|From Herman Melville, Mariner and Mystic
by Raymond M. Weaver, 1921
On this day in 1819, Melville was born in New York City to Allan Melville (a merchant whose father was a Revolutionary War hero) and Maria Gansevoort (whose father was a commander at Fort Stanwix during the Revolutionary War).
Which is why I have picked this day of all days to start my long-awaited, much-anticipated Moby-Dick Readalong.
That’s 137 chapters (including the Extracts and Epilogue).
A chapter-a-day is also too big a commitment.
So I have simply set a start date and an end date with the idea of reading and listening to 3-4 chapters a week.
This allows for a slow week or two when life gets busy, with catch up sessions during the quieter weeks.
I will use a Google Doc spreadsheet to keep me on track, but I won’t be following it religiously.
With such an auspicious start date – Melville’s 200th birthday – I needed an equally relevant end date.
I chose the month he started writing Moby-Dick in 1850 – February.
Therefore, on the 29th Feb 2020, 170 years after Melville sat down to write this American classic, we will finish our Moby-Dick Readalong.
Stunning. One of the most – no, the most elaborately detailed book I have ever read. Not the most exciting plot, not the easiest language, not too many exciting sub-layers to the story. But definitely, positively one of the best books ever written. It took me 7 months to get through (and I’m an insanely fast reader) but it was well worth it.
My verdict – shows potential in places but requires a severe edit to rid it of all the extraneous nonsense and to improve the narrative flow.
I’ve come to realise that I have a complication relationship with this novel. Some parts of it I loved and thought were superbly conceived and written. Other sections made me despair and wish for an end to what seemed an eternity of boredom.
What I didn’t expect was just how odd of a tapestry this book is. There are adventure bits. There are poetical, metaphysical digressions. There is bawdy humor and Shakespearean soliloquies. And yes, a lot about whales and whaling.
I was reminded of lessons at school where all I wanted was that this class would be over and the next, more interesting one, would begin.
On a more hopeful note, Louise @A Strong Belief in Wicker alerted me to this wonderful article,
Subversive, queer and terrifyingly relevant: six reasons why Moby-Dick is the novel for our timesby Philip Hoare in The Guardian this week. Hoare says that,
Not only is it very funny and very subversive, but it maps out the modern world as if Melville had lived his life in the future and was only waiting for us to catch up.
- skim the tedious bits
- prepare for digressions and detailed descriptions of whaling
- read some of the sentences out loud
- watch for insights into the American archetypes
- & homo-erotic passages
- note influences from Shakespeare, Hawthorne and the Bible
- read a few of Melville’s letters to Hawthorne
- engage with Melville’s intellectual challenge & wit