The New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby-Dick Marathon is an annual non-stop reading of Herman Melville's literary masterpiece. The multi-day program of entertaining activities and events is presented every January. Admission to the Marathon is free.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

...when Leviathan is the text - 10

Here's one for Bill Pettit's collection—a very pleasant surprise... (10th in the search for the ideal edition for an MDM)

...another Northwestern-Newberry compliant M-D hardcover from a source that this publishing dilettante did not expect. Bibliomaniacs note: it is out of print.

This is a really lovely edition from Barnes & Noble, copyright 1994. (Do not confuse this with the "Barnes & Noble Classics" paperback, which is currently available, but is not the N-N text. There is also a later B&N hardcover, with an introduction by Carl F. Hovde, which I haven't examined. [5/18/11 addendum: I just got my hands on the B&N edition with the Carl F. Hovde intro, in paperback, copyright 2003. It is not the N-N text. I assume that the hardcover and "Nook" versions, also with the Hovde intro, are similarly deficient.]) This is the "Limited Edition," with Preface by Mark Helprin, ISBN 1566196191. By its cover ye shall know it—red spine, linen-covered boards, black-and-white illustration of ship-and-flukes glued to the front. The Barnes & Noble site currently has a used copy in "good" condition for $10; Amazon has three at $10, and one at $375(!).

This baby has it all, and then some. There is the Northwestern-Newberry text, with table of contents, Etymology, Extracts, and Melville's footnotes and inscription to Hawthorne. Around this is wrapped a Preface, two Appendices, the poem At Melville's Tomb by Hart Crane, and a second table of contents to keep track of it all; an additional 88 pages. There are also twelve full-page color plates by Mark Summers, whose work you may recognize from the author portraits on Barnes & Noble shopping bags and T-shirts. The whole package is about 680 pages. It is ample.

It measures 6.5" x 9.5" x 2" and weighs in at 47.6 ounces—just under three pounds (a full pound heavier than my Library of America 3-pack; more on that below). It has thick, stiff boards, and a solid sewn binding. The colophon states that it is printed on acid-free paper with a "laid texture," and set in 13-point Centaur, 15.5 point leaded.


This edition is a pleasure to read. The cream-colored paper feels like cloth, with minimal show-through. (The "laid texture" is a visual distraction at times.)  Margins and gutters are just acceptable, and there are chapter-title headings on the recto pages. The type size is "comfy," and the long ascenders and descenders of the typeface, together with the plush leading, give the pages a "well ventilated" feel. (See the Typeface Tally post.) NB: The Appendices are set in type that's ten to fifteen percent smaller.

So, to the "but."  All this is great, but you can't escape physics.  Large-ish type and leading means more page surface for our given text. Distributing this page surface over standard-size pages yields many pages. If those pages are nice and thick, you have one heavy tome. This is the heaviest of any edition reviewed to date; twice the weight of the Everyman's Library edition!

This would make a great "home reader," for those times you are "seated before your evening fire with a pilsner, and not a harpoon, by your side." For the marathon's long-haul, I have my eye on something sleeker.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Tolerable Weather


Now, it being Christmas when the ship shot from out her harbor, for a space we had biting Polar weather, though all the time running away from it to the southward; and by every degree and minute of latitude which we sailed, gradually leaving that merciless winter, and all its intolerable weather behind us.
-- Chapter XXVIII, "Ahab"

Monday, April 25, 2011

Today in History

From The New York Times, on this day in 1902:
WHALE SENDS A BARK TO DAVY JONES'S LOCKER; Thrilling Adventure Told by Men of the Kathleen's Crew. Four Boats Containing Forty Souls Left 1,000 Miles from Land After Encounter with the Cetacean.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Thought for Grete

Sad news from the world of "real" marathons—the death of Grete Waitz, who ran (and won) more marathons than most of us will ever sit through. If you did any distance running in the '80s, you can picture her signature pigtails and modest smile.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Montaigne and Ahab's Vengeance

Among the authors whom Melville is believed to have read in the years leading up to the writing of Moby-Dick is Michel de Montaigne.  Indeed, in the "Extracts" that introduce Moby-Dick, Melville quotes one of Montaigne's essays, "Apology for Raimond Sebond." 

Another of Montaigne's essays, however, is more likely to catch the attention of Moby-Dick fans.  It's the fourth essay in Book I, entitled "That the Soul Expends Its Passions upon False Objects, Where the True Are Wanting."  Reading the following passage from that essay, I have trouble believing that it did not help to crystallize in Melville's imagination the character Ahab:
I remember there was a story current, when I was a boy, that one of our neighbouring kings, ... having received a blow from the hand of God, swore he would be revenged, and in order to it, made proclamation that for ten years to come no one should pray to Him, or so much as mention Him throughout his dominions, or, so far as his authority went, believe in Him.... Augustus Caesar, having been tossed with a tempest at sea, fell to defying Neptune, and in the pomp of the Circensian games, to be revenged, deposed his statue from the place it had amongst the other deities.... [T]he Thracians, ... when it thunders or lightens, fall to shooting against heaven with Titanian vengeance, as if by flights of arrows they intended to bring God to reason.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

"They have killed him, the Forgiver"


 One hundred and forty-six years ago, at approximately 10:20 pm, the audience watching Our American Cousin in Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., was startled to hear a woman's scream from the president's box and see a young man, whom many recognized as the actor John Wilkes Booth, jump clumsily from the box to the stage, shouting "Sic semper tyrannis!" before running out the back of the theatre.  The audience soon learned that the president had been shot in the back of the head.  He would remain unconscious until his death the next morning at 7:22.


Abraham Lincoln was the first U.S. president to be assassinated.  Among those shocked by the deed was Herman Melville.  His poem "The Martyr" indicated (in his words) "the passion of the people on the 15th day of April, 1865."  The first stanza:
Good Friday was the day
    Of the prodigy and crime,
When they killed him in his pity,
    When they killed him in his prime
Of clemency and calm--
        When with yearning he was filled
        To redeem the evil-willed,
And, though conqueror, be kind;
    But they killed him in his kindness,
    In their madness and their blindness,
And they killed him from behind.
In his note on the poem in Battle-Pieces, Melville sought to explain its accusatory tone in terms of the "period of excitement" immediately following the assassination.  At that time, "the thought was by some passionately welcomed that the Presidential successor [i.e., Vice President Andrew Johnson] had been raised up by heaven to wreak vengeance on the South. ... But the expectations built hereon (if, indeed, ever soberly entertained), happily for the country, have not been verified."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On Beckett's birthday

Samuel BeckettSamuel Beckett born April 13, 1906.
Was there one among them to put himself in my place, to feel how removed I was then from him I seemed to be, and in that remove what strain, as of hawsers about to snap? It's possible. Yes, I was straining towards those spurious deeps, their lying promise of gravity and peace, from all my old poisons I struggled towards them, safely bound.
- Molloy

I feel strained, half stranded, as ropes that tow dismasted frigates in a gale; and I may look so. But ere I break, ye'll hear me crack; and till ye hear that, know that Ahab's hawser tows his purpose yet.
- Chapter CXXXIV

Saturday, April 9, 2011

...when Leviathan is the text - 9

A Moby-Dick for Everyperson... (9th in the search for the ideal edition for an MDM)

Just when I had given up on finding an affordable, hardcover, "Northwestern-Newberry compliant" edition of M-D, I get my hands on the Everyman's Library edition. If you are reasonably keen (young) of eye, and have about $20 in your MDM budget, this could be your "one."

It has all the requisites: table of contents, Etymology, Extracts, Melville's footnotes and inscription to Hawthorne. For ease of reading, every chapter starts on a new page. It even has those handy chapter-title headings on the recto pages.

At about 594 pages, there are no illustrations. The only extranea are a 14-page Introduction by Professor Larzer Ziff, a one-page Bibliography, a six-page Chronology, and six pages of Titles in Everyman's Library.

As stated on its copyright page, it presents the 1988 Northwestern-Newberry text (generally accepted as our best, "corrected" version).

It has a first-rate sewn binding. (Noted on the copyright page: "Printed and bound in Germany," like my abandoned sweeheart, K├Ânemann.) The nearly-20-year-old library copy I examined has held up fine, bindingwise-speaking. It even has a silk-ribbon bookmark.

Physically, it measures 5" x 8.25" x 1.25", and weighs in at an easily handled 23.1 ounces.  The boards have a slight flex, the text is "set in the classic typeface Bembo and printed on acid-free, cream-wove paper." The paper is on the thick side, with a nice, smooth feel; not polished or glossy. "Show-through" is moderate.

The layout feels rather "tall-and-narrow," not that there's anything wrong with that—it might make it a bit easier to avoid skipping lines. Margins and gutters are not generous, but certainly not problematic.

So what's the "but"? Well, for most, younger readers there really isn't one. AARP candidates like me might find the font a bit small and the line-spacing a bit tight. (See the Typeface Tally post.)

Get thee to a (real) bookstore and take this one for a test-read.

Or wait for the coming reviews of other editions. There's still plenty of time to prepare for January's festivities.

Friday, April 8, 2011

...when Leviathan is the text - 8

(8th in the search for the ideal edition for an MDM)

After a trip to a local library today, I have to warn fellow marathoners about two M-D editions that should be better than they are:
  • Barnes and Noble, copyright 1993; hardcover; "acid-free paper" declared on the copyright page.
  • Oxford University Press, copyright 1999; hardcover; in the "Oxford World's Classics" series.
Both of these were printed well after the 1988 Northwestern-Newberry edition, which corrected numerous errors, yet they present flawed, pre-NN versions. You might as well download a public-domain e-book version and take it to the copy shop. Are NN's licensing fees so onerous that publishers would rather proffer a flawed product? The Oxford edition even omitted the Epilogue (!)—it was listed in the Table of Contents, but the page was blank. How did that get out the door?

If you are considering either of these as your MDM tome, be aware that there are better editions out there. Heck, you could just order the Northwestern-Newberry from Amazon and be sure of having the "authorized" text (also available in paperback). You might also consider the Everyman's Library edition reviewed in tomorrow's post.

Here are some quick tests to check if you're looking at an edition that's sub-standard:
  • In Chapter 18, His Mark, flip to the little illustration "Quohog. his ✠ mark."
    Now look four paragraphs back. The text should read: "Quick, Bildad," said Peleg, to his partner..." (It should include the "to.")
  • In Chapter 125, The Log and Line, about a page from the end of the chapter, it should read: "Pip! Pip! Pip! One hundred pounds of clay! Reward for Pip..." (The punctuation after "clay" shows that "clay" refers to Pip; not, nonsensically, to the reward.)
Or you can just look for a mention of Northwestern-Newberry on the copyright page or in an On the Text section.

Of course, just as you wouldn't run a marathon in any shoe that fits, there are considerations beyond merely having the correct text. The search continues...

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"I call them 'the truly [effed].'"

Here is a breezy, entertaining article about the 2009 New Bedford Moby-Dick marathon published in the Financial Times.  The author, one John O'Connor, seems to have attended the marathon more out of curiosity than anything else.  His interest in the text flagged within the first few hours, but he did manage to record some interesting conversations with attendees. 

Particularly memorable was this comment by Peter Whittemore, Melville's great-great-grandson:

[Whittemore said,] “There were issues Melville was thinking about in 1850 that I ponder today. This question of ‘Who am I?’ If you’re the kind of person who’s satisfied just knowing the Red Sox score, then God bless you, have a good life. But if the Red Sox score won’t do it for you, then there are lessons in Moby-Dick.”

Turning and scanning a throng of spellbound Melvillites, Whittemore bowed his knees slightly, as if preparing to spring into the air. “Like me, the Red Sox score won’t do it for these people,” he said. “I call them ‘the truly fucked.’”

drowned dreams, somnambulisms, reveries...

From MDM15 at 6:54 PM, Chapter XXXIV, The Cabin-Table, read in Hebrew by Rabbi Kanter:



Appropriate, considering the Old Testament underpinnings of M-D.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Latest News from the Feejees - 4

courtesy of jasonlam
In case you're not keeping up with Iron-bound Bucket, check out this recent post. Follow the link, play the audio clip, count the facile rhymes, and shudder. (Sweet mother of God, can we retire the phrase "a whale of a tale?")

But wait, it gets worse!  Apparently this thing has been around since 1992. You can go to Music Theatre International to listen to clips of twenty-odd tunes from this "show," and request a perfomance license.

Death seems the only desirable sequel for a career like this...

Road Trip - SUNY by way of Arrowhead

Expanded my carbon footprint today, driving out to the State University of New York, Albany to see Bill Pettit's exhibit of some of the highlights from his Moby-Dick Collection. (All Over Albany has a nice interview with Mr. Pettit.)

Drove the back roads to Arrowhead, knowing it's closed until Memorial Day weekend, but hoping to get a few snaps. Passed groves of sugar maples, tethered together with what looks like surgical tubing, collecting sap into plastic holding tanks; cubes, about 5-feet on each side. (Forget about galvanized pails and horse-drawn sleds!) A couple of sugar houses were in operation, steam pouring out of their vent windows. Lots of work and sweat to yield that pint of syrup. For God's sake, be economical with your pancakes and waffles!

Passed Miss Hall's School, "one of the foremost college-preparatory schools for girls in the country," established 1898. I hope the girls study Moby-Dick—they're just a short walk from Arrowhead.

stealth-photo of kitchen
Stealth-photo of kitchen
There was a crew of about eight men (volunteers, and definitely not unskilled) working on the rear addition to the original house. At some point (in the 1940's, guessing from the wallpaper), there were four apartments and three bathrooms in this wing. The volunteers were in the process of removing the bathrooms (to save on property taxes, I was told). I was led up the back stairway, through an old kitchen, to see Melville's library, freshly painted, and the newly opened "Hawthorne room" (not yet furnished). Whatever its age, the wing felt solid underfoot, like it was built with pride. Thanks for the tour, guys!

On to the big city (Albany), and the State University of New York. Wouldn't you like to be a fly on the wall of an architecture class at this school? That's a carillon next to the skating rink / landing pad / Unisphere plinth. The library is behind the carillon.

Steel yourself and enter the cage labeled "Library."

The Moby-Dick exhibit is just inside the entrance, arranged in two cases.

One display of eight English-language editions, from 1930 to 1989, each opened to an image of Ahab.


One display of foreign-language editions, together with some "artifacts" from the career of the estimable Professor Hugh Maclean—his "study copy" with his penciled notes in the margins, and...

...his "First-Day Cover" of the "Herman Melville" 6-cent envelope, postmarked "New Bedford, March 7, 1970."

Mr. Pettit reflects on the "meaning" of the exhibit on his blog. In whatever form our beloved texts come to us, they are the result of the dedication and skill of untold numbers of our forebears, who worked to pass an author's creation ahead to one more generation of readers.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Masked and Maskless Men

In the first chapter of A Reader's Guide to Herman Melville, Prof. Miller identifies a theme that he believes inspired Melville throughout his writing career.  He rejects the view that Melville's central concerns changed dramatically from Typee to Billy Budd:
Heretofore [as of 1962] it has been customary to look at Melville's work as shifting from celebration to pessimism, or from faith to cynicism, or from defiance to acceptance.  This view, which assumes that Melville's books reflected his inner turmoil and conflicting moods at various stages of his life, emphasizes certain peaks of elation and valleys of despair.

[T]his peak-valley view is, if not incorrect, at least misleading....

Although I would not contend that Melville's entire work is one grand emotional monotone, I do desire to cast doubt on the extreme fluctuations now identified in the line of his artistic development. ... Instead of viewing Melville's work as a series of heights and depths, I wish to view it as essentially steady and straight in theme, though shifting radically in focus and form.  
Melville's art focused consistently on this question (as Miller expresses it): "What should be man's response to his situation in the universe, where evil is omnipresent and where man by the involuntary act of birth becomes inevitably involved?"  In answer -- notwithstanding "vital qualifications, extensions, reservations, all in the midst of deep probing" -- Melville "asserted the necessity of man to compromise with his ideals, frankly and without private or public deception, in order to come to terms with the world's evil and his own."

Melville rendered this question and his answer through "an extended drama of masks."  It may be diverting to portray how bad men mask their evil intentions, but what fascinated Melville was the "mask of innocence" that good men don unconsciously:  "[F]or the most apparently innocent may perpetrate the greatest evil.  It was Melville's finest achievement to plunge deep into men's souls and to surface with much that was barely visible to their own inner eye."

Contrasted with the masked characters are Melville's few "maskless men.... Their greatest claim to innocence, ironically, is that they do not don its mask.  They accept with equanimity their share of the world's guilt, trying neither to hide nor disclaim it." 

Finally, between the masked and the maskless are the "wanderers and seekers ... who must decide with what face to confront the world."  Among these Miller places Ishmael. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

"A Reader's Guide to Herman Melville"

It took me three tries before I finally succeeded in making it all the way through Moby-Dick.  If memory serves, I was 12-14 years old when I made my first two attempts (inspired by seeing the 1956 film version on TV).  Both times, I don't think I made it out of New Bedford.  By the time of my third attempt, I was a junior in high school.  My English teacher -- appropriately named Mrs. Fish -- required each of us to write a term paper on an American author selected from a list approved by (I presume) the school board.  We had to research our chosen author's life, read at least two of his or her books, and look into some of the relevant critical literature.

Title page to Syracuse's facsimile reprint
I chose Melville.  To aid me, I borrowed from the school library A Reader's Guide to Herman Melville, by James Edwin Miller, then-chairman of University of Nebraska's English Department.  Published in 1962, this was one in a series of "Reader's Guides" to various authors put out by Farrar, Straus and (it seems; information is sketchy) also distributed by Octagon Books and Thames & Hudson.  Another volume in the series, A Reader's Guide to James Joyce, came into my hands the following year and was still kicking around my parents' house as recently as 10 years ago. 

Recently, I returned to Miller's book to see how much of it, if anything, I retained after thirty-odd years.  It is now available in a paperback facsimile reprint by Syracuse University Press (with a new and very unappealing cover) and can also be found in Google books, surprisingly.

I did not retain much, as it turns out.  I can put my finger on only two things: Miller's map of the overall flow of Melville's output, and his interpretation of White Jacket's discarding his coat as an affirmation of "involvement" in the human condition.

"Something further may follow this Masquerade" -- tomorrow, perhaps.