Reportedly, this is the real life Spouter-Inn painting.
Our reading begins with a long, strange list of quotations from great, pre-Melville works of human writing having to do with whales. Or sentences that at least mention whales in passing. They don't seem to need to be relevant (note the one from Hamlet is simply Polonius agreeing with Hamlet that a cloud is shaped like a whale.) I assume the purpose of the list is not simply a overzealous devotion to the custom of epigrams. I'm fairly certain it's there to gather the dark clouds that loom over the first chapter, to foreshadow the behemoth lurking below in the deeps.
I really liked the first chapter. In fact, I made Laurie listen to me read a lot of it out loud. Melville was a tremendous wordsmith. He makes me feel ashamed to ever write again in his looming shadow. He makes me want to crawl in an ice cave and drink the tepid tears of orphans.
Anyway, on to the fruit of the looming: Ishmael seemed very dark and edgy as well as, as my friend Christopher pointed out, surprisingly well-read. He lays out the dark time of the soul leading him to sea. With but a few spare coins in his pocket, he finds his way to The Spouter-Inn where Melville sits down and flexes his descriptive powers for a while.
Ishmael either undergoes a sudden shift in character or the writing is a bit uneven here or I mistook his character from the earlier chapters. Or I am way off base with my reaction. He complains and becomes quite fussy over having to share a bunk with an unseen harpooner. He even makes the inn-keeper shave his bench and then doesn't sleep on it after all (although I doubt anyone was upset over the bits of extra fuel on the fire.) Granted, the cryptic bits of information dropped by the inn-keeper serve to inflame the situation. It would seem that Melville is aiming toward a "judge not by appearances" message with manner of the introduction of Queequeg. Still, I catch whiffs of a less enlightened age in this section. However, Melville also makes sure to include, in The Street chapter, that New England born sailors are as strange in foreign ports as Queequeg is in New England. Which was nice and showed at least an effort toward breaking from the ethnocentric shackles of his day.
We end with a description of the church, the pulpit (oh, that pulpit!), and Father Mapple clears his throat to begin his famous sermon, which we will cover next week.
Next week, we will read through the His Mark chapter which, in my text, takes me up to page 92. As I mentioned, we are going at a very leisurely pace.