On reading Moby Dick

Moby Dick

‘It is generally recognized that the canons of the ordinary novel do not apply to Moby-Dick. If we applied them we should be forced to put it down as an inept, occasionally powerful, but on the whole puzzling affair. This was the opinion up to two decades ago. During those decades we have discovered Moby-Dick to be a masterpiece. What caused this shift in perspective? To put it simply, we discovered how Moby-Dick should be read. We must read it not as if it were a novel but as if it were a myth. A novel is a tale. A myth is a disguised method of expressing mankind’s deepest terrors and longings. The myth uses the narrative form, and is often mistaken for true narrative. Once we feel the truth of this distinction, the greatness of Moby-Dick becomes manifest: we have learned how to read it’. – Clifton Faldman, in The Atlantic Monthly 172 (July, 1944), 90. [HT]

[Image: Clara Drummond, ‘Cape-Horner in a great Hurricane’. Oil on board, January 2012]


  1. My 140 character Twitter summary: “World-weary seaman signs on, ships off, bunks with cannibal, meets crazy captain, searches for white whale, goes badly, swims away on coffin.” Melville wrote it here in Pittsfield, just up the road.


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