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Moby Dick or The Whale / Edition 150

Moby Dick or The Whale / Edition 150

by Herman Melville
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In Moby Dick Melville set out to write a "mighty book" on "a mighty theme." The editors of this critical text affirm that he succeeded. Nevertheless, their prolonged examination of the novel reveals textual flaws and anomalies that help to explain Melville's fears that his great work was in some ways a hash or a botch. A lengthy historical note also gives a fresh account of Melville's earlier literary career and his working conditions as he wrote; it also analyzes the book's contemporary reception and outlines how it finally achieved fame. Other sections review theories of the book's genesis, detail the circumstances of its publication, and present documents closely relating to the story.

This scholarly edition is based on collations of both editions published during Melville's lifetime, it adopts 185 revisions and corrections from the English edition and incorporates 237 emendations by the series editors. This is an Approved Text of the Center for Editions of American Authors (Modern Language Association of America).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 2900451526990
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/08/2001
Series: Signet Classics Series
Edition description: 150th Anniversary Edition
Pages: 592
Product dimensions: 4.25(w) x 1.00(h) x 6.80(d)

About the Author

Herman Melville (1819-1891) was an American novelist, short story writer, poet and essayist. Melville toiled at various times as a sailor, banker, teacher and finally as a customs inspector. His novels include Typee, Omoo, and White Jacket, all published in authoritative editions by Northwestern University Press. He died in relative obscurity at the age of 72.

Date of Birth:

August 1, 1819

Date of Death:

September 28, 1891

Place of Birth:

New York, New York

Place of Death:

New York, New York


Attended the Albany Academy in Albany, New York, until age 15

Read an Excerpt

Chapter I: Loomings
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off — then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.
There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs — commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme down-town is the Battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.
Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see? — Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries. Some leaning against the spiles; some seated upon the pier-heads; some looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some high aloft in the rigging, as if striving to get a still better seaward peep. But these are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster — tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks. How then is this? Are the green fields gone? What do they here?
But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content them but the extremest limit of the land; loitering under the shady lee of yonder warehouses will not suffice. No. They must get just as nigh the water as they possibly can without falling in. And there they stand — miles of them — leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes and alleys, streets and avenues — north, east, south, and west. Yet here they all unite. Tell me, does the magnetic virtue of the needles of the compasses of all those ships attract them thither?
Once more. Say, you are in the country; in some high land of lakes. Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries — stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region. Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert, try this experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical professor. Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.
But here is an artist. He desires to paint you the dreamiest, shadiest, quietest, most enchanting bit of romantic landscape in all the valley of the Saco. What is the chief element he employs? There stand his trees, each with a hollow trunk, as if a hermit and a crucifix were within; and here sleeps his meadow, and there sleep his cattle; and up from yonder cottage goes a sleepy smoke. Deep into distant woodlands winds a mazy way, reaching to overlapping spurs of mountains bathed in their hill-side blue. But though the picture lies thus tranced, and though this pine-tree shakes down its sighs like leaves upon this shepherd's head, yet all were vain, unless the shepherd's eye were fixed upon the magic stream before him. Go visit the Prairies in June, when for scores on scores of miles you wade knee-deep among Tiger-lilies — what is the one charm wanting? — Water — there is not a drop of water there! Were Niagara but a cataract of sand, would you travel your thousand miles to see it? Why did the poor poet of Tennessee, upon suddenly receiving two handfuls of silver, deliberate whether to buy him a coat, which he sadly needed, or invest his money in a pedestrian trip to Rockaway Beach? Why is almost every robust healthy boy with a robust healthy soul in him, at some time or other crazy to go to sea? Why upon your first voyage as a passenger, did you yourself feel such a mystical vibration, when first told that you and your ship were now out of sight of land? Why did the old Persians hold the sea holy? Why did the Greeks give it a separate deity, and make him the own brother of Jove? Surely all this is not without meaning. And still deeper the meaning of that story of Narcissus, who because he could not grasp the tormenting, mild image he saw in the fountain, plunged into it and was drowned. But that same image, we ourselves see in all rivers and oceans. It is the image of the ungraspable phantom of life; and this is the key to it all.
Now, when I say that I am in the habit of going to sea whenever I begin to grow hazy about the eyes, and begin to be over conscious of my lungs, I do not mean to have it inferred that I ever go to sea as a passenger. For to go as a passenger you must needs have a purse, and a purse is but a rag unless you have something in it. Besides, passengers get sea-sick — grow quarrelsome — don't sleep of nights — do not enjoy themselves much, as a general thing — no, I never go as a passenger; nor, though I am something of a salt, do I ever to go to sea as a Commodore, or a Captain, or a Cook. I abandon the glory and distinction of such offices to those who like them. For my part, I abominate all honorable respectable toils, trials, and tribulations of every kind whatsoever. It is quite as much as I can do to take care of myself, without taking care of ships, barques, brigs, schooners, and what not. And as for going as cook, — though I confess there is considerable glory in that, a cook being a sort of officer on ship-board — yet, somehow, I never fancied broiling fowls — though once broiled, judiciously buttered, and judgmatically salted and peppered, there is no one who will speak more respectfully, not to say reverentially, of a broiled fowl than I will. It is out of the idolatrous dotings of the old Egyptians upon broiled ibis and roasted river horse, that you see the mummies of those creatures in their huge bake-houses the pyramids.
No, when I go to sea, I go as a simple sailor, right before the mast, plumb down into the forecastle, aloft there to the royal masthead. True, they rather order me about some, and make me jump from spar to spar, like a grasshopper in a May meadow. And at first, this sort of thing is unpleasant enough. It touches one's sense of honor, particularly if you come of an old established family in the land, the Van Rensselaers, or Randolphs, or Hardicanutes. And more than all, if just previous to putting your hand into the tarpot, you have been lording it as a country schoolmaster, making the tallest boys stand in awe of you. The transition is a keen one, I assure you, from a schoolmaster to a sailor, and requires a strong decoction of Seneca and the Stoics to enable you to grin and bear it. But even this wears off in time.
What of it, if some old hunks of a sea-captain orders me to get a broom and sweep down the decks? What does that indignity amount to, weighed, I mean, in the scale of the New Testament? Do you think the archangel Gabriel thinks anything the less of me, because I promptly and respectfully obey that old hunks in that particular instance? Who aint a slave? Tell me that. Well, then, however the old sea-captains may order me about — however they may thump and punch me about, I have the satisfaction of knowing that it is all right; that everybody else is one way or other served in much the same way — either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is; and so the universal thump is passed round, and all hands should rub each other's shoulder-blades, and be content.
Again, I always go to sea as a sailor, because they make a point of paying me for my trouble, whereas they never pay passengers a single penny that I ever heard of. On the contrary, passengers themselves must pay. And there is all the difference in the world between paying and being paid. The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us. But being paid, — what will compare with it? The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvellous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!
Finally, I always go to sea as a sailor, because of the wholesome exercise and pure air of the forecastle deck. For as in this world, head winds are far more prevalent than winds from astern (that is, if you never violate the Pythagorean maxim), so for the most part the Commodore on the quarter-deck gets his atmosphere at second hand from the sailors on the forecastle. He thinks he breathes it first; but not so. In much the same way do the commonalty lead their leaders in many other things, at the same time that the leaders little suspect it. But wherefore it was that after having repeatedly smelt the sea as a merchant sailor, I should now take it into my head to go on a whaling voyage; this the invisible police officer of the Fates, who has the constant surveillance of me, and secretly dogs me, and influences me in some unaccountable way — he can better answer than any one else. And, doubtless, my going on this whaling voyage, formed part of the grand programme of Providence that was drawn up a long time ago. It came in as a sort of brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances. I take it that this part of the bill must have run something like this:
Grand Contested Election for the
Presidency of the United States.

Though I cannot tell why it was exactly that those stage managers, the Fates, put me down for this shabby part of a whaling voyage, when others were set down for magnificent parts in high tragedies, and short and easy parts in genteel comedies, and jolly parts in farces — though I cannot tell why this was exactly; yet, now that I recall all the circumstances, I think I can see a little into the springs and motives which being cunningly presented to me under various disguises, induced me to set about performing the part I did, besides cajoling me into the delusion that it was a choice resulting from my own unbiased freewill and discriminating judgment.
Chief among these motives was the overwhelming idea of the great whale himself. Such a portentous and mysterious monster roused all my curiosity. Then the wild and distant seas where he rolled his island bulk; the undeliverable, nameless perils of the whale; these, with all the attending marvels of a thousand Patagonian sights and sounds, helped to sway me to my wish. With other men, perhaps, such things would not have been inducements; but as for me, I am tormented with an everlasting itch for things remote. I love to sail forbidden seas, and land on barbarous coasts. Not ignoring what is good, I am quick to perceive a horror, and could still be social with it — would they let me — since it is but well to be on friendly terms with all the inmates of the place one lodges in.
By reason of these things, then, the whaling voyage was welcome; the great flood-gates of the wonder-world swung open, and in the wild conceits that swayed me to my purpose, two and two there floated into my inmost soul, endless processions of the whale, and, midmost of them all, one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air.

Copyright © 1999 by Simon & Schuster Inc.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Loomings
Chapter 2.  The Carpet Bag
Chapter 3. The Spouter-Inn
Chapter 4. The Counterpane
Chapter 5. Breakfast
Chapter 6. The Street
Chapter 7. The Chapel
Chapter 8. The Pulpit
Chapter 9. The Sermon
Chapter 10. A Bosom Friend
Chapter 11. Nightgown
Chapter 12. Biographical
Chapter 13. Wheelbarrow
Chapter 14. Nantucket
Chapter 15. Chowder
Chapter 16. The Ship
Chapter 17. The Ramadan
Chapter 18. His Mark
Chapter 19. The Prophet
Chapter 20. All Astir
Chapter 21. Going Abroad
Chapter 22. Merry Christmas
Chapter 23. The Lee SHore
Chapter 24. The Advocate
Chapter 25. Postscript 
Chapter 26. Knights and Squires
Chapter 27. Knights and Squires
Chapter 28. Ahab
Chapter 29. Enter Ahab; to him, Stubb
Chapter 30. The Pipe
Chapter 31. Queen Mab
Chapter 32. Cetology
Chapter 33. The Specksynder
Chapter 34. The Cabin Table
Chapter 35. The Mast-Head
Chapter 36. The Quarter-Deck. Ahab and all
Chapter 37.  Sunset
Chapter 38. Dusk
Chapter 39. First Night-Watch
Chapter 40. Forecastle—Midnight
Chapter 41. Moby Dick
Chapter 42. The Whiteness of the Whale
Chapter 43. Hark!
Chapter 44. The Chart
Chapter 45. The Affidavit
Chapter 46. Surmises
Chapter 47. The Mat-Maker
Chapter 48. The First Lowering
Chapter 49. The Hyena
Chapter 50. Ahab's Boat and Crew—Fedallah
Chapter 51. The Spirit-Spout
Chapter 52. The Pequod meets the Albatross
Chapter 53. The Gam
Chapter 54. The Town Ho's Story
Chapter 55. Monstrous Pictures of Whales
Chapter 56. Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales
Chapter 57. Of Whales in Paint, in teeth, &c.
Chapter 58. Brit
Chapter 59. Squid
Chapter 60. The Line
Chapter 61. Stubb kills a Whale
Chapter 62. The Dart
Chapter 63. The Crotch 
Chapter 64. Stubb's Supper
Chapter 65. The Whale as a Dish
Chapter 66. The Shark Massacre
Chapter 67. Cutting In
Chapter 68. The Blanket
Chapter 69. The Funeral
Chapter 70. The Sphynx
Chapter 71. The Pequod meets the Jeroboam. Her Story
Chapter 72. The Monkey-rope
Chapter 73. Stubb & Flask kill a Right Whale
Chapter 74. The Sperm Whale's Head
Chapter 75. The Right Whale's Head
Chapter 76. The Battering Ram
Chapter 77. The Great Heidelburgh Tun
Chapter 78. Cistern and Buckets
Chapter 79. the Prairie
Chapter 80. The Nut
Chapter 81. The Pequod meets the Virgin
Chapter 82. The Honor and Glory of Whaling
Chapter 83. Jonah Historically Regarded
Chapter 84. Pitchpoling
Chapter 85. The Fountain
Chapter 86. The Tail
Chapter 87. The Grand Armada
Chapter 88. Schools & Schoolmasters
Chapter 89. Fast Fish and Loose Fish
Chapter 90. Heads or Tails
Chapter 91. The Pequod meets the Rose Bud
Chapter 92. Ambergris
Chapter 93. The Castaway
Chapter 94. A Squeeze of the Hand
Chapter 95. The Cassock
Chapter 96. The Try-Works
Chapter 97. The Lamp
Chapter 98. Stowing Down & Clearing Up
Chapter 99. The Doubloon
Chapter 100. The Pequod meets the Samuel Enderby of London
Chapter 101. The Decanter
Chapter 102. A Bower in the Arsacides
Chapter 103. Measurement of the Whale's Skeleton
Chapter 104. The Fossil Whale
Chapter 105. Does the Whale Diminish?
Chapter 106. Ahab's Leg
Chapter 107. The Carpenter
Chapter 108. The Deck. Ahab and the Carpenter
Chapter 109. The Cabin. Ahab and Starbuch
Chapter 110. Queequeg in his Coffin
Chapter 111. The Pacific
Chapter 112. The Blacksmith
Chapter 113. The Forge
Chapter 114. The Gilder
Chapter 115. The Pequod meets the Bachelor
Chapter 116. The Dying Whale
Chapter 117. The Whale-Watch
Chapter 118. The Quadrant
Chapter 119. the Candles
Chapter 120. The Deck
Chapter 121. Midnight, on the Forecastle
Chapter 122. Midnight, Aloft
Chapter 123. The Musket
Chapter 124. The Needle
Chapter 125. The Log and Line
Chapter 126. The Life-Buoy
Chapter 127. Ahab and the Carpenter
Chapter 128. The Pequod meets the Rachel
Chapter 129. The Cabin. Ahab and Pip
Chapter 130. The Hat
Chapter 131. The Pequod meets the Delight
Chapter 132. The Symphony
Chapter 133. The Chase. First Day
Chapter 134. The Chase. Second Day
Chapter 135. The Chase. Third Day

Editorial Appendix
Historical Note
Textual Record
     Note on the Text
     Discussions of Adopted Readings
     List of Emendations
     Report of Line-End Hyphenation
     List fo Substantive Variants
Related Documents
     Melville's Notes (1849-51) in a Shakespeare Volume
     Melville's Notes in Chase's Narrative of the Essex
     Melville's Acshnet Crew Memorandum
     The Hubbard Copy of The Whale
     The Jones Copy of Moby-Dick and the Harper Whale Title Page

Reading Group Guide

1. What is the significance of the whale? What do you think Melville intends in developing such a vicious antagonism between Ahab and the whale?

2. How does the presence of Queequeg, particularly his status as a "savage," inform the novel? How does Melville depict this cultural clash?

3. How does whaling as an industry function metaphorically throughout the novel? Where does man fit in in this scenario?

4. Melville explores the divide between evil and virtue, justice and vengeance throughout the novel. What, ultimately, is his conclusion? What is Ahab's?

5. What do you think of the role, if any, played by religion in the novel? Do you think religious conventions are replaced or subverted in some way? Discuss.

6. Discuss the novel's philosophical subtext. How does this contribute to the basic plot involving Ahab's search for the whale? Is this Ishmael's purpose in the novel?

7. Discuss the role of women in the novel. What does their conspicuous absence mean in the overall context of the novel?

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Moby Dick or The Whale 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 91 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have nothing against Herman Melville. I have nothing against Ishmael. I have nothing against the Pequod, or Ahab, or Moby Dick himself. But I do have a lot against the endless facts about whales that occupy a huge majority of this book. It's just one thing after another. Only about one-third of the book is the story. The rest is a practical encyclopedia about whales and their habits. He should have written "Whales for People Who Like Endless Facts about Them" or something else of that nature, so that poor little school children could just read a good story without unnecessary details riddling the plot line. No doubt, this book is a classic: I'm the last person to say otherwise. But "classic" doesn't always mean "interesting". The positive characteristics of this book are undeniable. I just had a hard time getting through it. A VERY hard time.
PixieChild More than 1 year ago
Should have read this years ago. The book itself was not in as good condition as stated, but still an excellent book to read.
E_Caine More than 1 year ago
Moby Dick is one of those rare novels that captures a particular historical moment while, at the same time, remaining timeless. Gripping drama, tense action, compelling characters and a setting so rarely glimpsed in history - the period in America between the Revolutionary and the Civil Wars. It was a time when America was discovering itself as the characters are discovering themselves. And it was the height of an industry of which, like slavery, we are all still a little ashamed. Whaling was a profitable, dangerous, and engaging occupation for a young man in those days. But when the Captain of your ship is obsessed with taking vengeance on his tormentor it would be an experience you could never forget. Assuming, of course, that you survived. Complicated, compelling, beautifully written, and always a classic, Moby-Dick is a must-read for any American lover of literature.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Who am I to criticize Melville? But after reading, and chuckling, over some of my peer reader's reviews, I'm compelled to balance stars. I'm neither a critic nor literary scholar. I'm just someone who loves good literature, classic or not. Granted, Moby is long and detailed, but I contend it's all necessary and part of the story's framework. The themes are skillfully packaged in abstruse metaphors. And I agree that I had to use lexical aids to get through some of the dated vernacular. I even put down my cheap paperback for a Norton critical edition, but it was worth it. The language is beautiful and artistic. Read a benign chapter to a child and watch their expressions change as their imagination takes over their visage. Moby provides insight into today's archetypes found in pop-culture's 'Spongebob' or 'Pirates of the Caribbean'. Perhaps Moby isn't for everyone. Those who aren't interested in ages long past, historically accurate depictions of bloody exploitation, or ocular criticism of social hypocrisy, should probably stick to the bestseller lists. Entertain your brain. Every chapter is a piece of Melville's puzzle. When taken holistically, it all fits. Slow your monkey mind. Mindfully read. Open your eyes. Moby is still relevant today, especially to you good folks who think you live on that fabled 'City on the Hill'.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Great, but one star was eaten by the white sperm whale.
KLmesoftly on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I love this book. I've read it twice in the past few years, and both times took something new and exciting from the text. The characters are wonderful, the prose gorgeous (I'm continually sucked in by the imagery Melville conjures). I would definitely recommend doing at least some reading on the Transcendentalist and Anti-Transcendentalist movements before picking this up, for some context.
TadAD on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I will concede that this is an American classic...even the American classic...only if, in return, I get dispensation from having to finish it.Seriously though, I found the book exhausting and gave up after 250 pages. I think that I needed to be reading this under the care of an expert¿say, a college course¿or, at least, in a heavily annotated version. I was half-overwhelmed by symbology, usually only dimly perceived, thinking I was being taken on a journey through Christian faith toward atheistic rationalism but never quite being able to appreciate fully the scenery along the way. I did enjoy the humor when I encountered it, but did not enjoy the slog through wordiness in between. And...I certainly reached my limit on whaling-ology, a subject I find myself less interested in now than previously.To date, my Melville comprised only Billy Budd, which I did not enjoy. I felt the need to attempt his classic but can now say with reasonable certainty that I am not a Melville fan.
donato on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What's there to say? This is not just about a Whale, but about Life. A seamless blend of adventure, philosophy and documentary. One of the best books EVER.
comfypants on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A harrowing experience. It starts out so promising... and then the story is put on hold and the perspective is abandoned while Melville writes a series of loosely related essays. For hundreds of pages. By the time the story resumes, I couldn't care less about it; I just want to get through it. After coming so far, you can't NOT finish...
axelp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event--in the living act, the undoubted deed--there, some unknown but still reasoning thing put forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there's naught beyond. But 'tis enough."
edwinbcn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It has been said, and must be said again, that Moby-Dick is for the large part tedious to read, and only a very small portion of the book, notable the last three chapters are full of fury, and heart-throbbing excitement.The endless succession of page-upon-page of knowledge about whaling, are like the vastness of the oceans, and the huge lapses of time that the voyage of the Pequod takes. The sparse encounters with other ships, emphasize the loneliness at sea, especially the isolation of Ahab. (It is a bit odd they never enter a port.)Early in the novel, we are told that few people understand or appreciate the whaling business, and this oversight is clearly and effectively remedied by including so much knowledge about whaling. Some of this knowledge is clearly needed to read the later chapters in the novel. This part of Melville's novel does what Hemingway's Death in the afternoon does for bull fighting.To understand why bull fighting is heroic, and what is the aesthetic value of it, you need a fair amount of knowledge and an open mind. The sincere, and easy-going friendship between Ishmael and Queequeg, which was probably odd in Melville's day, and might even be unusual in ours, shows what it means to be truly open-minded.There are several moments, when the prose takes the shape of "merry comedy", which breaks the dour seriousness of the novel. The second half of the book seems to allow for more humour, as in:The milk is very sweet and rich; it has been tasted by man; it might do well with strawberries. p.424"What's the matter with your nose, there?" said Stubb. "Broke it?""I wish it was broken, or that I didn't have any nose at all!" (...)"But what are you holding yours for?""Oh, nothing! It's a wax nose; I have to hold it on. Fine day, aint it?" p.442-3With chapter 132 entitled "The symphony", the next three chapters are like movements of a symphony, or acts in a ballet. The dance of the whale is splendid and graceful.The best thing about reading Moby-Dick was to get to the story first-hand, and peel or scratch away all the layers of comment and interpretation of others, that had encrusted the this story from my earliest memories. Finishing this book required some perseverance at times, but was ultimately very rewarding.
tikitu-reviews on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Wow. Wow wow wow wow wow.This was, at the same time, everything I expected and nothing like what I expected.It's enormous: check. It's full of obsessive detail about sailing and whaling technology and techniques: check. You know the ending: check. It starts with "Call me Ishmael"¿ well, not quite.The biggest surprise about Moby-Dick is how funny it is. The book in fact opens with two sections giving some warning: an `Etymology (Supplied by a Late Consumptive Usher to a Grammar School.)¿ and a selection of `Extracts (Supplied by a Sub-Sub-Librarian.)¿ These last are introduced with the note, ¿It will be seen that this mere painstaking burrower and grub-worm of a poor devil of a Sub-Sub appears to have gone through the long Vaticans and street-stalls of the earth, picking up whatever random allusions to whales he could anyways find in any book whatsoever, sacred or profane,¿ and then continues for twelve pages that fulfill that promise entirely.The humour of the narrator is to show up again and again throughout the novel, as for example in the chapter entitled `Cetology¿, when he classifies the various breeds of whale according to size: Folios (Sperm Whale, Right Whale, Hump-backed Whale, &c), Octavoes (Narwhales, Killer Whales &c) and Duodecimoes (various Porpoises). The chapter ends with a passage that is most certainly going to become an epigraph somewhere in my PhD thesis:It was stated at the outset, that this system would not be here, and at once, perfected. You cannot but plainly see that I have kept my word. But I now leave my cetological System standing thus unfinished, even as the great Cathedral of Cologne was left, with the crane still standing upong the top of the uncompleted tower. For small erections may be finished by their first architects; grand ones, true ones, ever leave the copestone to posterity. God keep me from even completing anything. This whole book is but a draught¿nay, but the draught of a draught. Oh, Time, Strength, Cash, and Patience!Beyond the humour, though, there's a different kind of playfulness at work which also surprised me. It's hinted at, again, by the Etymology and Extracts, but it's still a surprise to see chapters 37 to 40 given in the form of a fragment of playscript, complete with stage directions and the occasional song-and-dance number! There's a more subtle form of stylistic schizophrenia at work as well, that I'm not sure I would have noticed if it wasn't mentioned in the introduction, but that sticks out like a sore thumb once you're alert to it: the narrator moves back and forth between being a real character taking part, and an all-seeing impersonal observer, depending on the varying needs of the author. The character is certainly present, indeed he's the only member of the crew who escapes the sinking of the Pequod, but he comments (in his own unique voice) on events which he cannot have witnessed and on the innermost thoughts of other characters, whenever Melville feels this might be helpful.I'm still surprised that I enjoyed so much a novel that, stylistically speaking, is a poorly edited hodgepodge (it's not only style that wanders about; there are various continuity errors, characters that disappear without explanation or are cavalierly and unexpectedly dismissed, and so on). What carries it is the voice of the narrator, blending the comic and the horrific and the heroic aspects of his situation to perfection. He kept me fascinated by the details of 19th century whaling, which takes some doing.That point deserves some expansion. It's true that a large portion of the novel (perhaps between 20 and 30 percent, from a quick scan of chapter titles) is given over to painstakingly detailed descriptions of whaling procedure, the equipment, the historical appreciation for the craft, and so on and so forth. What this isn't (to my delighted surprise) is dry. It's carried by Melville's enormous enthusiasm for the subject, made visible in the pride and the
lberriman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Too many details about the ships!
upstairsgirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I do not enjoy Melville. I know I should, because he plays with language in a way I normally find very appealing, and I don't think his plots are uninteresting. I... just can't stand the way he writes most of the time, I guess.I had high hopes for Moby Dick, because it starts out very, very funny, and I was hoping I'd learn that I simply hadn't appreciated Melville when I encountered him in high school. But the book quickly gets mired down in hundreds of pages describing the whale. Is the whale a fish or not? What fish is it related to? What fish is it not related to? What is the natural history of the whale? What are some famous whale stories? How do we hunt the whale? What are the mind-numblingly minute details of the whale's anatomy? Of the whale-ship's anatomy? It goes on and on. For hundreds of pages. Every once in a while, they catch a whale, something weird and ominous happens, and/or Ahab behaves like a lunatic. I wish I could say the ending made the long slog worth it, but I just didn't care any more at that point. I was reading to be able to say I'd finished. I wonder if I'd have been able to take Ishmael's rambling more seriously if he hadn't seemed so completely insane and if he hadn't come across as such an unsympathetic character. He is, it appears, the inexperienced one of the crew, and yet not only is that inexperience not used to introduce the reader organically to the world of whaling, but it's neophyte Ishmael himself holding forth at interminable length in incredibly minute detail about everything. It's off-putting, somehow, as if the narrator is bent on making sure the reader feels even more outside the story than he himself is. (This is an interesting trick, but perhaps not an effective one.) It's hard to know how to take Ishmael - the way in which the beginning of the tale is related suggests that Ishmael isn't a reliable narrator, but that's followed by 500 pages of "research" that pleads to be taken incredibly seriously. It was frustrating, and I think it made it impossible for me to pay attention to the story underneath.I don't think it's a bad book, but I just didn't enjoy it much at all, which is disappointing to me. I wanted to like it, I think. I'm glad to have finally read it, but I don't think I'll read it again anytime soon.
littleman on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Oh gawd, I couldn't finish this one, either. I've never read anything that has so many irrelevant asides. When Melville concentrates on passages that push the plot forward he's a really vivid and convincing writer, but most of the time he's doing the literary equivalent of a rower who's only got one oar. Maybe I'll try again one day by missing out all the tedious bits about whale anatomy and so forth...
kipp15 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was suprised by how much I loved it. I was surprised by the diversity of the crew and how they were portaryed. I thought I would dread the long time spent on types of whales and how to kil a whale etc. This stuff was actually very interesting because is historical and rich. The story is powerful.
juliabeth on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is not the easiest read. The format of the book constantly changes and rambles; it goes slowly, and wraps back around itself. However, if you have the energy to put in, it is an important and worthwhile project.
phaga on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really wanted to like this book. I swear. But the technical jargon was too much for me. I really don't care that much about how a boat works or the hierarchy of the crew unless it has a direct relation to the story being told, which in most cases it didn't. To me, the pacing of this book was horrible. Just as you're getting into it, Herman goes off on a tangent. Still, it's a classic.
RogerRamjet on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It took me about four attempts but I finally got through all of Moby Dick, without even skipping the whaling treatises and history parts. And it was worth it. The effort to assimiilate all of the information that Melville throws at the reader, together with the nationalities of the crew of the Pequod truly adds up to a feeling that the whole world, the reader included, is hunting and battling the whale, and that, by punching through that mask, something worth discovering is waiting on the other side.
GomezGarciaGonzalez on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A bit dated, but great nonetheless.
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago seemed as if this were the Loom of Time, and I myself were a shuttle mechanically weaving and weaving away at the Fates. There lay the fixed threads of the warp subject to but one single, ever returning, unchanging vibration, and that vibration merely enough to admit of the crosswise interblending of other threads with its own. This warp seemed necessity; and here, thought I, with my own hand I ply my own shuttle and weave my own destiny into these unalterable threads. (p 213) When one reads the first line of Moby-Dick, "Call me Ishmael.", he does not realize that the story about to unfold, a narrative that will include lessons in whaling and the mysteries of the deep, is already set in stone so to speak. Nor does he realize that he is about to embark upon a journey with the narrator, Ishmael, that will, more than five hundred pages later, tell him that "This whole act's immutably decreed." (p 548) The 'Loom of Time' described in the epigraph above is indeed fixed and Ishmael's, and our own, weaving has independence only in our dreams. The unchanging nature of fate, its existence and our subjection by it is part of the story. Not even as men are are described as philosophers with their Faustian striving (p 51) do they manage to avoid that which fate holds for their lives. The vicissitudes of life are ever present in this sea story and vivid as they are they do not detract from the omnipresent nature of fate. Melville is poetic in his characterization of this aspect of our lives in the following passage from Chapter 60: Again: as the profound calm which only apparently precedes and prophesies of the storm, is perhaps more awful than the storm itself; for, indeed, the calm is but the wrapper and envelope of the storm; and contains it in itself, as the seemingly harmless rifle holds the fatal powder, and the ball, and the explosion; so the graceful repose of the line, as it silently serpentines about the oarsmen before being brought into actual play -- this is a thing which carries more of true terror than any other aspect of this dangerous affair. But why say more? All men live enveloped in whale-lines. All are born with halters around their necks; but it is only when caught in the swift , sudden turn of death, that mortals realize the silent, subtle, ever-present perils of life. And if you be a philosopher, though seated in the whale-boat, you would not at heart feel one whit more of terror, than though seated before your evening fire with a poker, and not a harpoon, by your side." (pp 280-1) In Melville's tale the warp and woof of life is always present in one form or another, whether discerned by the men who go whaling or stay home. We readers can only wonder at the progress of the tale and the lives therein; and try to make use of the lessons for our own life. For we are one with Ahab, at least it seems to be so, as if life is a game like this passage from the end of Chapter 118: "Well, well; I heard Ahab mutter, 'Here some one thrusts these cards into these old hands of mine; swears that I must play them, and no others.' And damn me, Ahab, but thou actest right; live in the game, and die in it!" (p 490)
red.yardbird on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Finally got around to reading this one - and I can see why it's a classic! There's not too many books that I've got on a list to re-read one day but this is one.
charlie68 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The writing is first rate and the plot enveloping. Although there is a lot of chapters that dont have anything to do with the plot it gives a very indepth look at the whaling industry in the early to mid nineteenth century.
SmartTed on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
So much more than a story about a man chasing a whale. The language is amazingly beautiful and so much of it is funny in ways I hadn't expected. I would recommend this to anyone who likes dense, luscious writing.
farnsworthk on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Knowing that I would never actually finish the book if I read it, I listened to the audiobook - all 24 hours of it! It is extremely well narrated. That said, it was mostly a terribly boring book. I loved the beginning when the protagonist meets Queequeg. The descriptions of whaling were also interesting, but it got really bogged down in the middle of the story and I really didn't care about what happened in the end. I am glad to have "read" the book, but it was a chore.