Moby Dick or The Whale

Overview


In Moby Dick Melville set out to write a "mighty book" on "a mighty theme." The editors of this critical text affirm that he succeeded. Nevertheless, their prolonged examination of the novel reveals textual flaws and anomalies that help to explain Melville's fears that his great work was in some ways a hash or a botch. A lengthy historical note also gives a fresh account of Melville's earlier literary career and his working conditions as he wrote; it also analyzes the book's contemporary reception and outlines ...
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Moby Dick; or, the Whale (Illustrated)

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Overview


In Moby Dick Melville set out to write a "mighty book" on "a mighty theme." The editors of this critical text affirm that he succeeded. Nevertheless, their prolonged examination of the novel reveals textual flaws and anomalies that help to explain Melville's fears that his great work was in some ways a hash or a botch. A lengthy historical note also gives a fresh account of Melville's earlier literary career and his working conditions as he wrote; it also analyzes the book's contemporary reception and outlines how it finally achieved fame. Other sections review theories of the book's genesis, detail the circumstances of its publication, and present documents closely relating to the story.

This scholarly edition is based on collations of both editions published during Melville's lifetime, it adopts 185 revisions and corrections from the English edition and incorporates 237 emendations by the series editors. This is an Approved Text of the Center for Editions of American Authors (Modern Language Association of America).

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
D.H. Lawrence Moby-Dick commands a stillness in the soul, an awe...[it is] one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520045484
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 8/16/1983
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 600
  • Sales rank: 1,387,833
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 1.75 (d)

Meet the Author


Herman Melville (1819-1891) was an American novelist, short story writer, poet and essayist. Melville toiled at various times as a sailor, banker, teacher and finally as a customs inspector. His novels include Typee, Omoo, and White Jacket, all published in authoritative editions by Northwestern University Press. He died in relative obscurity at the age of 72.

Biography

Herman Melville was born in August 1, 1819, in New York City, the son of a merchant. Only twelve when his father died bankrupt, young Herman tried work as a bank clerk, as a cabin-boy on a trip to Liverpool, and as an elementary schoolteacher, before shipping in January 1841 on the whaler Acushnet, bound for the Pacific. Deserting ship the following year in the Marquesas, he made his way to Tahiti and Honolulu, returning as ordinary seaman on the frigate United States to Boston, where he was discharged in October 1844. Books based on these adventures won him immediate success. By 1850 he was married, had acquired a farm near Pittsfield, Massachussetts (where he was the impetuous friend and neighbor of Nathaniel Hawthorne), and was hard at work on his masterpiece Moby-Dick.

Literary success soon faded; his complexity increasingly alienated readers. After a visit to the Holy Land in January 1857, he turned from writing prose fiction to poetry. In 1863, during the Civil War, he moved back to New York City, where from 1866-1885 he was a deputy inspector in the Custom House, and where, in 1891, he died. A draft of a final prose work, Billy Budd, Sailor, was left unfinished and uncollated, packed tidily away by his widow, where it remained until its rediscovery and publication in 1924.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).

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    1. Date of Birth:
      August 1, 1819
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      September 28, 1891
    2. Place of Death:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      Attended the Albany Academy in Albany, New York, until age 15

Read an Excerpt

Call me Ishmael. This resonant opening of Moby-Dick, the greatest novel in American literature, announces the narrator, Herman Melville, as he with a measure of slyness thought of himself. In the Scriptures Ishmael, a wild man sired by the overwhelming patriarch Abraham, was nevertheless the bastard son of a serving girl Hagar. The author himself was the offspring of two distinguished American families, the Melvilles of Boston and the Gansevoorts of Albany.

Melville's father cast something of a blight on the family escutcheon by his tendency to bankruptcy which passed down to his son. Dollars damn me, the son was to say over and over. When he sat down in the green landscape of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, to compose Moby-Dick he was in debt, the father of one son, and another to be born a few days after the publication of the novel in England.

Melville had published five novels previous to Moby-Dick; the first two did well, and then with the capriciousness of the public the subsequent novels failed to please. He was a known literary figure with a fading reputation. How he came upon the courage to undertake the challenging creation of the epical battle between a sea creature, a white whale called Moby Dick, and an old captain from Nantucket by the name of Ahab is one of literature's triumphant mysteries. Add to that, as one reads, that he was only thirty-two years old.

Ten years before, in 1841, he had signed up as a common seaman on the whaling vessel Acushnet bound for the South Seas. Young Ishmael was drawn by the lure of the sea and by the wonder of the whale itself, the Leviathan, the monarch of the deep, "one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air." Until the discovery of petroleum oil in 1859 and Thomas Edison's invention of the incandescent lamp in 1879, whaling was a major commercial occupation in New England. Fortunes were made, grand houses were built, often with a "widow's walk" on the roof that testified to the great dangers of the enterprise. For the crew, service on a whaler was a drastic life of unremitting labor; foul, crowded quarters; bad food in scanty servings; contractual terms for years at miserable wages; brutalized companions picked up from all the ports of the world; tyrannical captains practicing a "sultanism" which Melville abhorred. A ship afloat is after all a prison. Melville was on three whalers in his four years at sea and from each, as we read in Typee and Omoo, the struggle is to escape, as he did when the boats anchored near exotic islands. He wrote about the misery of the whaling life, but not about whaling itself until he came to Moby-Dick. His imaginary whaler, the Pequod, death bound as it is, would be called, for an ordinary seaman, an agreeable berth. Ahab has no interest left beyond his internal struggle with one whale.

Still, there is whaling, the presumption of it. When a whale is sighted small boats are detached from the main vessel and the men engage in a deadly battle to try to match, with flying harpoons, the whale's immense strength and desperation. If the great thing is captured, the deck of the main ship becomes an abattoir of blood and guts. The thick blubber is to be stripped, the huge head to be drained of its oils for soothing ambergris, for candles; the bones of the carcass make their way into corsets and umbrellas and scrimshaw trinkets. Moby-Dick is a history of cetology, an encylopedic telling of the qualities of the fin-back, the right whale, the hyena whale, the sperm whale, the killer whale, classified by size in mock academic form as folio, octavo, and so on.

Information about a vanished world is one thing, but, above all else, this astonishing book is a human tragedy of almost supernatural suspensiveness, written in a rushing flow of imaginative language, poetical intensity, metaphor and adjective of consuming beauty. It begins on the cobbled streets of New Bedford, where Ishmael is to spend a few days before boarding the Pequod in Nantucket. The opening pages have a boyish charm as he is brought to share a bed with a fellow sailor, the harpooner Queequeg, an outrageously tattoed "primitive" who will be his companion throughout the narrative. Great ships under sail gave the old ports a rich heritage of myth, gossip, exaggeration, and rhetorical flights. Ishmael, on a Sunday, visits a whaleman's chapel to hear the incomparable sermon by Father Mapple on Jonah and the whale, a majestic interlude, one of many in this torrential outburst of fictional genius.

As Ishmael and Queequeg proceed to Nantucket, the shadows of the plot begin to fall upon the pages. The recruits are interviewed by two retired sailors who will struggle to express the complicated nature of Captain Ahab. We learn that he has lost a leg, chewed off by a whale, and thus the fated voyage of the Pequod begins. Ahab has lost his leg to a white whale Moby Dick and is consumed with a passion for retribution. He will hunt the singular whale as a private destiny in the manner of ancient kings in a legendary world. However, Ahab is real and in command. The chief mate, Starbuck, understands the folly of the quest, the danger of it, and, as a thoughtful man longing to return to his wife and children, he will speak again and again the language of reason. "Vengeance on a dumb beast that simply smote thee from the blindest instinct! Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous."

The necessity of Starbuck's human distance from the implacable imperative of Ahab's quest illustrates the brilliant formation of this harrowing tale. But it is Ahab's story, his destiny, and, if on the one hand, he is a shabby, sea-worn sailor long mesmerized by mercurial oceans, he too has a wife at home and a child of his old age. We learn, as the story proceeds, that on a time ashore after his terrible wounding, he had fallen and by way of his whalebone leg been unmanned. He has suffered an incapacity not to be peacefully borne by one who in forty years had spent only three on land. Ahab knows the wild unsuitability of his nature, his remove from the common life.

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Table of Contents

Introduction Suggestions for Further Reading A Note on the Text

Etymology Extracts

Moby Dick

Loomings The Carpet Bag The Spouter-Inn The Counterpane Breakfast The Street The Chapel The Pulpit The Sermon A Bosom Friend Nightgown Biographical Wheelbarrow Nantucket Chowder The Ship The Ramadan His Mark The Prophet All Astir Going Aboard Merry Christmas The Lee Shore The Advocate Postscript Knights and Squires Knights and Squires Ahab Enter Ahab; to him, Stubb The Pipe Queen Mab Cetology The Specksynder The Cabin Table The Mast-Head The Quarter-Deck • Ahab and all Sunset Dusk First Night-Watch Forecastle—-Midnight Moby Dick The Whiteness of the Whale Hark!
The Chart The Affidavit Surmises The Mat-Maker The First Lowering The Hyena Ahab's Boat and Crew—-Fedallah The Spirit-Spout The Pequod meets the Albatross The Gam The Town Ho's Story Monstrous Pictures of Whales Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales Of Whales in Paint, in Teeth, &c.
Brit Squid The Line Stubb kills a Whale The Dart The Crotch Stubb's Supper The Whale as a Dish The Shark Massacre Cutting In The Blanket The Funeral The Sphynx The Pequod meets the Jeroboam • Her Story The Monkey-rope Stubb & Flask kill a Right Whale The Sperm Whale's Head The Right Whale's Head The Battering-Ram The Great Heidelburgh Tun Cistern and Buckets The Prairie The Nut The Pequod meets the Virgin The Honor and Glory of Whaling Jonah Historically Regarded Pitchpoling The Fountain The Tail The Grand Armada Schools & Schoolmasters Fast Fish and Loose Fish Heads or Tails The Pequod meets the Rose Bud Ambergris The Castaway A Squeeze of the Hand The Cassock The Try-Works The Lamp Stowing Down & Clearing Up The Doubloon The Pequod meets the Samuel Enderby of London The Decanter A Bower in the Arsacides Measurement of the Whale's Skeleton The Fossil Whale Does the Whale Diminish?
Ahab's Leg The Carpenter The Deck • Ahab and the Carpenter The Cabin • Ahab and Starbuck Queequeg in his Coffin The Pacific The Blacksmith The Forge The Gilder The Pequod meets the Bachelor The Dying Whale The Whale-Watch The Quadrant The Candles The Deck Midnight, on the Forecastle Midnight, Aloft The Musket The Needle The Log and Line The Life-Buoy Ahab and the Carpenter The Pequod meets the Rachel The Cabin •Ahab and Pip The Hat The Pequod meets the Delight The Symphony The Chase • First Day The Chase • Second Day The Chase • Third Day Epilogue

List of Textual Emendations Explanatory Notes Glossary of Nautical Terms Maps and Illustrations

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Reading Group Guide

1. What is the significance of the whale? What do you think Melville intends in developing such a vicious antagonism between Ahab and the whale?

2. How does the presence of Queequeg, particularly his status as a "savage," inform the novel? How does Melville depict this cultural clash?

3. How does whaling as an industry function metaphorically throughout the novel? Where does man fit in in this scenario?

4. Melville explores the divide between evil and virtue, justice and vengeance throughout the novel. What, ultimately, is his conclusion? What is Ahab's?

5. What do you think of the role, if any, played by religion in the novel? Do you think religious conventions are replaced or subverted in some way? Discuss.

6. Discuss the novel's philosophical subtext. How does this contribute to the basic plot involving Ahab's search for the whale? Is this Ishmael's purpose in the novel?

7. Discuss the role of women in the novel. What does their conspicuous absence mean in the overall context of the novel?

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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 14, 2002

    Requiem for Great Works of American Lit

    As a fine purveyor of Victorian and neo-classical texts of American literature over the last four years of high school and some semesters of college, it is evidence from Melville's philosophical commentary and theological references for which makes his characters existential nothingness and Solopism much more facscinating. As a matter of fact, I did not read Moby Dick just because some educator told me it was a requesitional reading for all Seniors; alternatively, I did by subjective choice and infatuation with the principles of existentialism and psychology. Moby Dick is a commensurate text for those who are wanting to become heard core insomniacs or for those people who just cannot resist the temptation of introspective reading. I myself periodically, have stayed up reading it until the early hours of the morning(with no puns intended). However, for those of you who don't like have to spend multitudes of hours reading, I would recommend not reading it.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 30, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    There are quite a few editions of Moby Dick being published, and I've seen most of them, but this edition is one of the best: the illustrations are simple yet beautifully arty; the typeset is kool; and it has a neat cover! Well, I dont know about most book collectors, but I judge books by their covers!

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  • Posted May 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    One of the best American novels ever written

    Moby Dick is one of those rare novels that captures a particular historical moment while, at the same time, remaining timeless. Gripping drama, tense action, compelling characters and a setting so rarely glimpsed in history - the period in America between the Revolutionary and the Civil Wars. It was a time when America was discovering itself as the characters are discovering themselves. And it was the height of an industry of which, like slavery, we are all still a little ashamed. Whaling was a profitable, dangerous, and engaging occupation for a young man in those days. But when the Captain of your ship is obsessed with taking vengeance on his tormentor it would be an experience you could never forget. Assuming, of course, that you survived. Complicated, compelling, beautifully written, and always a classic, Moby-Dick is a must-read for any American lover of literature.

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    Posted August 24, 2009

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