Thursday, July 24, 2008

Moby Dick

I finished Moby Dick. I borrowed it from elsewhere, (my library is closed for a year, remember?) and HAD to finish it because I am weird like that.

(Sorry Lisa but) I disliked it very much. I don't like to say Hate. It was just SO not my cup of tea. I enjoyed all that had to do with Queequeg and Ishmael, Starbuck and Stubb. The carpenter was interesting, the welder Perth was a well-written character. All the interactions between people were enjoyable.

Ahab was haunted, obsessed, possessed. "Ego non baptizo te in nomine patris, sed in nomine diaboli!!" I knew exactly what that meant without having to get it translated (helps being latina) and gasped. ("I baptize you not in the name of the Father but in the name of the devil," he cries as he dips the barbs of his weapon in the blood of Queequeg and Daggoo. ) He was beyond obsession, he was mad.

All this I enjoyed.

What I did not enjoy were the chapters upon chapters of "Ishmael" telling us about the kinds of whales they hunted. Their shapes and sizes and anatomy and physiology. How ones head is compared to another. How they are caught and cut up, what parts are valuable, how they are used to make oil, what they do with the bones, where they migrate to, what they do. It wasn't a little blurb. It was chapters and chapters of this. I felt like it was filler. I was in school, learning about whales from a boring teacher.

I often felt like there was something wrong with me for disliking it so. Then, I read the following reviews, published in the back of this copy of Moby Dick I borrowed. There were 3 published reviews. One was favorable, the other two said the following:

From the Literary Gazette (London, 12/06/1851):
This is an odd book, professing to be a novel; wantonly eccentric;
outrageously bombastic; in places charming and vividly descriptive. The author has
read up laboriously to make show of his cetalogical learning. .....Herman Melville is wise in this sort of wisdom. He uses it as stuffing to fill out his skeleton story. Bad stuffing it makes, serving only to try the patience of his readers, and to tempt them to wish both him and his whales at the bottom of an unfathomable sea. The story of this novel scarcely deserves the name.

From the United States Magazine and Democratic Review (New York, 01/1852)
Mr. Melville is evidently trying to ascertain how far the public will consent to be imposed upon. He is gauging, at once, our gullibility and our patience. Having written one or two passable extravagancies, he has considered himself privileged to produce as many more as he pleases, increasingly exaggerated and increasingly dull. .... We have no intention of quoting passages just now from "Moby Dick." The London journals, we understand, "have bestowed upon the work many flattering notices," and we should be loth to combat such high authority. But if there are any of our readers who wish to find examples of bad rhetoric, involved syntax, stilted sentiment and incoherent English, we will take liberty of recommending to them this precious volume of Mr. Melville's.

and then I didn't feel so bad.

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