"The first man to spot the white whale gets his picture printed on every United States penny!"
And so I've reached the end of both Moby-Dick and the Penguin Essential Classics reading project. I shall comment on the project as a whole anon. I have a few thoughts upon completion of Moby-Dick.
My conclusion on Moby-Dick is that it is a great 200 page work of literature. Unfortunately, it is 520 pages long. I thought that the final 80 pages of the book were as astounding as I think they have always been hyped up to be. There is a great book in there, it is just wrapped in a great deal of blubber. I do not feel I am treading too heavily on the toes of audacity to offer my opinion that the book would be transcendent if it started with the narrative up to Queequeg and Ishamael beginning the Pequod voyage
to the scenes of whaling in the middle of the book to the final 80 some pages of narrative. I have not a doubt in my mind that the "informational" chapters are entirely superfluous, injure the book as a whole, and that the work would benefit infinitely from their excision. Unfortunately, even I bristle at the thought of doing that now. I just think it's unfortunate that Melville didn't have a friend to pull him aside and said "Look, Herman, you really don't need four chapters on whale skulls. Save it for the posthumous Unpublished Journals of Herman Melville."
I imagine one might ask "So, do you think that people ought to read Moby-Dick at long last?" To which I say this:
Given what in my experience is the capricious nature of Atropos, I feel that there are literally (as it were) hundreds of books you require in this lifetime before Moby-Dick were I given the task of assembling a curriculum vitae (or, rather, a curriculum legere.) Sublime material is contained within, but there is far more nutritious fare on far lower shelves before one gets to hacking away at the white whale.
The end is packed with excellent material. The encounters with the other ships which range from the Biblical to the heart-breakingly ironic (the joyful ship returning home meeting the grim Pequod on their way into the hunt was one of my favorite sections of the book) to the prophecies in homage to the Scottish play ("Paul Mathers, you can be killed by nothing but the caverns within your breast growing hard and filling with debris!") to the Horatio style epilogue. I will say I thought, for such an otherwise turgid work, that Ahab's final scene passed quickly and with very little exposition.
I will also leave the question which I shall answer in my next post, which is: was the project worthwhile as a whole?