Moby Dick Monday

Moby Dick, or, The Whale by Herman Melville

Tor Classics, New York, 1996

This book was mooched.

Moby Dick Monday is a read-along organized by Ti at Book Chatter.

I have to say I am really enjoying this book.  I read bits of it in high school and college and had never thought to read the whole thing until last fall, when I mooched this wonderful edition.  Then the opportunity to join the read-along came up and I had to jump in.

After Ismael’s rather long winded description of  Moby Dick and the terrible havoc he has created in his wake and of the horrible chaos created by whales in general we begin to catch a glimmer of Ahab’s intentions.  This supposed whaling voyage is turning into something other than those who signed on expected.  The Captain’s obsession is becoming clear.

From Chapter 46: Surmises

To accomplish his object Ahab must use tools; and of all tools used in the shadow of the moon, men are most apt to get out of order. He knew, for example, that however magnetic his ascendency in some respects was over Starbuck, yet that ascendency did not cover the complete spiritual man any more than mere corporeal superiority involves intellectual mastership; for to the purely spiritual, the intellectual but stand in a sort of corporeal relation. Starbuck’s body and Starbuck’s coerced will were Ahab’s, so long as Ahab kept his magnet at Starbuck’s brain; still he knew that for all this the chief mate, in his soul, abhorred his captain’s quest, and could he, would joyfully disintegrate himself from it, or even frustrate it. It might be that a long interval would elapse ere the White Whale was seen. During that long interval Starbuck would ever be apt to fall into open relapses of rebellion against his captain’s leadership, unless some ordinary, prudential, circumstantial influences were brought to bear upon him. Not only that, but the subtle insanity of Ahab respecting Moby Dick was noways more significantly manifested than in his superlative sense and shrewdness in foreseeing that, for the present, the hunt should in some way be stripped of that strange imaginative impiousness which naturally invested it; that the full terror of the voyage must be kept withdrawn into the obscure background (for few men’s courage is proof against protracted meditation unrelieved by action); that when they stood their long night watches, his officers and men must have some nearer things to think of than Moby Dick…

…Nor was Ahab unmindful of another thing. In times of strong emotion mankind disdain all base considerations; but such times are evanescent. The permanent constitutional condition of the manufactured man, thought Ahab, is sordidness. Granting that the White Whale fully incites the hearts of this my savage crew, and playing round their savageness even breeds a certain generous knight-errantism in them, still, while for the love of it they give chase to Moby Dick, they must also have food for their more common, daily appetites.perquisites by the way… I will not strip these men, thought Ahab, of all hopes of cash—aye, cash. They may scorn cash now; but let some months go by, and no perspective promise of it to them, and then this same quiescent cash all at once mutinying in them, this same cash would soon cashier Ahab…

…For all these reasons then, and others perhaps too analytic to be verbally developed here, Ahab plainly saw that he must still in a good degree continue true to the natural, nominal purpose of the Pequod’s voyage; observe all customary usages; and not only that, but force himself to evince all his well known passionate interest in the general pursuit of his profession.

I love Melville’s ability, his skill at capturing Ahab’s disdain for his crew,  his megalomania.  With the first sighting of whales we learn more secrets, a hidden crew for another whale boat.  This one lead by none other than Ahab himself.  Here is where all of Melville’s experience of sailing ships and whaling comes through in his writing.  I don’t believe I have ever read such accurate an description of being in a small boat on a rising sea.  It was enough to make me nauseous.  The physical strength and stamina it took to hunt whales is something I find hard to imagine.

From Chapter 48: The First Lowering.

It was a sight full of quick wonder and awe! The vast swells of the omnipotent sea; the surging, hollow roar they made, as they rolled along the eight gunwales, like gigantic bowls in a boundless bowling-green; the brief suspended agony of the boat, as it would tip for an instant on the knife-like edge of the sharper waves, that almost seemed threatening to cut it in two; the sudden profound dip into the watery glens and hollows; the keen spurrings and goadings to gain the top of the opposite hill; the headlong, sled-like slide down its other side;—all these, with the cries of the headsmen and harpooneers, and the shuddering gasps of the oarsmen, with the wondrous sight of the ivory Pequod bearing down upon her boats with outstretched sails, like a wild hen after her screaming brood;—all this was thrilling.

Things become clearer and spookier, Melville’s language becomes beautiful.  I think that, so far, my favorite chapter is 51: The Spirit-Spout.

And had you watched Ahab’s face that night, you would have thought that in him also two different things were warring. While his one live leg made lively echoes along the deck, every stroke of his dead limb sounded like a coffin-tap. On life and death this old man walked. But though the ship so swiftly sped, and though from every eye, like arrows, the eager glances shot, yet the silvery jet was no more seen that night. Every sailor swore he saw it once, but not a second time.

I have to give thanks to Project Gutenberg for their great work. Their online text allows me to cut and paste these quotes. Trying to type in the text from my little paperback edition would be more than my eyes could handle.  Come back next Monday for more of the story.

I am taking part in this adventure with others:

Ti at Book Chatter

Jill/Softdrink of Fizzy Thoughts

Jill of RhapsodyinBooks

Dar of Peeking Between the Pages

Eva of A Striped Armchair

Wisteria from Bookworm’s Dinner

Sandra at Fresh Ink Books

Claire from kiss a cloud (will join us in 2010)


Filed under Classic, Read-Along

14 responses to “Moby Dick Monday

  1. I had to give up…I just couldn’t take anymore. I’m glad you’re enjoying it, though!

  2. Eva

    I’ve finished it now, and my FAVOURITE scene is the first chasing after the whales. Like you, I thought the description of being in the small boats was wonderful. And the whale escapes! hehe

    • Eva – The first chase is something, when they end up in the squall and then lost in the fog. It just amazes me, the physical stamina something like that must have taken.

  3. I actually think it’s a darn good book! But I must admit I probably wouldn’t have picked it up without the Readalong. That’s one reason I like them; it gets you to read things you wouldn’t ordinarily!

  4. Ti

    The lowering of the boats was very exciting. Melville really puts the reader right in the middle of it. I could almost feel the spray upon my face.

  5. I love the quality of Melville’s prose! Thanks for sharing these passages – they reminded me how much I enjoyed this book years ago. :-)

  6. I enjoyed reading your thoughts on this book. I’m doing the group reading too. Melville’s writing is marvelous at times and I’m really enjoying it. My post for today is up:

  7. Y’all are so stalwart! And making me wonder if I might not have hated this book, had I read it for fun rather than being forced to read it in one week for a class.

  8. I’m so glad you’re enjoying Moby Dick. I read it a few semesters ago and was surprised to find myself liking it especially laughing at the funny parts. There were many times I was so nauseous while reading this book. There were also passages I had to read aloud to hear their beauty.

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