkshire Historical Society explains:

In 1850, Herman, his wife Lizzie, and their baby son Malcolm spent the summer in Pittsfield, Massachusetts at his great-grandfather’s farm. Herman was inspired by the beauty of the region, particularly the view of Mount Greylock, the highest point in Massachusetts, from the farm house window. He was working on a story about the whale fisheries as well as writing some literary reviews for a friend’s magazine when he was invited to go on a picnic to Monument Mountain, just south of Pittsfield. Also invited on the excursion were two other literary notables: Oliver Wendell Holmes and Nathaniel Hawthorne, both Berkshire residents. Melville and Hawthorne met for the first time and struck up an instantaneous close friendship.

Front view of Melville's farmhouse, Arrowhead.  Melville's study is on the second floor, right corner.

The impulsive Melville made the decision to follow Hawthorne’s example and move permanently to the Berkshires to find a quiet solitude in which to write. Melville thought of the beautiful view of Mount Greylock from his ancestors’ farm, and within a week had purchased the neighboring farm which commanded a similar view. He named the farm Arrowhead after the native relics he discovered as he was plowing the fields. The home would remain his for the next 13 years, and there he would write some of his finest works.

 Mount Greylock from Melville's study where he wrote Moby-Dick. Melville felt the mountain looked like the great whale. Note the logo for Arrowhead above, drawing inspiration from this view.
Herman created a refuge for himself in his second-floor library. Keeping to a regular writing schedule, he completed four novels, a collection of short stories, and 10 magazine pieces, as well as beginning work on a volume of poetry. The works Melville wrote at Arrowhead included Moby-Dick, Pierre, The Confidence-Man, Israel Potter, a collection entitled “The Piazza Tales,” and such short stories as “I and My Chimney,” “Benito Cereno,” “Bartleby the Scrivener,” and “The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids.”

Arrowhead influenced him greatly in his writing. The view of Mount Greylock from his study window, the one that brought him to Arrowhead, was said to be his inspiration for the white whale in Moby-Dick.

For more information about Arrowhead, visit the Berkshire Historical Society at Herman Melville’s Arrowhead online at
Posted: 10/30/2012 3:56:43 PM by The Berkshire Historical Society
Filed under: 2012-13Season, MobyDick, text


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