Melville's Reviewers: British and American, 1846-1891

By Hugh W. Hetherington | Go to book overview

Chapter VII: MOBY-DICK

"Imagination is banquetted on celestial fare, and delight, top- gallant delight."-- London Morning Post ( 1851), reviewing The Whale.


BRITISH RECEPTION

On June 27, 1850, Melville offered to Richard Bentley a new manuscript, "a romance of adventure founded upon certain wild legends in the Southern Sperm Whale Fisheries, and illustrated by the author's personal experience of two years and more as a harpooner." It would be available "in the latter part of the coming autumn."1Evert Duyckinck referred to the new manuscript in August as being "mostly done."2 Yet the finished proof sheets were not actually mailed to London until September 10, 1851.3 The long interval, it is now known, was the result of an extensive revision Melville began in August, 1850, better called a total transformation. Several theories concerning the nature of the first version have been advanced: Howard Vincent's that it was a realistic whaling story,4 Leon Howard's that it was a Byronic talc employing whaling characters and setting.5 Of the two, Vincent's seems more plausible. But, in any case, it would seem that the book Melville described to Bentley was one he believed had every chance to be popular; and that, in the incandescence of effecting the transmutation, Melville came to care less and less whether or not he was shap-

____________________
1
Log, p. 376.
2
Log, p. 385.
3
Howard, p. 177.
4
The Trying Out of Moby-Dick ( Cambridge, 1949), p. 22. George R. Stewart in "The Two Moby-Dicks," American Literature, XXV ( January, 1954), 418-448, expresses conviction there were two versions, which he calls the Ur-Moby-Dick and Moby- Dick. He is rather inconclusive about the nature of the UMD, suggesting it was a "mere whaling voyage" with more "folksy" style, centering about the adventures of Ishmael and Queequeg. Stewart's theory harmonizes with the view above maintained that the first version was on a more "popular" level.
5
Op. cit., p. 164.

-189-

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Melville's Reviewers: British and American, 1846-1891
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • List of Illustrations xii
  • Chapter I: Reviewers British And American 3
  • Chapter II: Typee 20
  • Chapter III: Omoo 66
  • Chapter IV: Mardi 100
  • Chapter V: Redburn 135
  • Chapter VI: White Jacket 157
  • Chapter VII: Moby-Dick 189
  • Chapter VIII: After Moby- Dick 227
  • Chapter IX: "Dead Letters" 265
  • Index 293
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