July 2, 2007

Opening Remarks by Moderator Mark Lytle

Origins of Under the Sea-Wind

Under the Sea-Wind began with Carson's first job at the Fish and Wildlife Service. Her boss there, Elmer Higgins, was responsible for a Bureau-sponsored radio series his colleagues dismissively referred to as “seven-minute fish tales.” The series became a headache for Higgins. No one in the Bureau knew how to make marine biology interesting to a general radio audience. Though he had no regular job for Carson, he asked her to write a few scripts. Eight months later she completed the series to the great satisfaction of Higgins and other Bureau officials. Higgins then had her write an introduction to a government brochure on marine life. When he met her in April 1936 to discuss the piece, his reaction stunned her. The essay would not do, he said. “The World of Waters” was too good for a government brochure. She should write a new introduction, he advised, “but send this one to the Atlantic.”

This article, "Under the Sea," brought Carson to the attention of the editors at Simon and Schuster. They recognized her as a new and remarkable literary voice. When asked to expand it into a full length book, Carson had an inspiration. Her book, Carson explained to the publisher, would avoid the anthropocentric or “human bias” that infected most writers about the sea. “The fish and other sea creatures must be central characters and their world must be portrayed as it looks and feels to them—and the narrator must not come into the story or appear to express an opinion. Nor must any other humans come into it except from the fishes’ viewpoint as a predator and a destroyer.” This would be the story of the sea and its creatures. “The ocean is too big and vast and its forces too mighty to be much affected by human activity,” she believed. Time proved her wrong on this last observation, as over fishing, pollution, and other byproducts of human society seriously altered the ocean’s ecology. But even at this point she began to suspect that naturally occurring chemicals such as fluorides and selenium as well as coastal pollution were harmful to aquatic life.

See July Book Schedule


Anonymous said...

I am eager to start reading Rachel Carson's "Under the Sea-Wind". I ordered it, along with other of her books, at the end of June but have not received them yet. They are due to be delivered about the middle of next week. I am wondering how Rachel Carson's writing differs from the time she wrote "Under the Sea-Wind", her first book, to her last book, "Silent Spring". During the writing of the latter, Rachel was fighting an uphill battle, not only in her effort to maintain a healthy environment and a balance in nature but also in the fight against her illness. Therefore, I expect that her earlier writing was more joyful and entwined with more hopeful expectations. Goodness knows she had such a hard life throughout both from a personal and family standpoint and also from the suffering inflicted on her later by her critics. So I look forward to reading Rachel's earlier work of a time when perhaps there was more joy in her life and writing, and the hope she saw for the future health of man and the environment was not yet encumbered.

Paula Weingarten said...

I have to admit I’m one of those people who has never gotten around to reading any of Rachel Carson’s books and I think part of the reason is because I figured I pretty much knew what they were about so probably didn’t really have to read them. But this book club has been pretty interesting, enough to make me more curious. And after reading “The World of Waters” essay that Mark linked to, I was surely taken in. The very first sentence got me. In a few minimal words, it stood me in front of the hugeness of the ocean, then immediately brought me down to the level of the tiny crab’s hideout. Her writing is beautiful, it seemed to have the quality of water itself the way it flowed and swelled, washing over everything and uncovering minute details like surprises that emerge on their own. I will definitely go on to read the whole book.

Willow said...

I have read the 1st two chapters of Under the Sea Wind. I am enchanted by the ecological approach, how she looks at a time and place through the eyes of many creatures. A bit of a barrier for me is that she named the main characters (thus far birds) in the text. It interrupts for me the flow of observing what the animals are up to, I think because it is similar to so many children's books that name the animal protagonists.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clue on what to expect, Willow. The book sounds intriguing. I am looking forward to start reading it, hopefully sometime next week.

NCTC Librarian said...

You all might want to be aware that Under the Sea-Wind was republished by Penguin US in 2007 as a centennial commemoration and that Linda Lear (http://lindalear.com) wrote the introduction which may be available at some future date online at http://lindalear.com/work2.htm

Mark Lytle said...

I'm sure all those who have written in will be delighted as they read "Under the Sea WInd." One quality I most admired in Carson's view of nature was her sense that life and death were natural processes, not something tragic. The death of one creature brought life to others. Such a view would not comfort an anthropocentric sensibility, but it saves us from a seeing death as tragic.

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