Party of One: The Selected Writings of Clifton Fadiman

By Clifton Fadiman | Go to book overview

Moby Dick

SOME THIRTY-ODD YEARS ago, on May 18, 1921, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, then eighty, in a letter to his lifelong friend, Sir Frederick Pollock, wrote: "Did I mention "Moby Dick,' by Herman Melville? I remember him in my youth. It seemed to me a great book--as ten years later may some of George Borrow's things, possibly influenced by him--but I should think a much greater man. It shook me up a good deal. It is wonderful already that a book published in 1851 doesn't seem thin now. Hawthorne did when last I read "The Scarlet Letter.' Not so 'Moby Dick.'"

Holmes, a man given to wide and impartial decisions, made no judicial error here. By common consent--but, interestingly enough, a consent given only during the last three decades--Moby Dick is one of the great books of the world. It does not "seem thin now" any more than in the early twenties it seemed thin to the lucky Balboas and Columbuses who then rediscovered its Pacific rhythms and Atlantic rages.

A minor proof of its greatness lies in the circumstance (always true of masterpieces) that, while there seems nothing new to say about it, we are forever trying our hands at further commentary. In the case of a minor work, no matter how interesting, critics sooner or later, happily, have their say, the river of annotation dribbles off, and the position of the work is more or less firmly established. But men and women will always attempt the seemingly impossible task of

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Party of One: The Selected Writings of Clifton Fadiman
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 5
  • Contents 9
  • Prefatory and Retrospective 13
  • From My Notebooks 33
  • Admirations 45
  • No Knights in Minnesota 47
  • A Traveler in Reality 54
  • I- Nominate for The Pulitzer Prize-- 63
  • Abner Dean's Naked Little Man 71
  • G. K. C. 74
  • She Did Not Know How To Be Famous 77
  • Puzzlements 83
  • Gertrude Stein 85
  • William Faulkner 98
  • Lead-Ins 127
  • A Note on Huckleberry Finn 129
  • Dodsworth 132
  • Moby Dick 136
  • Portrait of a Misanthrope 145
  • Three Notes on Henry James 154
  • War and Peace 176
  • Pickwick and Dickens 203
  • Conversation 251
  • Onstage 269
  • Clowns, Humorists, Comics 271
  • Emlyn Williams, Charles Laughton, and the Art Of Reading Aloud 274
  • Reflections on Musical Comedy 280
  • Judy and Juan 285
  • Ladies and Gentlemen, Your Host-- 292
  • The Reading Lamp 303
  • The Book-Reviewing Business 305
  • An Experiment in Teaching 320
  • The Wild Child 324
  • Pillow Books 334
  • The Voice of the Dodo 341
  • A Gentle Dirge for The Familiar Essay 349
  • The Decline of Attention 354
  • Children's Reading 367
  • Books for Children 382
  • Mother Goose 396
  • The Maze in the Snow 404
  • How Pleasant to Know Mr. Lear! 411
  • Assortment 421
  • Fanfare for Fireworks, Fawkes, And the Fifth 423
  • Fadiman's Law of Optimum Improvement 430
  • Plain Thoughts on Fancy Language 437
  • A Period Sample: Three Reviews of John O'Hara 446
  • The Wolfe at the Door 455
  • How to Attract the Attention Of a Schrafft's Hostess 461
  • Some Passing Remarks On Some Passing Remarks 466
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