Tag Archives: Herman Melville

One big happy family

Almost as interesting as the literary connections we’re making on this classical journey are the ties between authors.  It’s almost as if they are one big happy family.  Well, more of a dysfunctional family, but you get the idea.

There was the friendship of Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne that resulted in Moby-Dick being dedicated to The Scarlet Letter‘s author.

Harriet Beecher Stowe and Mark Twain were neighbors.

Now thanks to the intro of Invisible Man, I learned that Ralph Ellison tried his hand at writing all thanks to Richard Wright of Native Son fame.

Imagine all of our WEM authors sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner together.  I can hear the table talk now.


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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Invisible Man


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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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The Wrap-up – Second Day

Fin Whale Skeleton at the
Grand Rapids Public Museum

Welcome to the second day of the wrap-up.  Have you patched up your whaling boat, and taken in a bit of rum to help you through this middle leg?

You might want it, for although our discussion remained focused on Moby-Dick we did channel our inner monomaniacs.  You see, we don’t think Ahab was the only one with that special character attribute.

Personally, we think our narrator might want to slap on a name tag, grab a cup of strong coffee, and give an introduction that sounds something like this, “Hi, call me Ishmael, I’m a monomaniac.”  He doesn’t portray himself as a single-minded crazy during the Pequod’s voyage, and we’re not asserting that he was, then.

You see, we think his monomaniacism (you like that word?) started as he was bobbing away on Queequeg’s coffin, and the expanse of the watery horizon enveloped him in complete abandonment.  Not unlike Pip, who suffered a deep character shift as the result of being left out-to-sea, Ishmael is alone. And although, when rescued by the Rachel he was no longer alone, he was still the lone.  The only survivor.  The One left to the tale.

The story of Ahab and Moby-Dick obviously weighed on his soul.  What other reason would a man have for researching all things whale related to an encyclopedic extent?  What kind of emotionally healthy human being would tattoo the measurements of a whale skeleton on his arm?  What normal person would describe things so that all the world is a whale, and all the whale is a world?  What sane wight would spend 135 chapters in first person narrative about someone, and something else, and then at the end throw in a quick epilogueial “Oh yeah, I was on the whale boat, and this is how I survived?”  Who else would lock himself in his study and write the day away while ignoring his family, and relentlessly bothering his reluctant author friend?

Wait, that was Melville.  Funny how that works, isn’t it?  Ishmael was hardly even a character.  Ishmael was not even his name.  His name was Herman Melville.  And the man was a monomaniac.  Moby-Dick swallowed him whole, and unlike Jonah, he stayed more than three days in the belly of that whale.

Moby-Dick might technically be classified as first person, but at times someone should have hollered “First person overboard!”  We prefer to call the Melville’s special point of view Omniscient First Person.

It was about the time we finished talking about how off-balanced Mellville was, that we started to get just a wee bit punchy ourselves.  We may or may not have broken into a small game of “What if Pixar did a movie called Finding Moby-Dick?”  Go ahead, take a second to play for yourself.  Don’t forget to imagine the multiple scenes where Ahab asks “Have you seen the White Whale?” and Dory answers, “I saw a white whale once!  P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way . . .” and give Mr. Ray a cameo shot as the Squid of chapter 59, and let Bruce and his buddies really get the most out of Cook’s sermon.  Speaking in whale is optional, but I will say this, the other Starbuck’s patrons didn’t seem to mind it too much.

Alright, now that you’re certain we ingested an entire calabash of rum punchiness I’ll leave you to ponder one last question before we furl the sails and try to get a little rest before tomorrow’s big day of whaling:

How would the presence of women have changed the story?  Suspend all reality that women didn’t come aboard whaling ships, and whaling isn’t exactly a commuter friendly job.  Instead, just imagine for a bit what it would have been like if these men would have gone home to their wives every evening?  Would the plot be different?

So, while you sleep on that, mentally prepare yourself for the most tempestuous day at sea yet.


Posted by on May 5, 2012 in Moby-Dick


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Melville’s Advice

I am enjoying Melville’s gems of wisdom that are sprinkled throughout Moby-Dick.  I particularly like these two.

Better sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunken Christian. chapter 3

[…] it’s better to sail with a moody good captain than a laughing bad one. chapter 16

I rather like these comparisons.  Perhaps we should try our hand at writing our own.

It’s better to slog through the original Moby-Dick with its encyclopedic chapters than to cheat and speed through an adaptation.

Keep telling yourselves that, readers.  It makes the chapters with plot all the more entertaining.

Capturing a Sperm Whale. Colored aquatint. Painted by W. Page. Engraved, printed, and colored by J. Hill.


Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Moby-Dick


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Let’s go get coffee when we finish Moby-Dick!

When I first “met” the first mate on The Pequod, I wondered if a certain chain of coffee shops may have borrowed his name to christen their stores.  Before diving into Moby-Dick the only three names I could have given you in reference to the book where Ahab, Ishmael, and Moby-Dick.  Today I went to the company website and found my answer:

The name, inspired by Moby Dick, evoked the romance of the high seas and the seafaring tradition of the early coffee traders.

Starbucks got its name from Starbuck!  I have Moby-Dick to thank for this piece of trivia.

So I can look forward to a reward of a Java Chip Frappuccino when I finish The Whale.

PS.  Readers, next time you are at Starbucks ask another patron if they know where the store got its name.  Please tell me I’m not the only person who didn’t know this.

PPS. Jeannette, you can stop looking for chowder recipes.


Posted by on April 2, 2012 in Moby-Dick


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Another reason to read Moby-Dick

Did you admire Nathaniel Hawthorne’s writing of The Scarlet Letter?  It appears that Herman Melville did as well.  Here is what is inscribed on the dedication page of Moby-Dick.

In Token
Of My Admiration For His Genius
This Book Is Inscribed
Nathaniel Hawthorne

Very Interesting.

Have you located your copy of Moby-Dick?  You will not want to miss this classic!


Posted by on March 19, 2012 in Moby-Dick, The Scarlet Letter


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