Moby Dick Update

I heard this on Tuesday’s Writer’s Almanac:

On this day in 1851, Harper & Brothers published Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville. The British publisher accidentally left out the ending of the book, the epilogue. This confused a lot of British readers, because without the epilogue there was no explanation of how Ishmael, the narrator, lived to tell the tale. It seemed like he died in the end with everyone else on the ship. The reviews from Britain were harsh, and costly to Melville. At the time, Americans deferred to British critical opinion, and a lot of American newspaper editors reprinted reviews from Britain without actually reading the American version with the proper ending. Melville had just bought a farm in Massachusetts, his debts were piling up, he was hiding them from his wife, and he was counting on Moby-Dick to bring in enough money to pay off his creditors. The book flopped, partly because of those British reviews. As a writer, Melville never recovered from the disappointment.

Oh, great. You always visualize your first time reading Melville as this magical experience, something you’ll remember for the rest of your life. Now it suddenly feels like pity sex.

NaNoReMo has been torpedoed. Work ate my life, and will continue gnawing on the bones for another week or so. Right now my free time is spent eating meals directly from a vending machine and idly wondering if my family still lives in that house I vaguely remember.

I probably won’t be able to pick up the book again until Thanksgiving (this blog is pretty much on hiatus until then, too). I’ll still be liveblogging the novel as I go, but there’s pretty much no way I’ll finish by December.

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15 comments.

  1. Oh come now! Didn’t they teach you anything in college? With enough No-Doz and Red Bull you can blog your way through the tax code. Falling asleep on Melville is just pitiful.

  2. Oh, damn, damn, damn. I’ve been loving your updates!

  3. Don’t give up, dude. You stil haven’t got to “A Squeeze of the Hand.” A Squeeze of the Hand maybe isn’t, in and of itself, worth the whole book. But it is like nothing else. Subtext presses so close to the surface of the text it’s like…put it this way, the single emotion I felt while reading that entire chapter was “incerdulous.” It’s just page after page of “What? Really? Did he really say…Damn. Aw, hell no. He couldn’t have known. He must have known. And yet…”

  4. We should pick up where you left off, each read one page and throw what we gathered from it into a comments section.

    Would defeat the purpose of you reading it yourself, but hey, get you a cliffnotes version of a chapter or so.

  5. Valiant effort

  6. What? I’m gonna die unless I get the ending to YOUR reading of Moby Dick. This is a sleazy marketing ploy on your part! You’re leaving out the epilogue just like you-know-who!

  7. Poor Melville!

    I heard that is the same reason that the Phantom Menace was so harshly criticized. The distributors forgot to include the 5-part, 11 hour epilogue.

  8. Funny, but what I found disturbing in that article is that he was trying to hide his debts from his wife… file that one under ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’…
    After all, ol’ Herman was just a man.
    As for blogging the book, I say forget about a schedule… enjoy the holidays with one less pressure.
    But then, that advice comes from a long-time procrastinator. A cheerful long-time procrastinator.
    ~Julie

  9. I don’t get it. I have my little black-and-yellow copy of Moby Dick and there’s NO WAY it would take me so long to read it again. There’s even sections with “discussion questions” to help you through the denser parts.

  10. If I had a copy of the book, I’d join in in reading and summarizing a bit of the next.. but alas I do not.

    I forgot it was even November (and also forgot how to spell it- it just took me five tries?!?), so the fact you remembered and managed to get a start at reading your way through it is good in my book.

    As to Melville’s sad criticism and the failure of his book, well, us Americans haven’t exactly pioneered at being the go-getter’s, you know? We seem to like to hide under rocks and not rock the boat.

    p.s.- link change… it’s corrected in this post. :)

  11. Awwwwww. :-( Sad to hear, but I understand. But what I really need to know from that piece you quoted, what I really need clarified…”HIDING FROM HIS WIFE?!?!?!?”

    Inquiring minds.

  12. Dude! Sleep is over-rated! Plus, if your blog entries were entertaining before, wait til they’re penned at 4:30am after reading Melville for an hour under the influence of No-Doz, Red Bull, and some Jolt iff’n you can git some. Ah, sweet madness, embrace me now!

  13. Thanks for ruining the ending for me, Ass!

  14. Unfortunate place to stop as its about to get good.

  15. I remember a TV version on the BBC of Iris Murdoch’s “The Bell” (starring Ian Holm, no less) which completely omitted the most important piece of plot, without which all the central scenes were totally incomprehensible. I know someone who never believed the book could be any good because he’d been unable to understand the TV version.