Summary and Analysis
Captain the Honorable Edward Fairfax Vere, a bachelor of about forty, has advanced in the service more by his ability and bravery than through family connections. Ever attentive to the welfare of his crew, he has never tolerated any relaxation of discipline. A jovial relative named him "Starry Vere" after he returned from a cruise to the West Indies, where he was promoted from flag lieutenant to post captain for gallantry in action.
After introducing Captain Vere in Chapter 1, Melville now describes him more fully to the reader. A non-military appearing, humorless, undemonstrative man, on shore he would pass for a civilian. At sea, he is occasionally dreamy-eyed as he gazes on the water, but he is capable of quick, courageous action when circumstances demand it.
Vere is an intellectual. His love of books prompts the crew to find him "dry and bookish" and less than companionable. Vere is reserved and introspective, lacks a feeling of camaraderie, and fails at small talk. He is, on the positive side, self-controlled, law-abiding, and deeply attuned to duty and responsibility as an officer of the King's Navy. He reads widely about human affairs and opposes political opinions of his day because they are detrimental to the good of humankind. Fellow officers ridicule Vere's pedantic streak by comparing it to "King's yarn," the red strand running through navy rope, symbolizing courage and duty.
Critics devote much attention to the character of Vere. Some critics consider him a fine professional officer caught in a tragic circumstance. Others see him as cold, impersonal, and heartless, seeking to enhance his reputation as a strict disciplinarian.
De Grasse French officer defeated by the British in the Leeward Islands in 1782.
free from cant One reason that Vere likes Montaigne's writing is that it is straightforward and easy to understand.