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).
Elizabeth Hardwick (1916–2007) is the author of many books and essays, including Herman Melville (Penguin Lives), American Fictions, and Seduction and Betrayal: Women and Literature.
Date of Birth:August 1, 1819
Date of Death:September 28, 1891
Place of Birth:New York, New York
Place of Death:New York, New York
Education:Attended the Albany Academy in Albany, New York, until age 15
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.
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 Abroad
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 Specksynder
Chapter 34. The Cabin Table
Chapter 35. The Mast-Head
Chapter 36. The Quarter-Deck. Ahab and all
Chapter 37. Sunset
Chapter 38. Dusk
Chapter 39. First Night-Watch
Chapter 40. ForecastleMidnight
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 CrewFedallah
Chapter 51. The Spirit-Spout
Chapter 52. The Pequod meets the Albatross
Chapter 53. The Gam
Chapter 54. The Town Ho's Story
Chapter 55. Monstrous Pictures of Whales
Chapter 56. Less Erroneous Pictures of Whales
Chapter 57. Of Whales in Paint, in teeth, &c.
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 Pequod meets the Jeroboam. Her Story
Chapter 72. The Monkey-rope
Chapter 73. Stubb & Flask kill a Right Whale
Chapter 74. The Sperm Whale's Head
Chapter 75. The Right Whale's Head
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 Honor 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 & 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 & Clearing Up
Chapter 99. The Doubloon
Chapter 100. The Pequod meets the Samuel Enderby of London
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 Diminish?
Chapter 106. Ahab's Leg
Chapter 107. The Carpenter
Chapter 108. The Deck. Ahab and the Carpenter
Chapter 109. The Cabin. Ahab and Starbuch
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
Chapter 121. Midnight, on the Forecastle
Chapter 122. Midnight, Aloft
Chapter 123. The Musket
Chapter 124. The Needle
Chapter 125. The Log and Line
Chapter 126. The Life-Buoy
Chapter 127. Ahab and the Carpenter
Chapter 128. The Pequod meets the Rachel
Chapter 129. The Cabin. Ahab and Pip
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
Note on the Text
Discussions of Adopted Readings
List of Emendations
Report of Line-End Hyphenation
List fo Substantive Variants
Melville's Notes (1849-51) in a Shakespeare Volume
Melville's Notes in Chase's Narrative of the Essex
Melville's Acshnet Crew Memorandum
The Hubbard Copy of The Whale
The Jones Copy of Moby-Dick and the Harper Whale Title Page
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?
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.From the Publisher