Herman Melville: nice alliteration, shame about the word count

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I started reading Moby Dick recently.  So far I can’t decide whether I’m gripped by it or just overwhelmed. Melville’s style is like nothing I’ve ever encountered before, and it’s certainly not particularly accessible, but every few pages he blows me away with the strange, rugged beauty of his writing. Take this for example – how many alliterative pairs does he throw into this sentence? And yet it works.

On one side, New Bedford rose in terraces of streets, their ice-covered trees all glittering in the clear, cold air. Huge hills and mountains of casks on casks were piled upon her wharves, and side by side the world-wandering whale ships lay silent and safely moored at last; while from others came a sound of carpenters and coopers, with blended noises of fires and forges to melt the pitch….

I may never get it finished – it’s the kind of book that requires a long daily commute or some other opportunity for uninterrupted reading. I’ve tackled the first hundred or so pages, Ishmael and Queequeg have just set sail on the Pequod, but Ahab – never mind Moby Dick – is yet to make an appearance. I’ve given myself the target of getting it finished before summer, and if I do I will attempt to write a proper review of it on this blog. Wish me luck!

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13 thoughts on “Herman Melville: nice alliteration, shame about the word count

  1. i wish you luck! I read it as part of my American Lit course 40+ years ago and it was a bit of an endurance test… I can’t remember a thing about it. I’ve sometimes wondered if I was a bit unready for it as a mere undergrad but have never summoned up the courage to have another go – even Ulysses is less daunting. So I will be very interested to read your full review… Bonne courage!

    • Ha! I think I’m going to need it. Especially as I’m struggling to make time for reading at the moment. I could do with a nice half hour bus or train commute to work I think, but I’m either driving or walking to current job. It could take years…

  2. While I can appreciate the beauty of his prose, I’ve never found the Man vs. Nature motif very gripping.

    But I think that’s on me. I like chafacterdriven relationships, hence my love of the Brontë sisters and Austen and al the typical girl stuff.

    I FINALLY got to watch the BBC Brontë drama, btw! It was very good, though depressing. You can’t help wondering what else they would’ve written if they hadn’t died so tragically young.

    • I think I’m enjoying it so far… although I do have a tendency to fall asleep with it in my hand. Glad you got to see the Bronte drama – hope it wasn’t too harrowing! As for what else they would have written… there is a fragment of the last novel Charlotte started on, called Emma, which looked like it might have been pretty good. There was a rumour that Emily completed a manuscript for a 2nd novel but Charlotte hated it so burned it after she died. Don’t know if that’s actually true though…

      • Oh no, I wonder what it was about (if that’s true). Wasn’t Emily the passionate one? Maybe it was terribly risqué.

        I don’t mind harrowing, especially since I’m fond of the Brontës. Feels like practically everyone died of TB in the 18th and 19th centuries… especially if they were artistically inclined.

      • She was. I loved how she was portrayed in that film, squaring up to her brother, ready to take him on in his drunken rages. Exactly how I imagined her!

      • Seeing the sisters “in the flesh” really brought them to life for me! I didn’t know much about their brother before the film and ended up doing lots of research about him afterwards. Seems the film was quite accurate and he was truly a problem kid–drug addled and depressive. I was so sad that Emily died so soon… I really liked her. Great recommendation! My husband was engrossed in it too, and he typically likes superhero movies, lol

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