Moby Dick: Or, the Whale

Moby Dick: Or, the Whale

Moby Dick: Or, the Whale

Moby Dick: Or, the Whale

Excerpt

For five years, 1845-1850, Herman Melville had followed writing as a trade.Four of his books had brought him critical success and a subsistence income; only Mardi, the third, had been so unfavorably received that both fame and fortune had been seriously threatened. "Dollars damn me," he lamented, and clearly driving for self-damnation, he began the composition of a sixth book, a "whaling voyage," as he called it.

Nothing suggests that Melville wrote a single word of Moby‐ Dick before his return from London in February of 1850. But shreds of evidence—from his Literary World review of Etchings of a Whaling Cruise to the whaling references in Mardi, Redburn, and White-Jacket—show that his mind was slowly working over his whaleman's experience on the Acushnet and the Charles and Henry, that his creative talent was mysteriously preparing rich material for some future use.With the successful sale of White-Jacket toBentley, December 1849,Melville was free to turn his mind to these accumulated, partially ordered impressions, free at last to use the one segment of personal experience not yet exploited in his writings.

By the first of May he was well along in his composition.He wrote Richard Henry Dana, Jr., "About the 'whaling voyage'- I am half way in the work, & am very glad that your suggestion so jumps with mine.It will be a strange sort of a book, tho', I fear; blubber is blubber you know; tho' you may get oil out of it, the poetry runs as hard as sap from a frozen maple tree;- & to cook the thing up, one must needs throw in a little fancy, which from the nature of the thing, must be ungainly as the gambols of the whales themselves. Yet I mean to give the truth of the thing, spite of this."

Notwithstanding the ambiguities of these words, they showed that Melville was writing freely, and that he was following a writing pace used in all his other novels.But what was this . . .

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