Critical Evaluation

(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Frank T. Bullen’s childhood was cruel. Like Charles Dickens, he lacked schooling and was a homeless waif and child laborer in London. He was adopted briefly by a kindly aunt and began to read Milton’s Paradise Lost at five years of age; but the aunt, his solitary childhood friend, died when Bullen was eight years old, and he was cast into the street. Alone in the world with “no-one caring a straw for me,” he trusted God and was signed on an English vessel when he was twelve years old. Bullen spent the next six years at sea. He landed in New Bedford, Massachusetts, when he was eighteen years old and secured a berth on a sailor’s nightmare, a whaler, in this case the “Cachalot,” a venerable tub “as leaky as a basket.”

The Cruise of the Cachalot is a combined autobiographical/fictional narration, which gives an account of a South Sea whaler from a seaman’s standpoint. Bullen also described the methods employed, the dangers met, and the woes experienced by whalers, using a clear style in order not to weary the reader. He scorned padding, sought accuracy of detail, and penned a tersely thrilling story of a voyage around the world that lasted for years. Its many fascinating passages include a description of a cyclone off the remote Seychelles Islands, storms at sea, the vast face of the sea and the sky, a passage through the Sargasso Sea, labors, landings, harpoonings, beatings, and a brush with the Confederate raider...

(The entire section is 434 words.)