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.

  If we compare land animals in respect to magnitude, with those that take up their abode in the deep, we shall find they will appear contemptible in comparison.  The whale is doubtless the largest animal in creation.  Oliver Goldsmith – Natural History

It is done.  I have finished reading Moby Dick, or the Whale.  Ishmael has concluded his tale and Captain Ahab has met his match.  I am still amazed at the breadth and depth of this novel.  At 600 plus pages it is long and sometimes long-winded, but fully worth the read.  Melville’s writing is powerful and poetic, his discriptive language is visionary. 

From Chapter 111: The Pacific

     When gliding by the Bashee isles we emerged at last upon the great South Sea; were it not for other things, I could have greeted my dear Pacific with uncounted thanks, for now the long supplication of my youth was answered; that serene ocean rolled eastwards from me a thousand leagues of blue…

     To any meditative Magian rover, this serene Pacific, once beheld, must ever after be the sea of his adoption. It rolls the midmost waters of the world, the Indian ocean and Atlantic being but its arms. The same waves wash the moles of the new-built Californian towns, but yesterday planted by the recentest race of men, and lave the faded but still gorgeous skirts of Asiatic lands, older than Abraham; while all between float milky-ways of coral isles, and low-lying, endless, unknown Archipelagoes, and impenetrable Japans. Thus this mysterious, divine Pacific zones the world’s whole bulk about; makes all coasts one bay to it; seems the tide-beating heart of earth. Lifted by those eternal swells, you needs must own the seductive god, bowing your head to Pan.

At times I felt Melville was writing for the big screen.  I could imagine sitting in a hushed theater watching the Pequod rushing over a becalmed sea, chasing that white whale.  There is a film, made in the 1950’s, directed by John Huston and starring Gregory Peck.  I will have to watch it.

At times Biblical, at others Shakespearean, with dashes of humor and social criticism, Melville’s novel is a wonder.  And then, of course, there is the whale himself.

From Chapter 133: The Chase – First Day

Like noiseless nautilus shells, their light prows sped through the sea; but only slowly they neared the foe. As they neared him, the ocean grew still more smooth; seemed drawing a carpet over its waves; seemed a noon-meadow, so serenely it spread. At length the breathless hunter came so nigh his seemingly unsuspecting prey, that his entire dazzling hump was distinctly visible, sliding along the sea as if an isolated thing, and continually set in a revolving ring of finest, fleecy, greenish foam. He saw the vast, involved wrinkles of the slightly projecting head beyond. Before it, far out on the soft Turkish-rugged waters, went the glistening white shadow from his broad, milky forehead, a musical rippling playfully accompanying the shade; and behind, the blue waters interchangeably flowed over into the moving valley of his steady wake; and on either hand bright bubbles arose and danced by his side. But these were broken again by the light toes of hundreds of gay fowl softly feathering the sea, alternate with their fitful flight; and like to some flag-staff rising from the painted hull of an argosy, the tall but shattered pole of a recent lance projected from the white whale’s back; and at intervals one of the cloud of soft-toed fowls hovering, and to and fro skimming like a canopy over the fish, silently perched and rocked on this pole, the long tail feathers streaming like pennons.

A gentle joyousness—a mighty mildness of repose in swiftness, invested the gliding whale. Not the white bull Jupiter swimming away with ravished Europa clinging to his graceful horns; his lovely, leering eyes sideways intent upon the maid; with smooth bewitching fleetness, rippling straight for the nuptial bower in Crete; not Jove, not that great majesty Supreme! did surpass the glorified White Whale as he so divinely swam.

On each soft side—coincident with the parted swell, that but once leaving him, then flowed so wide away—on each bright side, the whale shed off enticings. No wonder there had been some among the hunters who namelessly transported and allured by all this serenity, had ventured to assail it; but had fatally found that quietude but the vesture of tornadoes. Yet calm, enticing calm, oh, whale! thou glidest on, to all who for the first time eye thee, no matter how many in that same way thou may’st have bejuggled and destroyed before.

At the time Herman Melville published this book, in 1851, few readers had any idea of what he had accomplished.  Most critics panned the book, calling it sad stuff, dreary, dull and ridiculous.  Of course, to have praise his novel would have given credence to his subversion of and challenges to manifest destiny, private enterprise and divine providence.  Melville died in 1891.  The few publications that mentioned his passing misspelled his name or the names of his books.  It wasn’t until after his death that people began reading and reviewing Moby Dick in a positive, constructive wat,  bringing to light a great American author and a great American novel.

I want to thank Ti for organizing this wonderful read-along. You can find the other readers by following these links:

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

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3 Comments

Filed under Classic, Read-Along

3 responses to “Moby Dick Monday

  1. Ti

    The part about how Melville was received after writing this novel is so interesting. This novel is truly a thing of beauty, there’s no mistaking that. It’s a shame that it took so many years for readers to appreciate its worth.

    However, since it took me 7 prior attempts and this last adventure to get me through it, I can sort of see how it happened. Thanks so much for joining me. I feel such a sense of accomplishment. Sigh.

  2. You are so right; I’m going into my netflix right now and ordering the Gregory Peck version. Why it never occurred to me until you said it is beyond me!!!!!

  3. Like Jill, thanks for the reminder that I t00 wanted to see the movie! FUn! I’m so glad we finished together, btw. :D

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