Tag Archives: Melville

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

3 Comments

Filed under Classic, Read-Along

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’ve read another 60 pages or so and am still very happy with this book.  The more I read the more I want to learn about the author.

I do have a hard time with Melville’s descriptions of whale butchery.  I find it fascinating and appalling at the same time, knowing what the whaling industry did to cetacean populations.  Japanese whaling continues to decimate whales around the planet.  The Japanese Institute of Cetacean Research justifies whale hunting by population numbers but, according to many researchers,  here, here and here this claim is false.  The Japanese also hunt and kill Dolphins.  Watch The Cove, if you can.  I haven’t been able to watch it.

My favorite section this week comes from chapter 87.  I think that Melville once sat in a boat surrounded by a multitude of whales and had a similar experience.  Ismael’s description is overwhelming.  I found myself holding my breath as I read.  I wanted to be on that boat, watching those whales.

From Chapter 87: The Grand Armada

Now, inclusive of the occasional wide intervals between the revolving outer circles, and inclusive of the spaces between the various pods in any one of those circles, the entire area at this juncture, embraced by the whole multitude, must have contained at least two or three square miles. At any rate—though indeed such a test at such a time might be deceptive—spoutings might be discovered from our low boat that seemed playing up almost from the rim of the horizon. I mention this circumstance, because, as if the cows and calves had been purposely locked up in this innermost fold; and as if the wide extent of the herd had hitherto prevented them from learning the precise cause of its stopping; or, possibly, being so young, unsophisticated, and every way innocent and inexperienced; however it may have been, these smaller whales—now and then visiting our becalmed boat from the margin of the lake—evinced a wondrous fearlessness and confidence, or else a still becharmed panic which it was impossible not to marvel at. Like household dogs they came snuffling round us, right up to our gunwales, and touching them; till it almost seemed that some spell had suddenly domesticated them. Queequeg patted their foreheads; Starbuck scratched their backs with his lance; but fearful of the consequences, for the time refrained from darting it.

But far beneath this wondrous world upon the surface, another and still stranger world met our eyes as we gazed over the side. For, suspended in those watery vaults, floated the forms of the nursing mothers of the whales, and those that by their enormous girth seemed shortly to become mothers. The lake, as I have hinted, was to a considerable depth exceedingly transparent; and as human infants while suckling will calmly and fixedly gaze away from the breast, as if leading two different lives at the time; and while yet drawing mortal nourishment, be still spiritually feasting upon some unearthly reminiscence;—even so did the young of these whales seem looking up towards us, but not at us, as if we were but a bit of Gulfweed in their new-born sight. Floating on their sides, the mothers also seemed quietly eyeing us. One of these little infants, that from certain queer tokens seemed hardly a day old, might have measured some fourteen feet in length, and some six feet in girth. He was a little frisky; though as yet his body seemed scarce yet recovered from that irksome position it had so lately occupied in the maternal reticule; where, tail to head, and all ready for the final spring, the unborn whale lies bent like a Tartar’s bow. The delicate side-fins, and the palms of his flukes, still freshly retained the plaited crumpled appearance of a baby’s ears newly arrived from foreign parts.

I can not even imagine this huge gathering, I wonder if such an event happens.  I know Humpback whales gather in nurseries, do Sperm whales do the same?   I know a bit about Orcas and Humpbacks as we have them in the Northwest but know nothing about Sperm whales. Any whale scientists out there?

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

3 Comments

Filed under Classic, Read-Along

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)

4 Comments

Filed under Read-Along, Review

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)

14 Comments

Filed under Classic, Read-Along

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’ve reached Chapter 41, where we learn about Moby Dick through Ismael’s wordy ramblings.  To get here I’ve read through Ismael’s descriptions of the Pequod and her inhabitants,  his learned monograph on Cetology, a lovely evening meal with explanations of seating arrangements and a lesson on Main-heads and Crow’s Nests.

There is no life in thee, now, except that rocking life imparted by a gently rolling ship; by her, borrowed from the sea; by the sea, from the inscrutable tides of God. But while this sleep, this dream is on ye, move your foot or hand an inch; slip your hold at all; and your identity comes back in horror. Over Descartian vortices you hover. And perhaps, at mid-day, in the fairest weather, with one half-throttled shriek you drop through that transparent air into the summer sea, no more to rise for ever. Heed it well, ye Pantheists!  From page 167/168.

Ah, the gentle rocking of this ship.

And to finally meet the infamous Captain Ahab.  I absolutely loved his calling together of all and sundry, the offer of the gold piece for the white whale and his sharing of  the grog.   I am rather astounded by Melville’s playfulness, his use of so many forms and tropes.  The whole scene on the deck in Chapter 40 had me giggling.

But there does seem to be a bit of dissention in the ranks, at least as far as Starbuck is concerned, and I wonder where this will lead to, if someone will end up strung up from the yardarm.  Listen to the two men’s thoughts.

Ahab from Chapter 37: Sunset

‘Twas not so hard a task. I thought to find one stubborn, at the least; but my one cogged circle fits into all their various wheels, and they revolve. Or, if you will, like so many ant-hills of powder, they all stand before me; and I their match. Oh, hard! that to fire others, the match itself must needs be wasting! What I’ve dared, I’ve willed; and what I’ve willed, I’ll do! They think me mad—Starbuck does; but I’m demoniac, I am madness maddened! That wild madness that’s only calm to comprehend itself! The prophecy was that I should be dismembered; and—Aye! I lost this leg. I now prophesy that I will dismember my dismemberer. Now, then, be the prophet and the fulfiller one. That’s more than ye, ye great gods, ever were… Come, Ahab’s compliments to ye; come and see if ye can swerve me. Swerve me? ye cannot swerve me, else ye swerve yourselves! man has ye there. Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way! From page 177.

Starbuck from Chapter 38:Dusk

My soul is more than matched; she’s overmanned; and by a madman! Insufferable sting, that sanity should ground arms on such a field! But he drilled deep down, and blasted all my reason out of me! I think I see his impious end; but feel that I must help him to it. Will I, nill I, the ineffable thing has tied me to him; tows me with a cable I have no knife to cut. Horrible old man! Who’s over him, he cries;—aye, he would be a democrat to all above; look, how he lords it over all below! Oh! I plainly see my miserable office,—to obey, rebelling; and worse yet, to hate with touch of pity! For in his eyes I read some lurid woe would shrivel me up, had I it. Yet is there hope. Time and tide flow wide. The hated whale has the round watery world to swim in, as the small gold-fish has its glassy globe. His heaven-insulting purpose, God may wedge aside. I would up heart, were it not like lead. But my whole clock’s run down; my heart the all-controlling weight, I have no key to lift again. From page 178.

I am thoroughly enjoying this read-along and can not wait to read what others think of this  whale of an American classic.

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

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



9 Comments

Filed under Classic, Read-Along

Moby Dick Monday

Avast!  Ti at Book Chatter has organized a challenge/read-along called  Moby Dick Monday. After finishing Kirstin Lavransdatter I am happily joining in.  I had no idea of the depth of Melville’s sense of humor or his use of wit to enhance his biting commentary and am enjoying every page.

I have read up to chapter 19, trying to catch up with the other readers.

Ismael, determined to join a whaling crew and see the world, has met up with Queequeg under intimate circumstances.  Reflective and ever curious, Ismael is fascinated by this civilized savage and willing to join him in every endeavour.

I was a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church.  How then could I unite with this idolator in worshipping his piece of wood?  But what is worship? thought I.  Do you suppose now, Ismael, that the magnanimous God of heaven and earth-pagans and all included-can possibly be jealous of an insignificant bit of black wood?  Impossible!  But what is worship?- to do the will of God- that is worship.  And what is the will of God – to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man do to me –  that is the will of God.  Now, Queequeg is my fellow man.  And what do I wish that this Queequeg would do to me?  Why, unite with me in my particular Presbyterian form of worship.  Consequently, I must then unite with him in his; ergo, I must turn idolator.  From page 55.

Brave soul, Ismael, and quite adventurous for his time.  I love the descriptions of New Bedford and Nantucket, particularly the Try Pots and the many kinds of chowder!  And the description of the Pequod, with all that whale bone and ivory, was very creepy to me, thinking of  the destruction brought upon whale populations during this time in our history. Now Ismael and Queequeg have signed on to the ship and are about to begin their great journey.  I can not wait to meet Captain Ahab.

I have hesitated to read other people’s comments until I joined in the fun.  Here is a list of those reading along:

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

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

9 Comments

Filed under Classic, Read-Along