25 Apr

Moby-Dick is a notoriously difficult novel to finish.  There is no shortage of evidence.  Susan Wise Bauer, who placed this book on the reading list we unflinchingly follow, shares her own personal MD experience in The Well-Educated Mind:

My bête noire is Moby-Dick; I know it’s one of the great works of American literature, but I have made at least eight runs at it during my adult life and have never managed to get past midpoint.  I even took and entrie graduate seminar on Melville, did a presentation, and got an A without finishing the book.

Nathaniel Philbrick, who’s read the classic twelve times and written a book called Why Read Moby-Dick? labels it a “mighty mess” and admits that,

There is an inevitable tendency to grow impatient with the novel, to want to rush and even skip over what may seem like yet another extraneous section and find out what, if anything, is going to happen next to Ahab and the Pequod.

There were certainly many times these tendencies tempted me, and it was nice to see that others smart people out there had similar reactions and would admit, “We feel your pain.

Despite all of that, we did it.  We finished!  (If you haven’t yet, don’t worry, just keep reading!  You can do it!  We believe in you!  Go! Go! Go!  Yaaaaaay, you!)

But tell me, what chapter(s) did you have to slog through?  Which ones were your White Whale?  How did you traverse the waves?  Did you channel your inner Ahab, rely on a calm-yet-caffeinated Starbuckish countenance, read the whole thing with a Queequeg dialect to keep it interesting?  Did you abandon ship?  (It’s okay, your secret’s safe with me.)

For me, it was the Whales-in-Art Trifecta (Chapters 55-57) that I feared would result in my tumbling off the mast-head in sheer boredom.   Don’t get me wrong, I love art, but reading about the visual arts, void of actual visual art, is, well, as Martin Mull quipped about the connection between writing and music, a lot like “dancing about architecture.”

My end notes did point me in the direction of Herman Melville’s Picture Gallery: Sources and Types of the “Pictorial” Chapters of Moby-Dick by Stuart M. Frank, but I’ve yet to check it out.  Maybe it will transform my least faves into my besties, but don’t wait for it, just tell me now, which chapters haunted you like Fedallah?


Posted by on April 25, 2012 in Moby-Dick


Tags: , , , , ,

18 responses to “Hard

  1. Adriana @ Classical Quest

    April 25, 2012 at 8:16 am

    I think you will love this sweet little link as much as I:

    • Christine

      April 25, 2012 at 10:06 am

      Whoa! That must be what it’s like to read the classics on kindle. 😉

      • Adriana @ Classical Quest

        April 25, 2012 at 10:20 am

        Did you see the images? Not every link shows an image but the ones it does show are fascinating.

    • Christina Joy

      April 25, 2012 at 11:11 am

      Love. Love. Love. Maybe I’ll even go back and reread these parts. Who knew?

  2. Jeannette

    April 25, 2012 at 8:26 am

    My Waterloos were the lovely chapters 74-77 which expounded on the heads of various whales, as well as the “dry as bones” expose on skeletons and fossils in Chapters 102-105.

    • Adriana @ Classical Quest

      April 25, 2012 at 9:05 am

      I got through the tough parts by doodling whales and writing sarcastic notes in the margins. (Juvenile, I admit.)

      One thing I really appreciated about MD was that the chapters were short. It made is easier to push through when Herm got too wordy.

      • Jeannette

        April 25, 2012 at 9:32 am

        “Herm?” Love it!

      • Christina Joy

        April 25, 2012 at 11:12 am

        Sarcastic notes in the margins – I can’t imagine ever doing such a thing. 😉

  3. Tonia

    April 25, 2012 at 9:19 am

    Great job! I’m heading to the finish line – hopefully by the end of next week.

    Those chapters on whale heads have been the worst so far. Man, did he need an editor.

    • Christine

      April 25, 2012 at 10:02 am

      I agree! When did editors come on the scene?

    • Christina Joy

      April 25, 2012 at 11:14 am

      You can do it! You can do it! GOOOOOOOOOO Tonia!!! (See, I said we’d cheer you on.)

      And yes, we are waiting with bated breath for the arrival of the first editor.

      • Adriana @ Classical Quest

        April 25, 2012 at 12:10 pm

        Love your new gravatar Christina.

      • Christina Joy

        April 26, 2012 at 11:03 am

        Thank you, Adriana. It’s fairly representative of life.

        I’ve been meaning to tell you how much I like yours – so romantic and impressionist. Gorgeous.

  4. Jerry

    April 25, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    I am suppose to be defending Moby Dick, but evryone of those chapters you mentioned were tough. I felt like Melville was trying to make me get the feeling of sailing on the Pequod for years, and I could really relate to Tashtego.

    “Um, um, um. Stop that Whale talk! Plenty too much whale talk up here. What’s the use of whale talk? Um, um, um. We don’t want whale talk; we want plot and rum; give us a glass of rum with that thar plot. Um, um, um!”

    Tashtego actual quote:

    The Main-top-sail yard. – Tashtego passing new lashings around it.

    “Um, um, um. Stop that thunder! Plenty too much thunder up here. What’s the use of thunder? Um, um, um. We don’t want thunder; we want rum; give us a glass of rum. Um, um, um!”

  5. Adriana @ Classical Quest

    April 25, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    Oh yes — “…Melville was trying to make me get the feeling of sailing on the Pequod for years.” — that thought crossed my mind more than once during my reading of MD.

    Jeannette — We could memorize a WHOLE CHAPTER! (122, “Midnight Aloft — Thunder and Lightning)

    Or would that be cheating?

  6. Norma Carey

    April 26, 2012 at 7:16 am

    Experienced so many emotions after reading MD. Totally shocked when I retrieved my own copy from the basement shelf where I keep my “leftover” classics to find that somewhere in my youth I had read MD and even taken numerous notes! I had remembered nothing except a captain named Ahab and a whale named MD. Began under a cloud of impending doom. Thoroughly delighted and surprised to find the first few chapters amusing, touching, etc. Great build up to the intro of Ahab, I was anxious to meet him! And when I did? Tense! Tense! Tense! Then the boredom set in. Granted, some unique facts about whales but how many analogies does a writer need to portray whale parts? Finally, read and re-read the ending. It really was an amazing story and if it hadn’t been for this group, I never would have read this novel. (Whoops! Re-read) So I am proud of my accomplishment and have a new respect for corsets!

    • Christina Joy

      April 26, 2012 at 11:01 am

      We’re so happy you’re reading along with us. I agree – the beginning and the ending had me sold with laughter and action. But the W volume of the encyclopedia about did me in.

      Nothing like having your waste size defined by a whale.

  7. Christine

    April 26, 2012 at 2:18 pm

    Our friend Jo shared…”Did anyone happen to hear this show on NPR? Moby Dick is mentioned as a “resounding unsuccess” selling only 3000 copies in 36 years in print – later to be resuscitated after being found at a used book store!”


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