Oldenburg's Spoonbridge and Cherry would not be appropriate in this instance. "Ahab was one shaped in an unalterable mold like Oldenburg's Spoonbridge and Cherry." Somewhat wanting in gravitas, eh what?
As a quick side note, one of the benefits of signing on to a reading project like the one I am doing with the Harvard Classics is that, along with leading one to read things one would not have otherwise read, it also leads one to finally read a good deal of "I've always meant to read that" books. Cellini's autobiography is one of those books that I've thought that about for years, but then walked out of the library with some flashy McSweeney's nonsense or something instead.
So, we're three paragraphs in to this week's Moby-Dick post and I've yet to talk about this week's reading. There is a reason for that. A little frustration has crept in. It's not that I dislike the book. I'm actually enjoying it tremendously. But I have two examples to present to you of what I'm talking about. One is the name of the prophet, which when it was announced, I audibly snorted derisively at the stark obviousness of it, upsetting the dog on my lap. Melville has a heavy, heavy hand. He loves loomings and foreshadowings. In fact, so far, anything else in the book has been a very slow train coming.
The other illustration I have to submit to you is the chapter "The Lee Shore," which talks for a length about Bulkington and has absolutely nothing to add to the narrative aside from tone. Melville is painting a very broad and baroque picture. At first I worried that perhaps my slick, modern sensibilities were preventing me from really appreciating what Melville was doing here. Perhaps the post-television world speed of the culture in which I find myself prevents me from appreciating very fine points being put upon things. But Christopher pointed out, and rightly so I think, that Moby-Dick may not be the best example of the wide, sweeping world of an epic 19th century novel. Tolstoy did it so much better. In other words, I don't think it's me.
I did like the description of Starbuck. I like him. I'm supposed to like him I gather. And the other crewmates: Tubbs and Bud and Spanky and Bruce and Marvin and Leon and Cletus and George and Bill and Slick and Do-right and Clyde and Ace and Blackie and Queenie and Prince and Spot and Rover. And Rudolph, he who is marked by rosacea. I'm just making things up at this point to throw students who use my blog to plagiarize for school papers. Actually, I stole that list of names from a Ray Stevens song. But there is a series of character studies of fellow shipmates, all of whom are compelling and humanizing, to make us care about their problems. This is in order to make us be sad when the guy who smokes the pipes dies. It's like the cop in the action film whose character development comprises his few days until retirement and seeing his beloved daughter graduate college.
So.... strike that earlier comment absolving myself from modern cynicism.
And we finally meet Ahab who comes out of his cabin and sees his shadow, which portends eight more weeks of winter. We end this week with a dream in a chapter whose title brings Mercutio to mind, which seems an appropriate character, one who might actually fit in this story. There is something of The Bard about the scene in this chapter. I smell whiffs of Hamlet's gravediggers and Clarence's drowning dream from Richard III as well. Melville infused his brain with Scripture and Shakespeare. It shows in what comes spilling out of his mind. It's a quality of his that I would like to emulate. Stubb dreams of a merman who tells him to count a "kick" from Ahab as an honor.
I feel like a high school English teacher even mentioning Ahab's dropping the pipe into the sea symbolizing his abandonment of all Earthly pleasure in deference to his cetacean vendetta.
I am so torn over this text. I think I like it a lot, but I also feel a sort of perpetual impatience. On the other hand, I do like the story he's telling and the picture he is painting. It is a bit like the long waiting periods in hunting or fishing though. Like Persian sherbet in crystal goblets flaked up with rose-water snow.
Next week, we read up through Chapter XL which, in my text, takes us up to page 169 and spits us out before a chapter enticingly called Moby-Dick, threatening headway in the narrative.