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MOBY DICK Book Club, Part 2: Herman's Adventures at Sea

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posted on Nov, 29 2016 @ 07:05 PM
Hi all! I am back with Part 2 of a biographical series about Herman Melville in anticipation of reading Moby Dick. All of the following information is taken from Hershel Parker's biography "Herman Melville: A Biography. Vol 1".

I am very grateful for all of your interest. Can't wait to get to the novel! My goal is to begin the study toward the end of the week. I hope you can join me.

For more on Melville's early years, please check out this thread:

One main purpose of this study (besides learning more about an interesting life) is to better understand some of the external circumstances that made writing the epic novel Moby Dick possible. Much of the information I focused on is that which contributed directly to Melville's writing. With that said, let's continue the study!

After trying his hand at several professions and failing to establish a marketable skill, Melville decided to follow in the footsteps of several of his relatives (uncle, cousins) and set his face towards the sea.

In 1839, at the age of 19, Herman signed aboard the St. Lawrence destined to Liverpool as a green hand. This was his first experience as a member of a crew, and his first time away from his family and out of the country. It was here that he became accustomed to daily life on a ship and the nautical lingo. Herman spent several months in England, which experience was later expanded upon in his novel Redburn. However, it wasn’t until two years later that his wildest adventures began.

In 1841, when Herman was 22 years old, he signed up as a whaleman aboard the Acushnet. Although there was little money to be made as an ordinary whaleman, in the very least he could relieve his family of the burden of feeding his voracious appetite and providing clothing and shelter to a still growing young man (yes, there is evidence that he had yet to reach full size). A few days prior to departure, Herman and his brother Gansevoort attended a sermon at the Seaman’s Bethel in New Bedford which according to Parker was “already renowned for the white marble centographs on the walls eloquently memorializing local men who had died at sea”-- the same chapel where Moby Dick’s narrator Ishmael attended a fiery sermon before boarding the Pequod.

Aboard the Acushnet, Melville and his fellow crewmates killed and processed whales-- a highly dangerous and grueling task detailed in Moby Dick. They sailed past the Bahamas, harbored in Rio de Janeiro, sailed between Tierra del Fuego and Staten Land, up the coast of Chile, Peru, and Northward toward the Galapagos. It was around this time that Melville met Owen Chase’s son (whaling vessels often met up at sea and exchanged yarns) and heard the horrifying tale of the Essex, struck down by a ferocious whale that fated the crew to the dire events recently depicted in the film In the Heart of the Sea. Chase’s son gave him a copy of his father’s narrative. In Melville’s own words, “the reading of this wondrous story upon the landless sea, & very close to the latitude of the shipwreck had a surprising effect upon me.” This may well have been the moment of conception for Melville’s greatest work.

Several months passed before the Acushnet approached an island which had been greatly anticipated by the crew- The Marquesas. Melville had already been privy to stories surrounding the barbarous inhabitants and the lush landscape of these islands from his cousin and uncle. He was well aware that the natives had a fierce reputation, and some of the tribes were even known to consume the remains of their enemies killed in battle. Yes, the island was inhabited (in part) by cannibals!

When the Acushnet pulled into the Marquesan harbor, it encountered the newly arrived French man-of-war flagship La Reine Blanche which had recently taken possession of the island in the name of France for the purpose of establishing a penal colony. The looming presence of this ship, and all that it represented, detracted from the striking beauty of the island for Melville and formed in him an aversion to colonialism that later became apparent in some of his writing. However, the effect was likely soon diminished by the approaching presence of young island girls swimming out to meet the ship and greet the sailors in the most intimate fashion. Debauchery ensued, recorded by Melville (who claimed to be an observer only) in his first novel Typee:

“What a sight for us bachelor sailors! How avoid so dire a temptation? For who could think of tumbling these artless creatures overboard, when they had swam miles to welcome us?
In the evening after we had come to an anchor the deck was illuminated with lanterns, and this picturesque band of sylphs, tricked out with flowers, and dressed in robes of variegated tappa, got up a ball in great style. These females were passionately fond of dancing, and in the wild grace and spirit of their style excel everything that I have ever seen.”

Next up: Melville deserts the whaler and spends 3 weeks in the company of cannibals, plus a mutiny and more!

As always, comments/questions are welcome. Thank you so much for taking the time to read!
edit on 29-11-2016 by zosimov because: (no reason given)

posted on Nov, 29 2016 @ 09:43 PM
Thanks once more.

Your passion for all things Melville is infectious. I greatly appreciate your biographical digests.

edit on 29-11-2016 by Dan00 because:

posted on Nov, 29 2016 @ 10:28 PM
Typee was one of the books I read for one of my American lit classes in college. It was an interesting read to be sure. But it was made even better by the prof who taught. He was one of the few who could lecture for over an hour on material most would find dry and still make it interesting.

posted on Nov, 29 2016 @ 10:46 PM
Thank you both for taking the time to read and comment!

ketsuko, I was really surprised to learn that Typee, Melville's first novel, was also his best received during his lifetime. It also earned him an interesting reputation as the first American literary sex symbol for its sensual language and content.

I thought that was really funny when I read that, particularly as I had the impression from the pictures I had seen of him of a stern, rather stiff man.

While misfortune did mold him into an unhappy and somewhat impovershed soul in his later years, he was by many accounts and by what is evident in his own writing an enthusiastic and passionate youth with a great sense of humor.

It's rather heartbreaking to think what life can do to you.
edit on 29-11-2016 by zosimov because: (no reason given)

posted on Nov, 29 2016 @ 11:45 PM
a reply to: zosimov

It's rather heartbreaking to think what life can do to you.

Or die trying.

It's our story against.

posted on Nov, 30 2016 @ 01:53 AM
a reply to: zosimov


That's some interesting stuff. Thank you. S&F

I encountered this book, and more than a mere book, around a year ago now. Might have even been able to make use of it to great effect (but that's another story).

I am setting out to re-read it again, although to be honest I did get distracted and never actually finished it (strangely) and then I'm going to read it a third time while making notes, to prepare to record myself reading it aloud for a free audio book.

I think it will take me about a year to accomplish, like a hobby. Acting out the different voices isn't going to be easy, but I'm up for the challenge.

Now why would I feel compelled to want to do such a thing?

Because it contains what I believe is an otherwise undiscovered and unappreciated deep and grave sense of humor, mirth and charm, and a "playfulness" to the whole grave affair, in the voice and sensibilities of Ishmael the narrator.

Melville also writes In style of run on sentence structure, that lends itself well to a different type of audio-style reading (aloud) that had to be more spontaneous and more authentic and just faster and more clarelessly than any standard audio book narrator typically reads, where they read too slowly and speak too clearly and act it out, oftentimes inauthentically. Don't get me wrong there are some good audio book narrators out there, but I've become convinced that I can lend to the characters and the story the voice that was intended by the author.

In my opinion, it's the funniest story ever written.

No one knows this, or few would I imagine, some even by trial and error, that it's a gravely funny story about an allegory of man's utter folly and absurdity yet cast in the most majestic and glorious light, which makes it all the funnier.

As Ishmael takes us on this journey, he's like a man telling a running gag with a straight face the whole time, even while demonstrating a beguiled mischievousness in the whole inquiry, but his knowledge, and his understanding and awareness of the bigger picture, as he leads us through it, makes of it a grave humor, that takes on the tone and feel out of something akin to the movie Jaws, which I'm sure tried to borrow from it that maritime sense of foreboding as we however between the depths and the sky in pursuit of a "demon" fish (at least in the eyes of one-legged Ahab).

It's a story that circumnavigates the glorious heights and fearsome depths within a mammoth struggle between man and fish.

It's funny. The whole premise of the story is absolutely hilarious!

I enjoy going on this journey again, to the bitter end - I think I might have been afraid to see where it was leading.. LOL!

Just be open to the possibility that it's a grave comedy, and I think you'll get the most out of it.

Thanks for this.


edit on 30-11-2016 by AnkhMorpork because: (no reason given)

posted on Nov, 30 2016 @ 07:42 AM
a reply to: AnkhMorpork

Hi Ankh,

Thank you for the great post. It's excellent advice that I will keep it in mind.

I, too, find the narrator of Moby Dick to be extremely funny and have reason to believe that Melville himself was intent on playing a joke on or tricking the reader.

Here is an interesting fact: Once Melville had finished The Whale-- as it was first published in England, he wrote to his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne that the secret motto of the book was;

"Ego non baptizo te in nomine" (I baptize you not in the name of")

Which Ahab completes in Chapter 113 The Forge:

"Ego non baptizo in nomine patris, sed nomini diaboli!"

Knowing that definitely made me aware of an even lower layer to the text.

BTW: I know exactly what you mean by being afraid of reading through to the tragic end. I think it's part of Melville's genius to be able to give away the ending while still making the book so fascinating!

I hope you pop in from time to time on our study to share your ideas!

edit on 30-11-2016 by zosimov because: (no reason given)

posted on Nov, 30 2016 @ 06:01 PM

originally posted by: zosimov

"Ego non baptizo in nomine patris, sed nomini diaboli!"

In seeking out a translation for that, I came across this

Which attributed a devilish outlook to Melville and to Moby Dick, a wicked book, but I don't read it in that way, but instead as righteous ridicule of everything that deserves to be ridiculed and rendered absurd and unjust including Christian hypocrisy, but none of that is Jesus' fault or that of the Heavenly Father/first father of creation the Spirit of whom (of great intelligence and an almost wicked sense of playful mirth and irony) I am convinced informed Melville as he wrote the book.

What Melville seems to have perceived is how the devil appears to have rode in on the very back and coattails of Christendom as he perceived it.

More as this study unfolds..

Thanks for the feedback. This is going to get increasingly interesting i think as we move forward on the tide and undercurrents.

P.S. I think that reference is to the utter madness and folly of Ahab's "mission" whereby he engaged his shipmates and underlings in a blood oath, because it involved the baptism of the spearhead with which he hoped to kill his ever elusive, white prey, a devilish business if there ever was one.

Again, hilarious, absurd, madness!

edit on 30-11-2016 by AnkhMorpork because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 1 2016 @ 09:50 AM
a reply to: AnkhMorpork

Great find! Thanks for the link.

I agree that the main source of Melville's ire (and rightly so) was the utter hypocrisy and wretchedness of the many and highly visible Christians who claimed one thing and did another. He had already inadvertantly gained some very powerful enemies, political, martial and religious, from critical observations he had made.. namely in Typee, Omoo, and White Jacket (also his brother- a powerful orator- had made some speeches/comments out of youthful passion and naivety that gained the Melville's at least one life-long powerful enemy). I am planning one more thread that I still have to research a bit and put together (it takes me a while to do) that will have a bit more info in this realm.

I agree that Christian hypocrisy is a result of free will and not Jesus.

I do, however, think Melville also had the Creator in mind when he wrote Moby Dick, and think he perceived the novel as an act of rebellion. A few chapters in Moby Dick (the Lee Shore, The Whiteness of the Whale, Queen Mab, even Extracts) seem to add some vaidation to this idea.

More on my ideas regarding that when we get to the text!

I really enjoy your perspective, though. I think you're on to something great can't wait to hear more of what you have to say about the book. I agree that Melville's sense of humor and irony was wicked!!!

Thanks for joining.. wish me luck in getting this last piece together quickly so we can begin

edit on 1-12-2016 by zosimov because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 1 2016 @ 02:23 PM
a reply to: zosimov

Good luck!

I see it as an appeal to the Creator God, through the reader, who's mind is raised to lofty heights in contemplating the whole field of human folly and absurdity.

Maybe it's just me, but that wicked sense of humor, irony, and playful mirth and charm, I found to be in perfect alignment with my own spiritual experience.

I just hope that it's not the devil in me that was laughing throughout, but I don't think so, or I sure hope not.

I'd hate to subscribe to the whole allegory a rebellion against the Creator perpetrated by Melville, no, instead it's really all about the ridicule of that devil in man, who deserves only to be laughed down and ridiculed by God, which I am convinced was his real purpose, to evoke a reframe to a higher frame of reference and POV.

As a rebellion, if anything it was a rebellion against the establishment's thinking of his time, to point to the nature of their fears and hypocrisies as so-called Christians.

Melville's wit and charm and humor reminds me of Oscar Wilde in many ways.

"Every sinner has a future, and every saint, a past."

Where it gets interesting, I think, and in my own personal experience, is that point where it raises an awareness of the same sort of dynamics occurring in the context of our modern day, in considering the madness of our leaders and entire security and intelligence apparatus, who search the oceans, not just for crazed terrorists, but to try to capture that one lone fish or person of interest that doesn't fit into their systems and illusions, and it's the very same one, of sorts or of a type or an echo of it, that took their leg in times past.

Thus, to the degree that Moby Dick once again becomes a relevant pointer and frame of reference for today or in this day and age, once again the sparks and the humor and irony kicks into high gear.

The joke told is God's own joke told and retold through variations on these same themes and allegories and it's the devil that's the brunt of it, since it's at the devil's expense.

When reading it, I was just astounded at Melville's insight and where he hopes to take the reader on this voyage, and it really made me wonder about his background, training and upbringing, if he wasn't managing to channel wisdom from a higher domain of reason, logic, playful mirth and charm and a wicked sense of humor that belongs to God, since evil laughter and the devil's humor only results in his own downfall and the loss of humor, not its restoration.

When I was reading this book, it was in the midst of a powerful spiritual experience and spiritual attack of sorts that I perceived myself to be under (another story), and it was as if "Moby Dick" had come into my possession as a type of shield and blueprint of sorts to help keep my sense of humor alive even in the midst of a perilous fight of life and death.

We must bear in the back of our mind as we read this book, the perspective and POV of Moby Dick himself as God's own creature. Do you see how funny it can be?

It's the funniest book ever written.

edit on 1-12-2016 by AnkhMorpork because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 1 2016 @ 02:57 PM
a reply to: AnkhMorpork

Wow. I don't have much to say except.. bravo!

I very much enjoy your thought process. Especially when you compare the modern systematic hunt for the lone "person of interest" as you put it to that of Ahab's fiery quest for the elusive whale.

Also enjoy your point about seeing the world through Moby Dick's eyes. Biting the hand (or leg) that tries to murder you doesn't seem unreasonable. You will enjoy to read more about the real whale who inspired Moby-- named Mocha Dick. I will include a bit on him in my next thread.

Very interesting!!!! And yes, funny and absurd as well.

I, too, was astounded by the content so much that it lead me to search out as much info as possible on the man who had aspired to write it.

I would highly recommend the above mentioned bio as a start.

Truly thankful for your ideas. Keep them coming please!
edit on 1-12-2016 by zosimov because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 1 2016 @ 04:31 PM

originally posted by: zosimov
a reply to: AnkhMorpork

Wow. I don't have much to say except.. bravo!

I very much enjoy your thought process. Especially when you compare the modern systematic hunt for the lone "person of interest" as you put it to that of Ahab's fiery quest for the elusive whale.

Thanks for the positive and affirmative feedback! Much appreciated on this end also.

I cast it in light of my understanding and research of the hidden, conspiratorial nature, of the passion of Jesus as a type of big white fish with an axe to grind, a root to lay it into, and an ace up his sleeve in a type of hoodwink and double bind on evil, including that of a corrupt evil empire, who, when the blood moon rose that evening, probably exclaimed - "how did he KNOW?!" and something along the lines of.. "My God, who's really been running this operation all along?!" where at the moment that they thought they'd trapped the fish and got a line and a spear into him (in Jesus' case, which only served to alleviate a plural effusion brought on by trauma and shock), was the very point at which he scuttled their "ship", by anticipation, since Ahab's type of madness is the most predictable thing in the world for the higher intelligence of God who can recognize a fated wedge and see straight through to the other side of it in the domain of freedom in the resurrected life that threads the eye in the needle and passes through the narrow gate and the ordeal, into the domain (ocean) of eternal life, joy and happiness, which aside from upholding and holding in reserve everything that's worthwhile, even worth living and dying for, is also reserved the last laugh at the expense of the devil's "mission", embodied in Arab's mad quest across the globe to wreck vengeance on the one who de-masted him. And lo and behold doesn't another variation of the same theme play itself out yet again, and again in time and history..? It's inevitable when people don't take heed or are blinded by their own egotism and form of madness.

I don't have to read the end of the book to intuit that the fish swam on and that the ordeal tested every member of the crew where the only ones to survive, including Ishmael, only did so because they did not give their heart or blood into Ahab's keeping or their will into his will, which was a devilish will.

Somewhere in the deep waters, he, the great whale and creature of God, swims on, and circumnavigates the globe, well aware of the shenanigans that foolish men engage in for their own selfish ends and diabolical schemes.

He is a laughing fish, a free fish, and in the end, untouchable, and unaccountable for and innocent of the evil, wickedness and corruption that was wrought upon him, while having sustained a wound or two as a mark of his .. kingship, dignity, courage, and uncompromising goodness, however fierce and terrifying is his whiteness, and even his blood (depending on your point of view and frame of reference).

So it's a very happy ending, even where a ship and its men go down to davy jones' locker, unless they awaken to the nature of the joke that God has told at their expense, and in favor of the one who's ultimate fate, He protects and preserves.

There are so many Ahabs out there, with the peg of their wooden leg stuck in the same old notch and pivot point. !

I'm glad you like my take on it, and that at some level it's fundamental allegory is still alive and functioning as a point of great learning about the kind of thing to avoid getting drawn into at all cost.

edit on 1-12-2016 by AnkhMorpork because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 1 2016 @ 06:54 PM
oh it's so so funny.

I'm so looking forward to my own re-reading, and reading to the bitter end, to the new day amid all the wreckage that I presume awaits this mad quest.

posted on Dec, 1 2016 @ 06:57 PM

originally posted by: AnkhMorpork
oh it's so so funny.

I'm so looking forward to my own re-reading, and reading to the bitter end, to the new day amid all the wreckage that I presume awaits this mad quest.

I am really really looking forward to re-reading it with you, and with all and any else who wish to join (Dan00, ketsuko, et all, get ready for some cerebral fun!)

How does Monday work as a starting point for everyone? Just realized I work all weekend and have a rare social engagement (just kidding but not really
) on Saturday evening..

And that will give me time to prepare the last thread or two of biographical material also the real life stories that inspired Melville.

edit on 1-12-2016 by zosimov because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 2 2016 @ 07:25 PM
Thread continued here:

(Mods-- I know that this is a bit unorthodox, but it takes me hours to put these threads together. They are connected but also separate events in Melville's life. Please notify me if I am breaching any of the t&c)

posted on Dec, 4 2016 @ 09:32 PM
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