Category Archives: Moby-Dick


One of my favorite habits as a Classics Reader and citizen of West Michigan is finding references to our books amid the thousands of entries in one of the largest art competitions in the world, ArtPrize.  In years past I’ve seen bits of Gulliver’s Travels,


Moby Dick,

ArtPrize Moby Dicks Tail

and even an unintentional Great Gatsby reference.

ArtPrize Great Gatsby Glasses

This year’s festival just started yesterday, and I haven’t yet been downtown to see the works in their glory, but the media’s been pretty good at flooding my feed with glimpses of what awaits.  Including this rather unexpected entry:

Even though Mrs. Emma B. wasn’t my favorite character or novel, I would love to hear this.  The piece is by Grand Rapids Symphony’s principal oboist for their newly appointed principal cellist.  According to this interview it is heavily influence and inspired by Flaubert’s work.

It’s an actual ArtPrize entry, and if you can’t make the concert you can always listen to the midi file online.  Personally, I’d rather scramble to find a last-minute babysitter and some dough for some tickets.

*crickets chirping*

What?  That’s not the sound of crickets I hear?  Oh, I see, it’s the sweet music of electronic strings.  That makes more sense.


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Moby-Dick Marathon

Remember when I went on vacation here?Charles W Morgan

And got to do this?

Christine harpoon

The only thing that could have made that trip better was if I’d been at Mystic Seaport for the
annual Moby-Dick Marathon.  Can you imagine reading Melville’s masterpiece aboard a real whaling vessel?

It’s too back we can’t take a CCOM field trip to Connecticut.  Instead I’ll be checking in on July 31st-August 1st, watching live streaming video of the event with my book in hand.Moby-Dick Title Page


Posted by on July 27, 2013 in Moby-Dick


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What I did on my summer vacation…


What did I do on my summer vacation?
I threw a whaling harpoon.
“Excuse me,  You did what?” you say.
Let me go back to the beginning.

Last week my family spent a day at Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea in Mystic, CT.  This outing was my husband’s idea.  I get motion-sick at the very thought of the ocean, so I figured it would be a day consisting of me holding the camera while my family scrambled over various boats, but this beauty immediately got my attention.Charles W Morgan side view

This is the Charles W. Morgan–the last wooden whaling ship in the world.  That’s right.  A whaling ship!  The last one in the world!  The Morgan is the flagship of Mystic Seaport.  You can understand how memories of Moby-Dick came flooding back.  I was so excited to see a real whaling ship that I didn’t even care we couldn’t board her.  You see, the Morgan is not young, and she’s undergoing some serious repairs to be ready for her launch later this month.  To learn about the restoration of the whaling vessel, click here.

Charles W Morgan

After admiring the Morgan my enthusiasm for ships grew and I snatched the map from my hubby, insisting that we head over to a dock where a whale boat demonstration would be taking place, complete with sea chantey singing.

whaling boat

Each member of the demonstration team spoke about what his position entailed: from officer to harpooneer.
I even got a chance to take a turn in Queequeg’s spot.


As soon as the demonstration was over, I played tour guide in the Whaleboat Exhibit and showed my children some of the tools of the trade.whaling cutting tools

Have you ever seen the beef or pork diagrams near the meat counter of your grocery store?  The ones that show the various cuts of meat?  Here’s one for sperm whales.

whale diagram

The next part of my Moby-Dick immersion experience was in the cooper’s shop.  A cooper is the shipyard’s barrel maker.  You know from reading Melville that whale oil was stored in wooden barrels and that the cooper was one of the highest paid positions on the ship.  Mystic Seaport’s cooper was hired to make all of the wooden containers to outfit the Morgan: everything from large barrels used to store whale oil to small ones used to scoop up gallons of spermaceti from the whale’s head.  The carpenter excitedly shared that last week while he was recycling old barrel parts found in the attic of his shop, he had an experience with whale oil.  Yep.  One hundred year old whale oil came oozing out of the wood in the hot summer sun.  Amazing.cooper

We spent the rest of the day engrossed in the ship-building community, keeping a close eye on the time because at 4:30pm, I got to do this…

Christine harpoon

and then this

Christine throwing harpoon

I speared that floating hula-hoop with all of my might and readied myself for a Nantucket sleigh ride.

And that’s how I got to throw a whaling harpoon on my summer vacation.


Posted by on July 4, 2013 in Moby-Dick


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Some Dads

Happy Father’s Day Sancho, Christian, Gulliver, Mr. Bennett, Fagin, Mr. Brockelhurst, Arthur Dimmesdale, Ahab, Arthur Shelby, Charles Bovary, Marmeladov, Vronsky, Damon Wildeve, Gilbert Osmund, Pap Finn, and Tom Buchanan.

Thanks for not being my dad.

You see, he’s pretty awesome.  And you guys, well, let’s just say that you’re best left where you are:  inside the covers of a book.

Dad Dance


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The Fastest 300 Years EVER!

Sancho and the donkey.  Christian.  Yahoos and Houyhnhnms.  Elizabeth and Darcy.  Oliver.   Bertha-in-the-attic.  Hester and Pearl.   Moby Dick.   Uncles and Madams.  Rascal.   Anna-Kitty-Levin-Vronsky-oviches.   The Heath.   Isabel.   Huckleberry.   The Journeys of Henry and Marlowe.   And now Lily, whose outcome, at least for me, is still uncertain.

While paging through the Well-Educated Mind list of fiction books, I realized that Don Quixote was published in 1605 and House of Mirth in 1905.   300 years!  I congratulate myself and you, fellow readers, on plowing through 300 years of literature.   May the crop be plentiful!  I suggest a glass of red wine and some good chocolate to celebrate.



WEMever the Twain Shall Meet

Despite what Samuel Clemens implies about the usefulness of a well-read education, I’m inclined to believe he followed a curriculum very similar to ours.  Just look at all of the places that there are parallels between The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and the rest of our reading list:

Don Quixote

  • Tom mentions reading the first of all novels, and even suggests acting it out.
  • The self-appointed Duke and King reminded me of our self-appointed knight errant.
  • Huck and Jim are on quite a quest, with a fairly foggy future outcome.  I found myself often asking, “Where are they going with this,” just as I did inDQ.
  • Tom sets out in the most complicated fashion to help someone who didn’t need his help.  Let’s just face it, Tom is Don Quixote.

Pilgrim’s Progress

  • Slough.  Not of Despond, but I know I read about one, although I’ve lost the page number.
  • The Grandersons, for all their good Christian living, have a copy of this moral tale on the coffee table.  I don’t remember Bunyan having characters named Family Feud and Kill Thy Neighbor, but maybe I just missed a page.

Gulliver’s Travels

  • Can you say “satire?”

Oliver Twist

  • We haven’t encountered a story about a young boy since Oliver.  As a mother with four of her own, it was nice to get back into familiar territory.
  • Did anyone else think the plot tied up a little too miraculously at the end.? Huck just happens to stumble on the Phelps farm when they are expecting his best friend’s arrival?  Miss Watson just happens to die and free Jim?

Moby Dick

  • Water plays anhe important role of water in the lives of the characters.  The river is practically a character itself.
  • Superstitions abound in both situations.
  • Both authors tackled slavery in an indirect manner.
  • At the very end their is a character named Brother Mapple, which seemed just too close to Father Marple for me.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

  • Slavery
  • Okay, I can be more specific.  Both use male slaves as the moral centers of their works.

Crime and Punishment

  • Huck’s internal struggles between right and wrong, action and inaction, and societal norms and the pull of his heart reminded me of the time we spent inside Raskolnikov’s brain.

The Return of the Native

  • The Mississippi River seems to be the kinder, gentler, yet still important younger cousin of Egdon Heath.

Did I miss any?  Are there any references to P&P, JE, SL, MB, AK, or POAL?


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My True Love Gave to Me

What does it say about my husband and me that we unknowingly exchanged Moby Dick themed Christmas gifts this year?

That we’re in this boat together?

Pequod Gift Wrapping

That he likes his woman to smell like a rotting whale?

Christmas Amber

That he’s my Queequeg and I’m his Ishmael?

Moby Dick Ornament

Or just that we’re kind of dorky?


Posted by on January 6, 2013 in Moby-Dick


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Christmas Is Coming

Readers are easy to shop for because they’re always happy to get a book.  But what if you want to validate their love of literature without adding to the addiction?  Here’s a list of some unique classic gifts that might appeal to us WEMers.  Feel free print it out and leave it in a conspicuous spot for the shoppers in your life.  Or not.

(If all went well, clicking on the picture should open a new window to the site where the item is available.)

Don Quixote

The question I want answered is do these earrings belong the beautiful Dulcinea of Don Quixote’s dreams, or the brawny girl of Sancho’s acquaintance?  Decide before wearing.

Pilgrim’s Progress

Because a Bunyan vest is better than Bunyan Shoes.

Gulliver’s Travels

The site says that the pages are still readable.  Never mind.  Do not buy this for me.

Pride and Prejudice

This is obviously a doll version of Darcy from the beginning of the novel.  You know, when he was really crochety, um I mean crotchety.

Oliver Twist

You could make up a batch of homemade gruel mix, put it in a mason jar, and add a festive bow, or you could give a Dickinsonian this lovely print of a giant gruel pot.

Jane Eyre

These hues of the moors are named “To the Stars,” “A Strange and Unearthly Thing,” and “Independent Will!” (Exclamation point the artists, not mine.)  Aside from the fact that I can’t imagine Jane Eyre for a moment considering her own appearance long enough to put on a coat of nail polish, they are kind of pretty, in a moody, murky way, of course.

Scarlet Letter

These days bearing a shirt with a scarlet A on it doesn’t denote you as an adulteress, although I think that meaning might be preferable.  So instead of clothing, the Scarlet Letter lover might appreciate this ignominious bracelet.

Moby Dick

The Herman Melville gift options seem endless, from “Call me Ishmael, maybe?” t-shirts to Captain Ahab Baby Swaddlers but this print is the item that really made my jaw drop.  It’s as striking and surprising as the novel itself.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Personally, I would much rather have a piece of Aunt Chloe’s pie.

Madame Bovary

What could be more fitting for Emma than a vanity mirror?

Crime and Punishment

There are hollow book safes available for nearly all of these classics, but this one for C&P has a certain, well, charm?  Although it doesn’t seem big enough to hide an axe.

Anna Karenina

If you can’t buy the gift you can always buy the pattern and knit it yourself this “adorable” and “cute” Anna Tea Cozy.  Also, shouldn’t it really be a samovar cozy?

The Return of the Native

And when in doubt, sending flowers is always a good idea.  Especially heather from the heath.  It’s much more beautiful than a furze faggot, and easier to carry.

Happy shopping and a Merry Christmas!  Oh, and don’t blame me if you get any of these things.


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Vocab Flashback

The Return of the Native chapter 1

“The untameable, Ishmaelitish thing that Egdon now was it always had been.” 

Like Ishmael?
As in “Call me Ishmael” from Moby-Dick?

Way back when, we found the word quixotic in Oliver Twist and learned that Dickens was a fan of Cervantes.

I wonder if Hardy was a fan of Melville.

or maybe Hardy was a fan of the Bible.  Do you know who Ishmael was?  He was the son of Abraham and Hagar.  Nope, not Abraham and Sarah.  Abraham and Hagar.  She was Sarah’s Egyptian servant.  (Genesis 16).  Later Hagar and Ishmael were sent away from Abraham’s family to wander in the wilderness. (Genesis 21).

Today the word Ishmaelite can mean a descendent of Ishmael or it can mean someone who is a wanderer or cast out.

I get Melville’s name choice for his character, but how can Hardy call a place Ishmaelitish?
Is Egdon Heath a rejected place?  Does it refer to the untamed wilderness?  Is it a cast off?

Ishmaelitish.  Try to work that one into daily conversation.


Posted by on December 1, 2012 in Moby-Dick, The Return of the Native


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Yeah, well my setting’s older than your setting!

Had Melville and Hardy hung out together on the playground as little boys I bet this is the kind of argument their teacher would have had to break up all the time.

Just listen to how Thomas is poking fun at Herman:

The great inviolate place [the heath] had an ancient permanence which the sea cannot claim.  Who can say of a particular sea that it is old?  Distilled by the sun, kneaded by the moon, it is renewed in a year, in a day, or in an hour.  The sea changed, yet Egdon remained.

Herman probably grew the beard to compensate.


Posted by on November 29, 2012 in Moby-Dick, The Return of the Native


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