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Moby Dick o la Balena by Herman Melville

Moby Dick o la Balena (original 1851; edition 2001)

by Herman Melville

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21,43833362 (3.82)6 / 1120
Title:Moby Dick o la Balena
Authors:Herman Melville
Info:Adelphia (2001), Perfect Paperback
Collections:Your library

Work details

Moby Dick by Herman Melville (1851)

  1. 140
    The Sea Wolf by Jack London (wvlibrarydude)
  2. 130
    In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex by Nathaniel Philbrick (jseger9000)
    jseger9000: In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex tells the true story that inspired Melville to write Moby Dick.
  3. 90
    Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad (_eskarina)
  4. 60
    Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana (knownever)
    knownever: A more enjoyable, shorter, and less allegorical story of sailing life, although there aren't any whales. The author of this one kind of looks down on whalers. All together a more jaunty sea tale.
  5. 50
    The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea by Philip Hoare (chrisharpe, John_Vaughan)
  6. 50
    The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe (caflores)
  7. 40
    The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (caflores)
  8. 41
    Why Read Moby-Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick (John_Vaughan)
  9. 31
    Genoa: A Telling of Wonders by Paul Metcalf (rickyrickyricky)
    rickyrickyricky: Melville's heir struggles to close his relationship to his preceding literary genius. Click the link above, read what you can, and get yourself hooked on one of the most critically-adored yet criminally-underread novels written in a century defined by self-analysis and experimentation.… (more)
  10. 31
    Railsea by China Miéville (Longshanks)
    Longshanks: An imaginative, affectionate pastiche of the novel's themes, imagery, and characters.
  11. 32
    The Myth of Sisyphus and other essays by Albert Camus (WilfGehlen)
    WilfGehlen: Camus was greatly influenced by Melville and in The Myth of Sisyphus mentions Moby-Dick as a truly absurd work. Reading Moby-Dick with Camus' absurd in mind gives a deeper, and very different insight than provided by the usual emphasis on Ahab's quest for revenge.… (more)
  12. 32
    Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner (ateolf)
  13. 43
    Ahab's Wife by Sena Jeter Naslund (ecleirs24, AriadneAranea)
    ecleirs24: Cause this novel is based upon a passage from Mobi Dick......
  14. 44
    Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian (caflores)
    caflores: Para amantes del lenguaje náutico y de las descripciones detalladas.
  15. 22
    The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade by Herman Melville (GaryPatella)
    GaryPatella: Compared to Moby Dick, The Confidence Man is a much lighter read. But after ploughing through Moby Dick, this may be a welcome change. It is not as profound, but you also don't have to struggle through any of it. This is worth reading.
  16. 11
    The Last Fish Tale by Mark Kurlansky (John_Vaughan)
  17. 44
    Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham (JGKC)
  18. 11
    Oil! by Upton Sinclair (edwinbcn)
  19. 11
    The Nautical Chart by Arturo Pérez-Reverte (Ronoc)
  20. 14
    Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon (ateolf)

(see all 23 recommendations)

Romans (14)

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I listened to this as a podcast (www.mobydickbigread.com). In 2011, artists at Plyouth University set out to read the entire book as a part of a symposium the school was putting on. They gathered a group of diverse people to record each chapter. From scientists, artists, actors (like Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton), politicians (British PM David Cameron), to just regular folks. Overall, an excellent listening experience.

As far as the book itself is concerned. Mellville said "I have written a wicked book, and I feel as spotless as he lamb". Another quote I read said "... its barely a novel". Both are very accurate. Surrounding the main narrative, as told by Ismael, of Ahab's mad obession with the white whale, are chapters on the history of whaling, biology and taxonomy of whales and other digressions. At times the prose is almost poetry. I know there's a lot of allusion, metaphor and subtext that I missed but that's always been difficult with me.

Its a bucket-list book that I'm glad I read. Recommend the podcast version.


S: 3/19/16 - F: 4/26/16 (39 Days) ( )
  mahsdad | May 1, 2016 |
I'm still not exactly sure what to think about this book. It's so many things. ( )
  BooksForYears | Apr 1, 2016 |
I'm still not exactly sure what to think about this book. It's so many things. ( )
  BooksForYears | Apr 1, 2016 |
19 chapters. NINETEEN chapters in and Ishmael has only JUST stepped foot in a ship. *headdesk*
  benuathanasia | Mar 29, 2016 |
Herman Melville


Barnes & Noble, Hardback, 1993.

8vo. xix+479 pp.

First published as The Whale by Richard Bentley (3 vols.), 18 October 1851.
First American Edition by Harper & Brothers, 14 November 1851.


Extracts (Supplied by a Sub-Sub-Librarian).

Chapter 1: Loomings
Chapter 2: The Carpet-Bag
Chapter 3: The Spouter-Inn
Chapter 4: The Counterpane
Chapter 5: Breakfast
Chapter 6: The Street
Chapter 7: The Chapel
Chapter 8: The Pulpit
Chapter 9: The Sermon
Chapter 10: A Bosom Friend
Chapter 11: Nightgown
Chapter 12: Biographical
Chapter 13: Wheelbarrow
Chapter 14: Nantucket
Chapter 15: Chowder
Chapter 16: The Ship
Chapter 17: The Ramadan
Chapter 18: His Mark
Chapter 19: The Prophet
Chapter 20: All Astir
Chapter 21: Going Aboard
Chapter 22: Merry Christmas
Chapter 23: The Lee Shore
Chapter 24: The Advocate
Chapter 25: Postscript
Chapter 26: Knights and Squires
Chapter 27: Knights and Squires
Chapter 28: Ahab
Chapter 29: Enter Ahab; to Him, Stubb
Chapter 30: The Pipe
Chapter 31: Queen Mab
Chapter 32: Cetology
Chapter 33: The Specksnyder
Chapter 34: The Cabin-Table
Chapter 35: The Mast-Head
Chapter 36: The Quarter-Deck
Chapter 37: Sunset
Chapter 38: Dusk
Chapter 39: First Night Watch
Chapter 40: Midnight, Forecastle
Chapter 41: Moby Dick
Chapter 42: The Whiteness of the Whale
Chapter 43: Hark!
Chapter 44: The Chart
Chapter 45: The Affidavit
Chapter 46: Surmises
Chapter 47: The Mat-Maker
Chapter 48: The First Lowering
Chapter 49: The Hyena
Chapter 50: Ahab's Boat and Crew; Fedallah
Chapter 51: The Spirit-Spout
Chapter 52: The Albatross
Chapter 53: The Gam
Chapter 54: The Town-Ho's Story
Chapter 55: Of the Monstrous Pictures of Whales
Chapter 56: Of the Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales, and the True Pictures of Whaling Scenes
Chapter 57: Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in Sheet-Iron; in Stone; in Mountains; in Stars
Chapter 58: Brit
Chapter 59: Squid
Chapter 60: The Line
Chapter 61: Stubb Kills a Whale
Chapter 62: The Dart
Chapter 63: The Crotch
Chapter 64: Stubb's Supper
Chapter 65: The Whale as a Dish
Chapter 66: The Shark Massacre
Chapter 67: Cutting In
Chapter 68: The Blanket
Chapter 69: The Funeral
Chapter 70: The Sphynx
Chapter 71: The Jeroboam's Story
Chapter 72: The Monkey-Rope
Chapter 73: Stubb and Flask Kill a Right Whale; and Then Have a Talk
Chapter 74: The Sperm Whale's Head – Contrasted View
Chapter 75: The Right Whale's Head – Contrasted View
Chapter 76: The Battering-Ram
Chapter 77: The Great Heidelburgh Tun
Chapter 78: Cistern and Buckets
Chapter 79: The Prairie
Chapter 80: The Nut
Chapter 81: The Pequod Meets The Virgin
Chapter 82: The Honour and Glory of Whaling
Chapter 83: Jonah Historically Regarded
Chapter 84: Pitchpoling
Chapter 85: The Fountain
Chapter 86: The Tail
Chapter 87: The Grand Armada
Chapter 88: Schools and Schoolmasters
Chapter 89: Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish
Chapter 90: Heads or Tails
Chapter 91: The Pequod Meets The Rose-Bud
Chapter 92: Ambergris
Chapter 93: The Castaway
Chapter 94: A Squeeze of the Hand
Chapter 95: The Cassock
Chapter 96: The Try-Works
Chapter 97: The Lamp
Chapter 98: Stowing Down and Clearing Up
Chapter 99: The Doubloon
Chapter 100: Leg and Arm
Chapter 101: The Decanter
Chapter 102: A Bower in the Arsacides
Chapter 103: Measurement of The Whale's Skeleton
Chapter 104: The Fossil Whale
Chapter 105: Does the Whale's Magnitude Diminish? – Will He Perish?
Chapter 106: Ahab's Leg
Chapter 107: The Carpenter
Chapter 108: Ahab and the Carpenter
Chapter 109: Ahab and Starbuck in the Cabin
Chapter 110: Queequeg in His Coffin
Chapter 111: The Pacific
Chapter 112: The Blacksmith
Chapter 113: The Forge
Chapter 114: The Gilder
Chapter 115: The Pequod Meets The Bachelor
Chapter 116: The Dying Whale
Chapter 117: The Whale Watch
Chapter 118: The Quadrant
Chapter 119: The Candles
Chapter 120: The Deck Towards the End of the First Night Watch
Chapter 121: Midnight. – The Forecastle Bulwarks
Chapter 122: Midnight Aloft. – Thunder and Lightning
Chapter 123: The Musket
Chapter 124: The Needle
Chapter 125: The Log and Line
Chapter 126: The Life-Buoy
Chapter 127: The Deck
Chapter 128: The Pequod Meets The Rachel
Chapter 129: The Cabin
Chapter 130: The Hat
Chapter 131: The Pequod Meets The Delight
Chapter 132: The Symphony
Chapter 133: The Chase – First Day
Chapter 134: The Chase – Second Day
Chapter 135: The Chase – Third Day



My introduction to Moby-Dick was the Led Zeppelin song with John “Bonzo” Bonham’s outstanding drum solo, quite a bit extended in some live versions. Later came the movies; John Huston’s 1956 epic with a great screenplay by Ray Bradbury and nowhere near as bad an Ahab by Gregory Peck as suggested by many reviews; the excellent 1998 mini-series with Patrick Stewart’s compelling performance as the Doomed Creature; and the melodramatic 2011 mini-series with William Hurt and Ethan Hawke doing no justice to the principals. Finally, after a good deal of procrastination, I came to the novel. I wish I’d come to it sooner.

An erudite Amazon reviewer once told me that, once I get into it, Middlemarch is nowhere near as tough as Moby Dick. It was the opposite with me. Eliot’s so-called masterpiece dragged for months, tried my patience in the extreme, and I believed not a word of it. Melville’s unique book I found compulsively readable and, for all its grandiloquence, thoroughly convincing. Mind you, it was a slow and hard read, because I wanted to savour the prose and I didn’t want it to end. But end it did, and all too fast, and I was faced with the frightful challenge of describing the tremendous effect Moby-Dick had on me. This turned out to be far more difficult than reading the complete thing – and re-reading a great deal of it – but for what it’s worth, here is the final result.

As a novel, Moby-Dick is a failure. As an exercise in creative writing, it is a masterpiece. It is slow-paced, wildly descriptive and maddeningly digressive – and I don’t mean only the chapters on whaling. Ishmael is just fond of pausing to reflect on every aspect of “the ungraspable phantom of life”. He is supposed to be the first-person narrator, but sometimes he disappears for several chapters on end and we are left to conversations, situations and even thoughts he could hardly have known. On the other hand, the book is full with unforgettable characters, all of them larger than life and never tinged with anything as sordid as realism (the last refuge of mediocrity); it has the tragic grandeur and propulsive inevitability of a Wagnerian music drama; and it explores the eternal questions of human speculation (what are we? why are we here? where are we going?) in shattering depth.

The writing is no prose at all. It is sheer poetry. I have never read anything like it, least of all in a novel. Extravagant rhetoric, exquisite humour, arresting imagery, allusions, metaphors and similes drawn from all the world history are mixed into an improbable cocktail that has no right to exist on the printed page. Not only does it exist, but Melville handles it with incredible virtuosity. So much so, that his quaint, rather archaic vocabulary and his strangely twisted rhythm (both far more suitable to poetry), even his impossible verbosity, simply pale into insignificance. Gorgeous turns of phrase (e.g. “damp, drizzly November in my soul”, “witchery of social czarship”, “almost frantic democracy”, “day-break was yet some way down the future”) occur on nearly every page. Sometimes they are heaped on with breathtaking audacity. Who else could describe night and day in the Tropics like that?

The warmly cool, clear, ringing, perfumed, overflowing, redundant days, were as crystal goblets of Persian sherbet, heaped up – flaked up, with rose-water snow. The starred and stately nights seemed haughty dames in jewelled velvets, nursing at home in lonely pride, the memory of their absent conquering Earls, the golden helmeted suns! For sleeping man, 'twas hard to choose between such winsome days and such seducing nights.

Or consider this description, from the short but essential Chapter 23, of the eternal restlessness that haunts sailors:

When on that shivering winter's night, the Pequod thrust her vindictive bows into the cold malicious waves, who should I see standing at her helm but Bulkington! I looked with sympathetic awe and fearfulness upon the man, who in mid-winter just landed from a four years' dangerous voyage, could so unrestingly push off again for still another tempestuous term. The land seemed scorching to his feet. Wonderfullest things are ever the unmentionable; deep memories yield no epitaphs; this six-inch chapter is the stoneless grave of Bulkington. Let me only say that it fared with him as with the storm-tossed ship, that miserably drives along the leeward land. The port would fain give succor; the port is pitiful; in the port is safety, comfort, hearthstone, supper, warm blankets, friends, all that's kind to our mortalities. But in that gale, the port, the land, is that ship's direst jeopardy; she must fly all hospitality; one touch of land, though it but graze the keel, would make her shudder through and through. With all her might she crowds all sail off shore; in so doing, fights 'gainst the very winds that fain would blow her homeward; seeks all the lashed sea's landlessness again; for refuge's sake forlornly rushing into peril; her only friend her bitterest foe!

Honestly, can even the greatest landlubber read the opening chapter of Moby-Dick without wanting to go on a sea journey?

When you come to look more closely into Melville’s exceptionally allusive language, its intricate organisation is astonishing. Consulting at least one annotated edition is highly recommended, but one must be careful with editors who try to leave no stone unturned. Historical allusions include, to name but few of the best known, Cato, Carthage, the Colossus of Rhodes, Alexander the Great, Cambyses, Caesar, Anthony, Cleopatra, Xerxes, Napoleon, Nelson, Cooke and countless other names. Literary influences range from the pervasive influence of Sir Thomas Browne and the Bible to Shakespeare, Carlyle and even Byron. Sometimes Melville, consciously or not, sounds much like a prose equivalent of Shakespeare on whaling (“full of Leviathanism, but signifying nothing”). At another place he quotes Byron in the same manner: “Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean, roll! / Ten thousand blubber-hunters sweep over thee in vain.” These are the first lines of stanza 179 from the last fourth canto of Childe Harold.[1] The original runs as follows and, needless to say, is more than relevant:

Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean – roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin – his control
Stops with the shore; – upon the watery plain
The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain
A shadow of man's ravage, save his own,
When, for a moment, like a drop of rain,
He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan –
Without a grave – unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown.

Melville’s grandly rhetorical writing may need some time to get used to. But once you’ve done that, you can never have enough of it. Evidently, it is a very personal style. If it happens to correspond with some mainspring of your nature, you find it irresistible and suggestive on multiple levels. If it doesn’t, you find it the tedious rambling of a lunatic. Nothing wrong with that. Then leave it alone and proceed to the next book.

Two last points on Melville’s style.

First, of course it is not consistently excellent. No style over a long book is, least of all one as grand as Meville’s. Sometimes his rhythm becomes clumsy, his rhetoric pretentious, and his meaning obscure. But make no mistake: it doesn’t happen often. If you feel it does, that only means you’re not reading carefully.

Second, don’t underestimate Melville’s humour. It is prodigious and pervasive. It has no problem existing side by side with the grandiloquence. It is usually subtle and rather easy to miss, flickering for a sentence or two. But sometimes it is obvious, hilarious and most welcome as a relaxation from the generally gloomy narrative. My favourite example comes in Chapter 45. I’ve read it at least ten times and I have laughed my head off each one of them. Boy, have I laughed! If weren’t sitting in a comfortable armchair, I might well have fallen on the ground:

Conversation turning upon whales, the Commodore was pleased to be sceptical touching the amazing strength ascribed to them by the professional gentlemen present. He peremptorily denied for example, that any whale could so smite his stout sloop-of-war as to cause her to leak so much as a thimbleful. Very good; but there is more coming. Some weeks after, the Commodore set sail in this impregnable craft for Valparaiso. But he was stopped on the way by a portly sperm whale, that begged a few moments' confidential business with him. That business consisted in fetching the Commodore's craft such a thwack, that with all his pumps going he made straight for the nearest port to heave down and repair. I am not superstitious, but I consider the Commodore's interview with that whale as providential. Was not Saul of Tarsus converted from unbelief by a similar fright? I tell you, the sperm whale will stand no nonsense.

The style is unique and so is the humour, but neither is more than a means to an end. And if the end is not worthy, no style, however brilliant, can save the work from being of ephemeral value. Melville knew this very well indeed. “To produce a mighty book”, he says in Chapter 104, “you must choose a mighty theme” [my emphasis]. So he did. If your book is to be a lasting success, I might add, you must choose mighty characters. So Melville did. The two central characters on which he built that mighty set of “prolonged and fugal variations”[2] are certainly two of the most unforgettable creatures of fiction.

Ishmael, in addition to being sailor, raconteur, philosopher, mystic, cetologist and historian, is also a humanist. The touching friendship with Queequeg is nothing if not a humanistic appeal for religious tolerance and sympathy with different races, creeds and cultures. It is frightfully and unfortunately modern. This is extended aboard of Pequod where the members of a vastly international crew seem to be getting along pretty well. Now, Queequeg, a chief’s son from the South Seas, is called all the right words fashionable at the time of writing, such as “savage” and “idolator”, but our narrator invariably treats him with kindness, consideration and even admiration. He does not hesitate to “try a Pagan friend”. Ishmael’s final conclusion on religious diversity is decidedly secular:

…and Heaven have mercy on us all – Presbyterians and Pagans alike – for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending.

“I was a good Christian”, Ishmael says, “born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church.” But I do suspect this “infallible” is rather ironic and he is more than a little free thinker. There is certainly nothing missionary about him: “I cherish the greatest respect towards everybody's religious obligations, never mind how comical, and could not find it in my heart to undervalue even a congregation of ants worshipping a toad-stool”. I reckon remarks like “better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian” and “Christian kindness has proved but hollow courtesy” didn’t win many new friends to Melville, either.

In spite of his convoluted prolixity, Ishmael can always surprise with concise insight into human nature that gives me pause for reflection.

But when a man suspects any wrong, it sometimes happens that if he be already involved in the matter, he insensibly strives to cover up his suspicions even from himself. And much this way it was with me. I said nothing, and tried to think nothing.

For be a man's intellectual superiority what it will, it can never assume the practical, available supremacy over other men, without the aid of some sort of external arts and entrenchments, always, in themselves, more or less paltry and base.

…for few men's courage is proof against protracted meditation unrelieved by action…

Human madness is oftentimes a cunning and most feline thing. When you think it fled, it may have but become transfigured into some still subtler form.

Human madness? This, of course, is the central theme of the book. Ahab is its most terrifying incarnation, but Ishmael is by no means exempt from it.

Guess what our narrator finds most terrifying about Moby Dick? Why, “The Whiteness of the Whale” of course! Chapter 42 is a tremendous feat of imaginative writing. It is quite a challenge to follow Ishmael’s painstaking analysis of the white “hue” and its profound effect on the human race as a symbol of both good and bad. Much of this may initially seem irrelevant, but it isn’t. Finally, it all boils down to this: sensitive and imaginative people are apt to fall victims of superstitions. Ishmael is one such man. He is terrified of white in all of its incarnations, from the whiteness of dead bodies to whiteness as symbol of the void, of nothingness. He cannot live in a purposeless and meaningless world. Restlessly searching for the meaning of it all and not finding it, he succumbs to superstition. Ironically, here superstition comes, not out of ignorance as with most sailors, but from too much education and overactive imagination.

Thus Ishmael’s charming observation that “we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending” becomes much larger than its original religious context. Indeed we are. Ishmael’s passion for entirely irrational connections is typical for the mentality of conspiracy theorists. Such people, though they may not know it, are also disgusted with the meaninglessness of the world and try to attach some purpose to it. Truth to tell, very few of us are exempt from such fantasies. Even those who pride themselves on being “rationalists”, creatures of reason not swayed by the mass hysteria for fairy tales, even they have private and purely irrational fantasies not admitted to anybody, perhaps not even to themselves, but there they are. And who is to tell how much they influence our conscious actions or when and under what circumstances they can escalate into destructive insanity? In the short Chapter 58, Melville provides a striking image of this subtle, and rather unstable, madness common to us all:

The first boat we read of, floated on an ocean, that with Portuguese vengeance had whelmed a whole world without leaving so much as a widow. That same ocean rolls now; that same ocean destroyed the wrecked ships of last year. Yea, foolish mortals, Noah's flood is not yet subsided; two thirds of the fair world it yet covers.
Consider all this; and then turn to this green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!

In short, Ishmael is a small-scale version of Ahab. He is just as mad as the doomed captain. It is just that his madness is subtler. That is all.

You must go to the Greek dramatists for anything like that sense of doom with which everything you are told about him fills you, and to Shakespeare to find beings of such terrible power.[3]

Thus wrote Somerset Maugham of Captain Ahab. The master of Pequod is indeed one of the greatest and most vengeful monomaniacs in fiction. He is often compared to Wagner’s Flying Dutchman or Jack London’s Sea Wolf, but the latter case is superficial and the former ridiculous. The Dutchman has the chance of redemption through a woman’s love. This is denied to Ahab. We are told that he has married a “sweet, resigned girl” and has a child from her, and though Ahab seems to be fond of them, as it becomes clear in the end (Chapter 132), his fondness is not enough to make him resign his vengeful quest. As for Wolf Larssen, he does have the same terrible aura of doom around him, but he is on a much, much lower level of intensity. Also, the reasons for his disgust with the world, as well as both the inward and outward manifestations of it, are rather different than Ahab’s.

Captain Ahab is not a tragic hero, nor is he an anti-hero. He is a cautionary tale about the extremes of human madness and its devastating effects when, unlike Ishmael’s, it affects the lives of the other people as well. It’s good to keep in mind that the difference between Ishmael and Ahab is one of degree, not of kind.

The only trouble with Ahab is that he just isn’t around most of the time. He is not seen at all until Chapter 28, he first speaks at some length only in Chapter 36, and he rather keeps himself to himself until the last thirty chapters or so when he becomes progressively more prominent and less forgettable. But his appearance is well prepared by Elijah, the sinister prophet from Chapter 19, and Captain Peleg who offers a tantalising sketch in absentia (Chapter 16):

He's a queer man, Captain Ahab – so some think – but a good one. Oh, thou'lt like him well enough; no fear, no fear. He's a grand, ungodly, god-like man, Captain Ahab; doesn't speak much; but, when he does speak, then you may well listen. Mark ye, be forewarned; Ahab's above the common; Ahab's been in colleges, as well as 'mong the cannibals; been used to deeper wonders than the waves; fixed his fiery lance in mightier, stranger foes than whales.
I know Captain Ahab well; I've sailed with him as mate years ago; I know what he is – a good man – not a pious, good man, like Bildad, but a swearing good man – something like me – only there's a good deal more of him. Aye, aye, I know that he was never very jolly; and I know that on the passage home, he was a little out of his mind for a spell; but it was the sharp shooting pains in his bleeding stump that brought that about, as any one might see. I know, too, that ever since he lost his leg last voyage by that accursed whale, he's been a kind of moody – desperate moody, and savage sometimes; but that will all pass off. And once for all, let me tell thee and assure thee, young man, it's better to sail with a moody good captain than a laughing bad one.

Needless to say, Captain Peleg is quite wrong that Ahab’s moodiness will “pass off”. In fact, it has already turned into something much more frightening, something well beyond the point of no return. Ahab’s obsession with Moby Dick is yet unknown to everybody, including the reader.

That it was indeed Moby Dick who turned Ahab into a “poor pegging lubber” is made explicit in the great scene when the Captain reveals the real purpose of their voyage to the crew and nails the golden doubloon to the mast (Chapter 36). “Vengeance on a dumb brute! that simply smote thee from blindest instinct!” – immediately cries in dismay Starbuck, first mate, future godfather of Starbucks and altogether a very nice fellow of spotless integrity – “Madness! To be enraged with a dumb thing, Captain Ahab, seems blasphemous.” Ahab’s reply to this piece of common sense is not only the famous and often quoted (out of the context) “I’d strike the sun if it insulted me”, but something that sounds much like Ishmael’s metaphysical conspiracy theories:

All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event – in the living act, the undoubted deed – there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there's naught beyond. But 'tis enough. He tasks me; he heaps me; I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principal, I will wreak that hate upon him. Talk not to me of blasphemy, man; I'd strike the sun if it insulted me. For could the sun do that, then could I do the other; since there is ever a sort of fair play herein, jealousy presiding over all creations. But not my master, man, is even that fair play. Who's over me? Truth hath no confines.

The lost leg is not the reason for Ahab’s vengeful obsession. Rather, it is the last drop that overfills the cup of his delusions, the last straw that breaks the fragile shell of his sanity. Similar cases of mutilation have been survived both in the novel and in the real life. The captain of Samuel Enderby of London (Chapter 100) lost one of his arms to the very Moby Dick in question, but he has the good sense (“ain't one limb enough?”) to leave the White Whale alone. Ahab has long since passed the stage where common sense makes any sense at all. The Dutch musician and underwater filmmaker Henri Bource (1935–1998) had one of his legs bitten off by a shark in 1964, but that didn’t prevent him from leading a full life for the next almost 34 years. He even resumed diving mere six weeks after the accident. Bource is an inspiring example of courage and zest for life. Ahab lacks these qualities and he takes the “easy” way out. He descends into madness, or in Melville’s splendid language: “He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it.” In other words, Ahab turns the White Whale into a symbol. It is one of the great ironies in literary history that Moby-Dick, possibly the most symbolically dissected book of all time, could just as easily be read as a warning against the perils of symbolism.

One of the best things about Ahab is that Melville tries neither to melodramatize nor to monsterize him. For all of his large-than-life extravagance, Ahab is not quite as unbelievable as you would expect. He may not be a hero, but he is not a villain either. Like the rest of us, he is a mixture of both. In the eponymous Chapter 41, Ahab’s degradation on the return journey from his first encounter with Moby Dick – “then it was, that his torn body and gashed soul bled into one another; and so interfusing, made him mad” – is described with great understanding and not without compassion. Though he finally drives everybody save Ishmael to their death, Ahab is not a tyrannous captain. He treats his crew with consideration and allows them to hunt other whales as well, partly because he needs them until the White Whale is killed and has to keep them occupied (“for few men's courage is proof against protracted meditation unrelieved by action”, remember), but no doubt also because he respects them and wants to make sure that they would profit from the journey. He knows perfectly well how far his influence over Starbuck extends and how easily the first mate may become the leader of mutiny, but he trusts the man and even confides into him things he probably has never said to anybody else. Ahab’s mind, in short, is a curious cocktail of self-destructive insanity and cold rational logic how best to manipulate his men. This is beautifully explained in the modestly titled chapter 46.

Readers who like themselves so much that they can’t read books without “likable” characters – that is, characters who act and think like themselves – probably won’t be interested in Captain Ahab. Those who are less self-centred and more curious about human nature might just find the deranged captain compelling and thought-provoking.

As for Moby Dick (or “Moby-Dick”, as the pedants insist), he must be the most powerful title character since writing was invented. He barely appears until the breathtaking chase in the last chapters, yet he controls the action, such as it is, for most of the time. He has an illustrious record of maimed and killed whalemen, but calling him “judiciously malicious” is certainly unjust. He does no more than attacking the attackers. There is no evidence that he ever attacked a ship or a boat that didn’t chase him with the hardly disguised intention of killing him. It was pure self-defence, the assertion of the instinct for self-preservation which is the first and most important prerogative of every living being. Ishmael is dead right that “there is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.” If there is any symbol in this book, it is the whiteness of Moby Dick symbolising his innocence.

Last and least, a few words about Encyclopaedia Whalenica. It is not as bad as you might have heard. It takes no fewer than 30 chapters (24-25, 32, 45, 53, 55-57, 60, 62-63, 74-77, 79-80, 82-86, 88-90, 101-105), yet all of them are written in Ishmael’s inimitable style. Of course the facts must not be taken seriously, partly because they have become greatly dated, but more importantly because Melville no doubt took huge liberties with them. The ode to whaling in Chapters 24-25 is certainly based on historical fact, but one mustn’t make too much of Ishmael’s (Melville’s?) claim that “a whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard”. When he hails “Perseus, St. George, Hercules, Jonah, and Vishnoo” as whalemen, he is clearly having a lot of fun. Exaggeration for poetic or dramatic purposes is highly characteristic of Melville’s style in general, and it is sad to see great creative writers taken in by what is obviously meant metaphorically.

The aptly named Chapter 32 is actually quite funny, never mind that describing whale as “a spouting fish with a horizontal tail” is an example of spectacular zoological ignorance. Our narrator being of literary inclination, he separates whales to three Books according to their size: folio, octavo and duodecimo. Each Book has several Chapters for the different species. One is described as “a whale-hater, as some men are man-haters”, another is “of a retiring nature, he eludes both hunters and philosophers”, third “carries an everlasting Mephistophelean grin on his face”, and so on. In a perfectly charming footnote, Ishmael addresses a few debatable cases of fish which some naturalists class with the whales, but as they differ significantly “and especially as they do not spout”, our intrepid cetologist “presented them with their passports to quit the Kingdom of Cetology”. Isn’t that sweet?

That said, not even the most ludicrously symbolic interpretation can make a decent case that all that material has a place here. Certainly, a few bits about the behaviour of whales (“Affidavit”) or their hunting (“The Dart”, “The Crotch”) are quite relevant to the book, but these are just a few paragraphs and could easily have been inserted into the main narrative. The rest is quite superfluous, if often entertaining and used as the basis of fascinating philosophical speculations. Somerset Maugham has suggested that Melville included those chapters because he couldn’t help showing off his knowledge. I guess this is as good a reason as any.

I myself think that Melville wrote these chapters for the simple reason that, like many another self-educated man, he attached an exaggerated importance to the knowledge he had so painfully acquired and could not resist the temptation to parade it, just as in his earlier writings he “called up Burton, Shakespeare, Byron, Milton, Coleridge and Chesterfield, as well as Prometheus and Cinderella, Mahomet and Cleopatra, Madonna and Houris, Medici and Mussulman, to stew carelessly across his pages.”[5]

Like every great book, Moby-Dick can and should be read multiple times on multiple levels, including far-fetched symbolic and allegorical ones if that’s what you’re fond of. The one thing it must never be taken for is Encyclopaedia Whalenica. Melville had another whale to fry. For my part, in addition to a singularly enticing authorial voice, the book captures the mystery and majesty of the sea, and the pleasures and perils of sea life (not necessarily on a whaling ship), as no one else before or since. As for the mystery (if there is one) and the majesty (such as it is) of our fleeting existence, pervaded by insecurity that all too often leads to madness, haunted by fear of death and life, blinded by religion and science alike, Melville captures them, too, as forcefully as they can be captured on paper. I conclude this little essay with the words Somerset Maugham chose to conclude his far better attempt:

I have said, and said again, that in order to get a real insight into a great novel you must know what there is to be known about the man who wrote it. I have an idea that in the case of Melville something like the contrary obtains. When one reads, and re-reads, Moby Dick, it seems to me that one gets a more convincing, a more definite, impression of the man than from anything one may learn of his life and circumstances; an impression of a man endowed by nature with a great gift blighted by an evil genius, so that, like the agave, no sooner had it put forth its splendid blooming than it withered; a moody, unhappy man tormented by instincts he shrank from with horror; a man conscious that the virtue had gone out of him, and embittered by failure and poverty; a man of heart craving for friendship, only to find that friendship too was vanity. Such, as I see him, was Herman Melville, a man whom one can only regard with deep compassion.[6]

[1] Harold Beaver in the old Penguin Classics edition (1986, p. 764) amusingly puts this stanza in “Canto VII”. But he is right to quote it complete and to remark that “it anticipates the final catastrophe”.
[2] Ibid., p. 700.
[3] W. Somerset Maugham, Ten Novels and Their Authors, Heinemann, 1954, p. 202.
[4] W. Somerset Maugham and Arthur C. Clarke. Maugham (ibid., p. 195) condemned Ahab’s sniffing two different odours with his two nostrils at the same time (Chapter 111) as an impossible feat. Clarke (Astounding Days, Gollancz, 1990 [1989], pp. 47-8) objected that no squid, however giant, could be “furlongs in length and breadth”. Melville was far from stupid and he certainly meant neither literally. To criticise him on such grounds is simply inane. You might as well criticise Byron for making Lucifer a character in his drama Cain (1821).
[5] Maugham, ibid., p. 201.
[6] Maugham, ibid., pp. 202-3. ( )
  Waldstein | Mar 4, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 301 (next | show all)
Forfatter: Herman Melville

Moby Dick I
«Kall meg Ismael. For noen år siden - akkurat når det var, er likegyldig - bestemte jeg meg for å gå til sjøs og lære verdenshavene å kjenne. Jeg hadde lite eller ingenting å leve av, og ikke noe særlig som interesserte meg på land. Gå til sjøs - på den måten har jeg ofte drevet tungsinn på flukt og regulert blodomløpet.»
Slik begynner verdens kanskje mest kjente roman, romanen som stiller de vanskeligste og viktigste spørsmål; om det ondes og godes natur og om viljens mulighet til å trosse skjebnen.

Moby Dick II
Historien om kaptein Akabs glødende hat til den hvite hvalen fortsetter:
«Riggen levde. Mastetoppene var som høye palmer, var vidt behengt med armer og ben. Enkelte av sjøfolkene klynget seg til spirene med den ene hånden, mens de utålmodig viftet med den andre. Noen satt ytterst ute på de gyngende rærne og skjermet øynene mot det skarpe solskinnet. Hele riggen var full av dødelige mennesker, rede og modne til å ta imot sin skjebne. Å, hvor de stirret ut gjennom det uendelige blå, for å oppdage det vesen som kanskje skulle ødelegge dem!»

Herman Melville
Herman Melville (1819-1891), amerikansk forfatter, essayist og poet. Melville blir ansett å være blant de fremste amerikanske forfattere gjennom tidene, og hans hovedverk Moby Dick (1851) regnes som en av verdenslitteraturens største romaner. Samtidens forfattere hadde gått på de «riktige» skolene, mens Melvilles bakgrunn var annerledes. Han ble født inn i en rikmannsfamilie, men måtte tidlig greie seg selv. Som ung gutt gikk han til sjøs og sa senere; «havet ble mitt universitet». Melville hadde store reiser og merkelig eventyr bak seg da Moby Dick kom ut. Han hadde seilt i over fire år, var to ganger rundt Kapp Horn og hadde levd blant kannibaler etter at han deserterte på Marquesas-øyene. Melville kjente virkelig til det livet han beskriver i boken, et farefullt liv i jakten på havets gull, spermasetthvalens verdifulle olje.
added by KystbiblioteketOslo | editFlyt Forlag, Anne Nygren

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Melville, Hermanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Adler, Mortimer J.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Beaver, Harold LowtherEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
D'Agostino, NemiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Delbanco, AndrewIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fadiman, CliftonIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jendis, MatthiasTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kent, RockwellIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moser, BarryIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Muller, FrankNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mummendey, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pavese, CesareTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Quirk, TomCommentarysecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rathjen, FriedhelmTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Robinson, BoardmanIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Turner, J.M.W.Cover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
VIOLA MEYNELLEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Walcutt, Charles ChildEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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There Leviathan, Hugest of living creatures, in the deep
Stretch'd like a promontory sleeps or swims,
And seems a moving land; and at his gills
Draws in, and at his breath spouts out a sea.
In token

of my admiration for his genius,

This Book is Inscribed


Nathaniel Hawthorne.
First words
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.
Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off — then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. ...from Chapter 1 : Loomings
"If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me."
All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event--in the living act, the undoubted deed—there, some unknown but still reasoning thing put forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. Sometimes I think there's naught beyond. But 'tis enough.
To the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee.
Last words
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Disambiguation notice
Please do not combine adaptations or abridged editions of Moby Dick with unabridged versions. Versions aimed at children are normally abridged editions and should not be combined here. Also, books ABOUT Moby Dick (such as study guides) should not be combined with the unabridged nor the abridged novel. Please keep such books as an independent work.
The Penguin Classics 150th Anniversary Ed (ISBN 0142000086) is not abridged, although that word has appeared in some user's data.
Norton Critical editions, Longman Critical editions and other scholarly editions should not be combined with the unabridged novel. The scholarly-type editions contain much additional material so they should be considered as separate works.
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This book is in public domain in the USA and the e-book is available free online ...

1851 : Moby-Dick published

On this day in 1851, Moby-Dick, a novel by Herman Melville about the
voyage of the whaling ship Pequod, is published by Harper & Brothers
in New York. Moby-Dick is now considered a great classic of American
literature and contains one of the most famous opening lines in
fiction: "Call me Ishmael." Initially, though, the book about Captain
Ahab and his quest for a giant white whale was a flop.

Herman Melville was born in New York City in 1819 and as a young man
spent time in the merchant marines, the U.S. Navy and on a whaling
ship in the South Seas. In 1846, he published his first novel, Typee,
a romantic adventure based on his experiences in Polynesia. The book
was a success and a sequel, Omoo, was published in 1847. Three more
novels followed, with mixed critical and commercial results.
Melville's sixth book, Moby-Dick, was first published in October 1951
in London, in three volumes titled The Whale, and then in the U.S. a
month later. Melville had promised his publisher an adventure story
similar to his popular earlier works, but instead, Moby-Dick was a
tragic epic, influenced in part by Melville's friend and Pittsfield,
Massachusetts, neighbor, Nathaniel Hawthorne, whose novels include The
Scarlet Letter.

After Moby-Dick's disappointing reception, Melville continued to
produce novels, short stories (Bartleby) and poetry, but writing
wasn't paying the bills so in 1865 he returned to New York to work as
a customs inspector, a job he held for 20 years.

Melville died in 1891, largely forgotten by the literary world. By the
1920s, scholars had rediscovered his work, particularly Moby-Dick,
which would eventually become a staple of high school reading lists
across the United States. Billy Budd, Melville's final novel, was
published in 1924, 33 years after his death.

*Note: Information provided by History.com
Haiku summary
Call me Ishmael.
Score: Whale 1, Ahab 0.
I alone returned.

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0142437247, Paperback)

Over a century and a half after its publication, Moby-Dick still stands as an indisputable literary classic. It is the story of an eerily compelling madman pursuing an unholy war against a creature as vast and dangerous and unknowable as the sea itself. But more than just a novel of adventure, more than an encyclopedia of whaling lore and legend, Moby-Dick is a haunting, mesmerizing, and important social commentary populated with several of the most unforgettable and enduring characters in literature. Written with wonderfully redemptive humor, Moby-Dick is a profound and timeless inquiry into character, faith, and the nature of perception.

@greatwhitetale Call me Ishmael. You could call me something else if you want, but since that’s my name, it would make sense to call me Ishmael.

Captain obsessed with finding a whale called Moby Dick. Sounds like the meanest VD ever, if you ask me. Sorry. Old joke. Couldn’t resist.

From Twitterature: The World's Greatest Books in Twenty Tweets or Less

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:32 -0400)

(see all 9 descriptions)

Moby-Dick] is an 1851 novel by Herman Melville. The story tells the adventures of the wandering sailor Ishmael and his voyage on the whaleship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab. Ishmael soon learns that Ahab seeks one specific whale, Moby Dick, a white whale of tremendous size and ferocity. Comparatively few whaleships know of Moby Dick, and fewer yet have encountered him. In a previous encounter, the whale destroyed Ahab's boat and bit off his leg. Ahab intends to take revenge. -- Wikipedia.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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