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In A Brown Study, 18

October 7, 2016

IN TOKEN of my admiration for his genius, this book is inscribed to —

NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE

So begins Moby Dick by Herman Melville. It was the sixth novel in the series of nine that Melville wrote, and it received poor reviews. One reviewer stated, “If Melville had been contented with writing one or two books, he might have been famous, but his vanity has destroyed all his chances for immortality.”

His first two books,Typee: A Peep At Polynesian Life and Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas were extremely popular, were popular, their success,making their author famous. Fame belongs to a time, and without the right kind of  fuel, its fire will be soon extinguished. Melville earned only about $10,000 for his lifetime of writing, and by 1876, all of his books were out of print.

Nathaniel Hawthorne in his unsigned review of Typee called the romance “an appealing mixture of narrative and adventure- a skillfully written narrative.”

” Melville sent Hawthorne a copy of Moby Dick, remarking, “I have written a wicked book and I feel spotless as a lamb. He had written the volume in a year and a half and undoubtedly felt shorn.

Moby Dick is more than a whale. It is an obsession, and obsessions can steal the soul. The action takes place on a small whaling ship, the Pequod, and the main character is Ahab, the charismatic captain who pursues the white whale that took his leg. The wound has made Ahab insane with the desire for revenge. In the Bible, Ahab is a wicked king who bowed before Baal and against God despite the warnings of the prophet Elijah. (1 Kings 16-18) Ahab was killed in battle.

Most of the story is told by the narrator. “Call me Ishmael,” he claims reminding us of the illegitimate son of Abraham whose mother Hagar was saved by God. (Genesis 25: 12-18). Ishmael testifies in the epilogue, “and only I am escaped to tell.” What an adventure he had! Why did the book get such harsh reviews from the critics? Was it too long? too complicated? too offensive?

In the 19th century whales were nearly exterminated by the need for lamp oil. Moby Dick reminds us of human nature which keeps trying to overcome mother nature, of friendship, of the bestiality of humans beneath their civilized skins. What a book Melville wrote!                                                                                                               – to be contd.

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