It's easy to be enchanted by one of the most quotable lines from Moby-Dick--"It is not down on any map; true places never are." We all have cherished spots on this earth that don't show up on ordinary maps, though no one today can escape the relentless tracking eye of Google maps.
Readers of my Melville in Love will find that hardly any place was more important to the novelist than an old eighteenth-century mansion on the outskirts of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. One of his relatives called the house and its farm Herman's "first love." It was in his family for over three decades until a pretty young woman of twenty-seven talked her husband into buying it for her in 1850. Her name was Sarah Morewood.
Melville fell in love with her and bought the farm next to hers within a few weeks of their first meeting. He didn't have the money to buy it, and already had a large home in New York. But nothing would stop him from borrowing thousands of dollars to close the deal and move his family from the big city to the country in speedy fashion.
The universal consensus of biographers and scholars is that Melville was desperate to be near his new friend Nathaniel Hawthorne. But only someone who doesn't know the area well, and who thinks in terms of modern transportation, would so easily accept that Melville was trying to be "near" an author who lived six miles away on a mediocre road in another town.
The only place of importance that Melville's farm was near was the place he had always loved more than any other--the place bought by an extraordinary young woman with literary interests very much like his own, and with romantic ambitions that made her eager to search for love beyond the confines of marriage.
So go search the maps--even Google's--and you will find that the "true place" of Broadhall--Sarah's mansion--is "not down on any map." At least, not under the name she gave it. Today Broadhall is called by another name--the Country Club of Pittsfield.
(I took the photo above at the Lookingglass Theatre on Michigan Avenue in the heart of Chicago while attending their inspired production of Moby-Dick in 2015.)