Moby-Dick, Chapters 22-28

Chapters read: xxiii. The Lee Shore, xxiv. The Advocate, xxv. Postscript, xxvi. Knights and Squires, xxvii. Knights and Squires, xxviii. Ahab

Page reached: 119 of 522 (22.80%)

Status Report: Confessing to kinda liking Moby-Dick in my last report brought the jinx down upon my head, because this twenty page block did nothing for me. In it we learn about the crew of the Pequod, including, at last, the mysterious Captain Ahab himself. Honestly, I don’t even like meeting people in real life, so this fell short of escapist entertainment for me.

More to the point, who the hell puts exposition on page 100? It’s like breaking away from a film 40 minutes in to show the opening credits. And right after the ship set sail, too — what a tease. If anything, there’s less action now that the story has begun than there was when the protagonist was still wandering aimlessly around New England. Even Melville seems to recognize the monotony of this stretch of prose, giving two adjacent chapters the same name.

I understand that knowing the background and disposition of these characters might be helpful later in the book, but this is less an introduction to the dramatis personae than a dissertation on them. He describes them at length, but from afar; we don’t actually get to meet them. When literature professors exhort their students to “show, don’t tell,” this is what they are trying to avoid.

Favorite passage: A description of the second mate, Stubb: “A happy-go-lucky; neither craven nor valiant; taking perils as they came with an indifferent air; and while engaged in the most imminent crisis of the chase, toiling away, calm and collected as a journeyman joiner engaged for the year. Good-humored, easy, and careless, he presided over his whale-boat as if the most deadly encounter were but a dinner, and his crew all invited guests. … When close to the whale, in the very death-lock of the fight, he handled his unpitying lance coolly and off-handedly, as a whistling tinker his hammer. He would hum over his old rigadig tunes while flank and flank with the most exasperated monster. Long usage had, for this Stubb, converted the jaws of death into an easy chair.”

Words looked up::

  • Pestiferously: Morally evil or deadly; pernicious.
  • Quoggy (“a mature man who uses hair-oil … has probably got a quoggy spot in him somewhere”): I can’t find a definition of quoggy anywhere, and I even stumped my local librarian on this one. The only reference I can Google up for it is a essay called “Melville’s Contribution to English” but, unfortunately, I don’t have access to read the entire article. Still, if Melville “contributed” the term to English, that seems to imply that he just made it up.
  • Investiture: The act or formal ceremony of conferring the authority and symbols of a high office.
  • Unvitiated: Pure
  • Taffrail: The flat upper part of the stern of a vessel, made of wood and often richly carved.
  • Mizen: A fore-and-aft sail set on the mizzenmast. (Mizzenmast: The third mast or the mast aft of a mainmast on a ship having three or more masts.)
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11 comments.

  1. It might help to pretend that Melville is parodying Dickensian tangent-filled longwindedness. Similarly, I like to pretend that Morrissey is parodying a mopey depressed romantic. I don’t know what difference it makes, and I don’t know or care if it’s true in either case, but somehow it adds to my enjoyment.

  2. I’m a current librarian and former English major, so I can’t help but take up the case of quoggy. I looked up the article you cited and the pages that follow are a sort of glossary of Melvillian terms. For example:

    Crappo. “here’s a Crappo.” Also “Crappoes” — “these Crappoes of Frenchmen.” Moby Dick (1851), p. 441. Meaning: “seamen of the French whaling fleet”; used contempuously.

    Something to look forward to!

    As for quoggy, the passage you quote is cited, but, sadly, no meaning is given. There’s no listing for quoggy in the Oxford English Dictionary, but I did find another reference to it in a 1988 review of a book on 19th century American literature (Atlantic Double-Cross by Robert Weisbuch). The reviewer writes:

    If there is a ‘quoggy’ spot in this book (to use Melville’s term) it lies in Weisbuch’s weakness for literary detective work.

    Ooh, burn! I think…

  3. On Quoggy –

    Three letters: OED.

  4. Quoggy is not in the OED. If it isn’t in the OED, it isn’t a proper word. This does not mean that it might not be some sort of slang or argot from Melville’s time whose meaning has escaped record.

    Due to the similarity to quohog, a New England word for a type of clam borrowed from the Narraganset tribe, perhaps it once meant something like “clammy.” I could see quohog getting shortened to quog by the untutored.

  5. Got it! Quoggy is a variant spelling of quaggy. From the OED:

    quaggy a.
    [f. quag n. or v.1 + -y.]
    1. Of ground: That shakes under the foot; full of quags; boggy, soft. Also of streams: Flowing through boggy soil.

    2. Of things, esp. of the body or flesh: Soft, yielding, flabby. Also of persons in respect of their flesh, and fig.

    Citations go back to 1611, and (tada!) there is one from 1851 as follows:

    1851 H. Melville Whale xxv. 125 A mature man who uses hair-oil..has probably got a quaggy spot on him.

    Somebody, somewhere along the way, made a typo and it got handed down to you. There are, in fact, scads of these in Moby-Dick, inserted by every clueless typesetter for each and every version. People to this day argue over what Melville actually meant to write in various places.

  6. How come if you are alive, young and not a writer, made up words are slang. If you write a book and die it is a “contribution”?

  7. If you are young and alive and win a Nobel Prize for Literature, the words you make up are a contribution. Otherwise, slang. Just winning the Booker or Giller does not qualify you in the eyes of the OED. The OED gleans “contributions” from significant scholarly works, which generally takes quite some time to acquire the necessary significance.

    Oh, and I second the quoggy == quaggy == typsetter error hypothesis.

  8. Short, Shameful Confession: Inwardly, I do a little victory dance every time you mention looking up a word I already knew the meaning of.

  9. I blush, because I’m de-lurking just to be a nudge, but if I can quote from James Murray’s appeal for contributions for the first edition of the OED:

    “An appeal [was] made to the English and American public to assit in collecting the raw materiels for the work, these materials consisting of quotations illustrating the use of English words by all writers of all ages and in all senses….Special attention must be paid to the dramatic literature of the early eighteenth and latge seventeenth century, as in this will be found the earliest occurrence of much of our modern phraseology, which is now good and stately English, but was familier or colloquial a century and a half ago.”

    The whole big thing about the OED is that it’s descriptive, not persriptive; it was complied through the work of thousands of volunteers, who read through books to find quotes that showed the meaning of every single word in the English language. Naturally this biases the selection toward stuff that’s been published, and probably toward famous authors (there were lots of their books around for people to read, and if Shakespeare uses a word to mean X, most people figure it meant X) but the OED doesn’t really care what the source is as long as it shows the meaning of the word. It may take a pretty long view in terms of what it calls slang and what it calls standard, but it tries to include everything.

    Check it:

    “Doh, int. Expressing frustration at the realization that things have turned out badly or not as planned, or that one had just said or sone something foolish.

    1996. A. Fein et al. _Simpsons Comics Strike Back!_ Look out, you dern fool! You’re gonna cut off your…’ ‘D’oh!!!!”_”

    (Look, I really liked The Professor and the Madman, okay?)

  10. Quoggy or quaggy, it matters not. Look at the context! Melville’s clearly using it to mean something very much like “metrosexual.”

  11. “Crappo” must be a bastardization of “crapaud” which means “toad” in French. Sort of an escalation of the usual “frog” which, as “grenouille” is harder to render intelligibly in English…