In this interdisciplinary work, Robert K. Wallace explores the stylistic and aesthetic affinities of English landscape painter J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) and American novelist Herman Melville (1819-1891), establishing Turner as a decisive influence on the creation of Melville's "Moby-Dick". Wallace begins his study by tracing the evolution of Turner's powerful aesthetic of the indistinct from his seascapes of the early 1800s. He then examines Melville's self-education in the fine arts from 1846 through 1849, a period culminating in an 1849 visit to London where Melville saw works by Turner and the Old Masters side by side. Wallace also shows how the aesthetic of Melville's first five novels evolved in direct relation to the art criticism he read in books by Hazlitt, Ruskin and Eastlake, as well as in English and American periodicals. Wallace's discussion of how Melville's knowledge of painting influenced his successive novels illustrates an important part of Melville's mental and artistic landscape. The discussion of influence culminates with three chapters devoted to the composition of "Moby-Dick", showing Turner's influence from the beginning to the end of Melville's masterpiece.
The study ends with an examination of the artistic and spiritual legacies of each artist. Wallace shows how Melville and Turner lead us into comparable realms: the visible spheres of love as well as the invisible ones of fright.