FIRST-TIME READERS BEWARE - FIRST 100-ODD PAGES OF INNOCUOUS SEA ADVENTURE BELIE THE SEA CHANGE WHICH THEN TAKES PLACE.  PLACES GRAND, SHAKESPEAREAN DISCOURSE ALONGSIDE DOWN-DIRTY EVERYDAY LANGUAGE, ALL IN WHAT WAS THEN THOUROUGHLY, DISGRACEFULLY CONTEMPORARY/MUNDANE CONTEXT OF WHALING INDUSTRY - A VITAL BUT NOT EXACTLY A GLAMOROUS PART OF 19TH CENTURY LIFE. "this business of whaling has somehow come to be regarded among landsmen as a rather unpoetical and disreputable pursuit" p.116

 

BOOK'S RECEPTION - THE PATCHWORK NATURE, PART REALISM PART METAPHYSICS, MIXING MULTITUDE OF ELEMENTS, THOUGH CLEARLY INTENDED AND SINGPOSTED THROUGHOUT, LED TO HIS DOWNFALL.  WITH ADVENT OF MODERNISM (LITERATURE AND CRITICISM), EARLY 20TH CENTURY, ALL QUALITIES WHICH MADE MOBY DICK A FAILURE IN ITS OWN TIME ASSURED ITS RISE TO EMINENCE. 

 

((SAMPLING OF SUCH))LIKE THE PAINTING - The 'squitchy, spotchy' painting as ultimate metaphor for/warning of the book.  'delineate chaos bewitched' - ONE OF THE MOST ANALYSED, DISMANTLED, THEORISED NOVELS IN MODERN LITERATURE.  EVERY INTERPRETATION COUNTERED/REINFORCED OVER TIME, HAS BEEN READ AS STRAIGHT ADVENTURE NARRATIVE WITH AIRS, ALLEGORICAL NATIONAL EPIC FOR AMERICA.  PERHAPS CLEAREST INTERPRETATION THAT BOOK IS ABOUT ITSELF - OBSESSIVE HUNTER SACRIFICING ALL COMMERCIAL/MATERIAL CONCERNS, ULTIMATELY HIS LIFE (OR, AT LEAST, LIVELIHOOD) IN PURSUIT OF INDEFINABLE GOAL.

 

 

Melville published Moby-Dick in 1851 during a productive time in American literature, which also produced novels such as Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. Two actual events inspired Melville's tale. One was the sinking of the Nantucket ship Essex in 1820, after it was rammed by a large sperm whale 2,000 miles (3,200 km) from the western coast of South America. First mate Owen Chase, one of eight survivors, recorded the events in his 1821 Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex. Already out-of-print, the book was rare even in 1851.   Knowing that Melville was looking for it, his father-in-law, Lemuel Shaw, managed to find a copy and buy it for him. When Melville received it, he fell to it almost immediately, heavily annotating it  

The other event was the alleged killing in the late 1830s of the albino sperm whale Mocha Dick, in the waters off the Chilean island of Mocha. Mocha Dick had dozens of harpoons from attacks by other whalers, and appeared to attack ships with premeditated ferocity. One of his battles with a whaler served as subject for an article by explorer Jeremiah N. Reynolds   in the May 1839 issue of The Knickerbocker, New York Monthly Magazine. Melville was familiar with the article, which described "an old bull whale, of prodigious size and strength... [that] was white as wool".   Significantly, Reynolds writes a first-person narration that serves as a frame for the story of a whaling captain he meets. The captain resembles Ahab and suggests a possible symbolism for whales in that, when his crew first encounters Mocha Dick and cowers from him, the captain rallies them thus: "'Mocha Dick or the d----l [devil],' said I, 'this boat never sheers off from any thing that wears the shape of a whale.'" 

 

MELVILLE - playful use of sources, real and imaginary.

http://www.nha.org/history/hn/HN-fall1991-bercaw.html

Very notion of scholarly insight ridiculed....