The Good, the Bad, and the Hungry Sale
 
 

Recently Viewed clear list


Original Essays | July 22, 2014

Nick Harkaway: IMG The Florist-Assassins



The three men lit up in my mind's eye, with footnotes. They were converging on me — and on the object I was carrying — in a way that had... Continue »
  1. $18.87 Sale Hardcover add to wish list

    Tigerman

    Nick Harkaway 9780385352413

spacer
Qualifying orders ship free.
$8.00
List price: $15.00
Used Trade Paper
Ships in 1 to 3 days
Add to Wishlist
available for shipping or prepaid pickup only
Available for In-store Pickup
in 7 to 12 days
Qty Store Section
12 Partner Warehouse General- General

Moby Dick: Or, the Whale (Modern Library Classics)

by

Moby Dick: Or, the Whale (Modern Library Classics) Cover

ISBN13: 9780679783275
ISBN10: 067978327x
Condition: Student Owned
All Product Details

 

 

Excerpt

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.

What Our Readers Are Saying

Add a comment for a chance to win!
Average customer rating based on 2 comments:

Beverly Nelson, July 7, 2012 (view all comments by Beverly Nelson)

Moby Dick: astoundingly contemporary, transgressive / subversive / innovative even by today's standards, nothing you would have imagined from the clichés attached to it or the film (as good a film as it is, it is not the book). Witty, hilarious, mysterious, homoerotic, suspenseful, philosophical, political, scientific, historical, a social commentary as relevant today as it was in 1851....Melville defied all standards and wrote the way he wanted to, about what he loved, despite rejection. He was ahead of his time, a literary inventor and revolutionary. The result is a "story" that will harpoon you to the back of a white whale and give you the thrill of a lifetime!

Take my advice and go read it now!

Bon voyage!



And if allowed, I'd like to also recommend a book for after you're finished: Dan Beachy-Quick's A Whaler's Dictionary, sold also here at Powell's and published by Milkweed.

Beverly Nelson


Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
MelvilleLover, October 22, 2009 (view all comments by MelvilleLover)
Intense, wordy, passionate... everything whale. No other novel like it.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No
(2 of 3 readers found this comment helpful)
View all 2 comments

Product Details

ISBN:
9780679783275
Subtitle:
or, The Whale
Author:
Melville, Herman
Introduction by:
Hardwick, Elizabeth
Introduction:
Hardwick, Elizabeth
Illustrator:
Kent, Rockwell
Author:
Hardwick, Elizabeth
Author:
Kent, Rockwell
Publisher:
Modern Library
Location:
New York
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Fiction
Subject:
Classics
Subject:
Sea & Ocean
Subject:
Mentally ill
Subject:
Adventure stories
Subject:
Epic literature
Subject:
Whales
Subject:
Whaling
Subject:
Sea stories
Subject:
Allegories
Subject:
Ahab, Captain
Subject:
Psychological fiction
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Edition Number:
2000
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series:
Modern Library Classics
Series Volume:
231
Publication Date:
20001010
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
267 BandW ILLUSTRATIONS
Pages:
896
Dimensions:
8 x 5.1 x 1.4 in 1.325 lb

Other books you might like

  1. Ahab's Wife: Or, the Star Gazer
    Used Trade Paper $2.95
  2. In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy...
    Used Trade Paper $4.50
  3. Green Shadows, White Whale: A Novel... Used Trade Paper $7.95
  4. The Wreck of the Whaleship Essex: A... Used Trade Paper $6.50
  5. The Plague (Vintage International)
    Used Trade Paper $7.50
  6. Imperial Life in the Emerald City:...
    Used Hardcover $3.50

Related Subjects

Featured Titles » General
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Popular Fiction » Nautical Fiction
History and Social Science » World History » General

Moby Dick: Or, the Whale (Modern Library Classics) Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$8.00 In Stock
Product details 896 pages Modern Library - English 9780679783275 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Responsive to the shaping forces of his age as only men of passionate imagination are, even Melville can hardly have been fully aware of how symbolical an American hero he had fashioned in Ahab."
"Synopsis" by , October 18, 2001, marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of the greatest novel in American literature. The Modern Library trade paperback edition exclusively features the timeless illustrations of Rockwell Kent, an Introduction by Elizabeth Hardwick, commentary by Herman Melville and William T. Porter, contemporary reviews from John Bull and The Critic, endnotes, and a reading group guide.
spacer
spacer
  • back to top
Follow us on...




Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.