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 read 75 pages this week and am now in the middle of a whale butchering.  Ismael’s descriptions are vivid and bloody and make it clear to me that Melville must have witnessed a whale hunt or spent many hours listening to those who had.

I enjoyed Ismael’s long-winded discussion about ships that meet on the open sea and the chapter on “gamming” but what was all that ranting about the depictions of whales?  Was Melville taking shots at artists claiming to have seen or hunted whales?  Was he being critical of other writers?

There were two parts of this last week’s reading that I really enjoyed. 

First, the description of the sighting of the Giant Squid, long a legend on the high seas.  There are many famous images of Giant Squid and Whales in furious battle.  I chuckled at the last paragraph, the reference to the Cuttlefish.  Squid and Cuttlefish are related, they are both Cephalopods, along with the Octopus.

Next, the chapter titled The Line.  This chapter is so well put together, so finely detailed, that I could hear that “magical, sometimes horrible whale-line’ singing as it whipped out of the boat, feel it running past my face.  Here, read…

From Chapter 60: The Line

Thus the whale-line folds the whole boat in its complicated coils, twisting and writhing around it in almost every direction. All the oarsmen are involved in its perilous contortions; so that to the timid eye of the landsman, they seem as Indian jugglers, with the deadliest snakes sportively festooning their limbs. Nor can any son of mortal woman, for the first time, seat himself amid those hempen intricacies, and while straining his utmost at the oar, bethink him that at any unknown instant the harpoon may be darted, and all these horrible contortions be put in play like ringed lightnings; he cannot be thus circumstanced without a shudder that makes the very marrow in his bones to quiver in him like a shaken jelly. Yet habit—strange thing! what cannot habit accomplish?—Gayer sallies, more merry mirth, better jokes, and brighter repartees, you never heard over your mahogany, than you will hear over the half-inch white cedar of the whale-boat, when thus hung in hangman’s nooses; and, like the six burghers of Calais before King Edward, the six men composing the crew pull into the jaws of death, with a halter around every neck, as you may say.

Perhaps a very little thought will now enable you to account for those repeated whaling disasters—some few of which are casually chronicled—of this man or that man being taken out of the boat by the line, and lost. For, when the line is darting out, to be seated then in the boat, is like being seated in the midst of the manifold whizzings of a steam-engine in full play, when every flying beam, and shaft, and wheel, is grazing you. It is worse; for you cannot sit motionless in the heart of these perils, because the boat is rocking like a cradle, and you are pitched one way and the other, without the slightest warning; and only by a certain self-adjusting buoyancy and simultaneousness of volition and action, can you escape being made a Mazeppa of, and run away with where the all-seeing sun himself could never pierce you out.  Found at Project Gutenberg.

And what is a Mazeppa, you ask?  I can’t be sure, but I think Melville is making reference to a poem by Lord Byron.  I am amazed by the layers and threads of thought that run through this novel.

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 Read-Along

8 responses to “Moby Dick Monday

  1. I might have to give in and start making room for Moby-Dick a chapter or two at a time, Gavin. I’m totally overbooked with other reading right now, but these summaries of yours are just too damn entertaining for me to stay on the sidelines for too much longer!

    • Richrd – I’m reading Roberto Bolano: The Last Interview right now. Did you know that Moby Dick was one of his favorite novels?
      It really is an amazing book.

  2. Ti

    You are a little bit ahead of me as I haven’t hit the whale gore as of yet. I didn’t understand that chapter about the depictions of whales either. It seemed to me as if Melville was saying that you pretty much cannot imagine it unless you’ve seen one up close.

    • I agree with you. I wonder if others were writing (and drawing and painting) about whaling at that point in time and if Melville was being critical in his own rather pointed and sarcastic manner.

  3. Mazeppa is definitely a reference to the 1819 poem by Lord Byron and refers to being tied to the back of a wild horse.

  4. Yay! You like it, too. I absolutely am loving it, Gavin. Just started the other night and have yet to read everyone’s posts, but glad to see we are on the same page. Well, I kind of knew you’d love it, being a sea-lover.. :) I stopped at Chapter 31 but will continue next weekend. Hope to catch up with all of you soon.

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