Pages

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

"Born in hell-fire [...] Moby-Dick, or the Whale (1851) reads like a great opium dream"

That is Raymond Weaver on Moby Dick.
He quotes Melville as saying: 
"Like a frigate, I am full with a thousand souls; and as on, on, on, I scud before the wind, many mariners rush up from the orlop below, like miners from caves; running shouting across my decks; opposite braces are pulled and boisterous speaking trumpets are heard, and contending orders to save the good ship from the shoals. In my tropical calms, when my ship lies tranced on Eternity’s main, the many, many souls in me speak one at a time, then all with one voice, rising and falling and swaying in golden calls and responses."
And writes:
"Because of this multiplicity of personality, Melville eludes summary classification. In his composite achievement he is severally a gentle Smollett, a glorified Whitman, an athletic Coleridge, a dandified Rabelais, a cynical Meredith, a doubting Sir Thomas Browne. Essentially was he a mystic, a treasure-seeker, a mystery-monger, a delver after hidden things spiritual and material. The world to him was a darkly figured hieroglyph; and if he ever deciphered the cabalistic sign, the meaning he found was too terrible, or else too wonderful, to tell. Whenever he sat down to write, at his elbow stood ever the chosen emissary of Satan, the Comic Spirit- a demoniac familiar that saved him in many a trying pass. The versatility and power of his genius was extraordinary. If he does not eventually rank as a writer of overshadowing accomplishment, it will be owing not to any lack of genius, but to the perversity of his rare and lofty gifts."
This is the man we need to thank for the Melville Revival. 
Frankly I do think that if Melville hadn't been rediscovered at that point, he would have been some other time, because hello, Moby Dick is a masterpiece. I'm not disparaging what Weaver did, though. 

A few questions for people who know more than I do: 
- What are Melville's best works after Moby Dick
- If Melville had never written Moby Dick, do you think we would still be reading him today? 
- Do you think Moby Dick is The Great American Novel? 

8 comments:

  1. 1) conventional answers - "Bartleby," "Benito Cereno," Billy Budd
    3) some kind of category error - but replace "The" with "A" and I agree
    2) Who is "we"? Melville became a well-known author with his first book, and remained known until the 1920s Revival as, essentially, a travel writer of books about the South Seas islands. Typee would still be read by people interested in the topic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The other day I got a book from the library that contained those 3 works.
      How about the other fiction works? Wouldn't be read if not for Moby Dick?

      Delete
  2. Di,

    1. The Piazza Tales, The Confidence Man, and Tom's suggestions

    2. probably

    3. Top Three, at least

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Some weeks ago I read again Michael Gorra's essay arguing that The Portrait of a Lady is the great American novel. Wonder what I would have thought about it if I had read it after Moby Dick.

      Delete
  3. i'll bet Billy Budd is the most-read Melville work: many high school teachers have used it in the past and maybe still do... but MD is imo one of the best books ever, even including the russians. the excerpt above sure makes him sound bipolar, or even multipolar; it has seemed to me that many authoritative and famous artists have been that-i read that some where.... oh, i remember: it was about robert lowell, for one...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think "Bartleby" is more widely read in school, no? It's like everyone recognises "I would prefer not to".
      No, not bipolar, not multipolar. He was large. He contained multitudes.

      Delete
    2. could well be; been a while since i was in school; and yes, familiar phrase... polars are just a speculative remark, which i am overprone to submit...

      Delete