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.)