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Arctic Ghosts: Whale Hunting and Haunting in Arthur Conan Doyle’s 'The Captain of the Pole-Star'

Alder, Emily



Over-hunting in Arctic seas drove bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) nearly to extinction by the end of the nineteenth century. Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Captain of the ‘Pole-Star’” (1883), inspired by his youthful 1880 voyage on the Scottish whaling ship Hope to the Greenland Sea, shows a nascent awareness of the implications of this ecological tragedy. The ghostly figure heard and seen in the story is on one level the spirit of the captain’s lost love, and on another a spectral trace of the lost bowheads. Conan Doyle’s Arctic ghost binds the personal grief and longing of the captain to the wider grief and longing of a late-Victorian culture becoming aware of its own environmental responsibilities and reaching belatedly toward wildlife protection.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 26, 2022
Publication Date 2022-11
Deposit Date Nov 17, 2022
Publicly Available Date Dec 1, 2024
Print ISSN 0042-5222
Publisher Indiana University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 65
Issue 1
Pages 43-66
Public URL