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 read to Chapter 87 and am continually amazed at the breadth and depth of Melville’s novel.  It is an astounding mix of geography, philosophy, nature studies and social criticism.  It is hard to imagine how he gathered all the information crammed it this book and how he allowed himself the creative freedom to wander through such wide-ranging ideas as free will, determinism, religion, slavery, freedom and natural science. 

Melville’s general knowledge of history, mythology and philosophy was incredibly broad.  He must have been a voracious reader. At one point he refers to the  “dread Goddess’s vail at Sais”.  I had to look this up and found a link that lead to Neith, the Egyptian goddess of war and hunting.  Further reading lead me to an interpretation of her name as “water”, possibly the primordial water of creation.

Then there is philosophy and Melville’s constant jabs at peoples beliefs.  Who but Melville would compare a Sperm Whale’s head to Kant or Locke?

From Chapter 73: Stubb and Flask Kill a Right Whale; and Then Have A Talk Over Him.

In good time, Flask’s saying proved true. As before, the Pequod steeply leaned over towards the sperm whale’s head, now, by the counterpoise of both heads, she regained her even keel; though sorely strained, you may well believe. So, when on one side you hoist in Locke’s head, you go over that way; but now, on the other side, hoist in Kant’s and you come back again; but in very poor plight. Thus, some minds for ever keep trimming boat. Oh, ye foolish! throw all these thunder-heads overboard, and then you will float light and right.

I loved the comparison between the Sperm Whale’s head and the Right Whale’s head and the descriptions of standing in their mouths and of the teeth and the baleen.  How did the author gain this knowledge, it reads as if he stood there himself. 

From Chapter 74: The Sperm Whale’s Head-Contrasted View

Let us now with whatever levers and steam-engines we have at hand, cant over the sperm whale’s head, that it may lie bottom up; then, ascending by a ladder to the summit, have a peep down the mouth; and were it not that the body is now completely separated from it, with a lantern we might descend into the great Kentucky Mammoth Cave of his stomach. But let us hold on here by this tooth, and look about us where we are. What a really beautiful and chaste-looking mouth! from floor to ceiling, lined, or rather papered with a glistening white membrane, glossy as bridal satins.

 Of course, he again falls back on philosophy.

From chapter 75: The Right Whale’s Head-Contrasted View

Can you catch the expression of the Sperm Whale’s there? It is the same he died with, only some of the longer wrinkles in the forehead seem now faded away. I think his broad brow to be full of a prairie-like placidity, born of a speculative indifference as to death. But mark the other head’s expression. See that amazing lower lip, pressed by accident against the vessel’s side, so as firmly to embrace the jaw. Does not this whole head seem to speak of an enormous practical resolution in facing death? This Right Whale I take to have been a Stoic; the Sperm Whale, a Platonian, who might have taken up Spinoza in his latter years.

Sorry, sorry, I just can’t help myself.  I have to offer these quotes.  I find myself laughing out loud and have no other why of explaining myself.  I just keep reading passages to whom ever while listen. 

But not all of it is so humorous.  I had a very hard time with the descriptions of the butchering.  I am sure that was Melville’s intent. 

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)

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4 Comments

Filed under Read-Along, Review

4 responses to “Moby Dick Monday

  1. Yes, Ishmael/Melville really is rather Joycean in the depth and breadth of his knowledge, in my opinion. And it’s so impressive how he manages to analogize every aspect of whaling to some political, philosophical, or sociological observations.

  2. Ti

    The amount of research contained within the novel is quite impressive. I’ve looked all over but I’m curious how long it took Melville to write the book. I know that he wrote all day, well into night but I’ve not been able to find out how long it took to complete.

    • Ti – The introduction to the copy I have says it took Melville a year and four months to write Moby Dick. The more I read the more I want to learn about the man that wrote this novel.

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