Moby-Dick (Alasdair Gray’s Lanark)

It is a relief to turn to the honest American book about the whale. A captain wants to kill it because the last time he tried to do that it bit off his leg while escaping. He embarks with a cosmopolitan crew who don’t like home life and prefer this way of earning money. They are brave, skilful and obedient, they chase the whale round the world and get themselves all drowned together: all but the storyteller. He describes the world flowing on as if they had never existed. There are no women or children in this book, apart from a little black boy whom they accidentally drive mad.

From Alasdair Gray’s unwieldy cult classic Lanark. In this particular episode, a version of the author of the novel Lanark itself (a conjurer-king, not named Gray) discusses and describes the great national epics; he chooses Moby-Dick as the American epic. There is no listing of a Scottish national epic; presumably Gray intends his novel to fill that slot.

Maurice Sendak’s Erotic Illustrations for Herman Melville’s Pierre (Book Acquired, 5.09.2014)

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Pierre, Herman Melville’s follow up to Moby-Dick, was, without a doubt, the most challenging, perplexing, befuddling book I read in school. I still don’t get it.

Still, I love Melville, and I love Maurice Sendak, so when I saw this unused copy of the Kraken addition for half-cover price at my favorite local used bookshop, I couldn’t resist.

Sendak’s bawdy illustrations recall William Blake to me—great stuff—although I’ll probably read Moby-Dick or The Confidence Man again before I make time for Pierre.

Read more about this edition of Pierre here.

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Journal entry, December 25, 1854 (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

December 25th.–Commodore P—- called to see me this morning,–a brisk, gentlemanly, offhand, but not rough, unaffected, and sensible man, looking not so elderly as he ought, on account of a very well made wig. He is now on his return from a cruise in the East Indian seas, and goes home by the Baltic, with a prospect of being very well received on account of his treaty with Japan. I seldom meet with a man who puts himself more immediately on conversable terms than the Commodore. He soon introduced his particular business with me,–it being to inquire whether I would recommend some suitable person to prepare his notes and materials for the publication of an account of his voyage. He was good enough to say that he had fixed upon me, in his own mind, for this office; but that my public duties would of course prevent me from engaging in it. I spoke of Herman Melville, and one or two others; but he seems to have some acquaintance with the literature of the day, and did not grasp very cordially at any name that I could think of; nor, indeed, could I recommend any one with full confidence. It would be a very desirable task for a young literary man, or, for that matter, for an old one; for the world can scarcely have in reserve a less hackneyed theme than Japan.

This is a most beautiful day of English winter; clear and bright, with the ground a little frozen, and the green grass along the waysides at Rock Ferry sprouting up through the frozen pools of yesterday’s rain. England is forever green. On Christmas Day, the children found wall-flowers, pansies, and pinks in the garden; and we had a beautiful rose from the garden of the hotel grown in the open air. Yet one is sensible of the cold here, as much as in the zero atmosphere of America. The chief advantage of the English climate is that we are not tempted to heat our rooms to so unhealthy a degree as in New England.

I think I have been happier this Christmas than ever before,–by my own fireside, and with my wife and children about me,–more content to enjoy what I have,–less anxious for anything beyond it in this life. My early life was perhaps a good preparation for the declining half of life; it having been such a blank that any thereafter would compare favorably with it. For a long, long while, I have occasionally been visited with a singular dream; and I have an impression that I have dreamed it ever since I have been in England. It is, that I am still at college,–or, sometimes, even at school,–and there is a sense that I have been there unconscionably long, and have quite failed to make such progress as my contemporaries have done; and I seem to meet some of them with a feeling of shame and depression that broods over me as I think of it, even when awake. This dream, recurring all through these twenty or thirty years, must be one of the effects of that heavy seclusion in which I shut myself up for twelve years after leaving college, when everybody moved onward, and left me behind. How strange that it should come now, when I may call myself famous and prosperous!–when I am happy, too!

From Nathaniel Hawthorne’s English Note-Books.

 

Literary Recipes

Fat Kitchen, Jan Steen

***

Enjoy Thanksgiving with our menu of literary recipes:

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Turkey Twelve Ways

Zora Neale Hurston’s Mulatto Rice

Ian McEwan’s Fish Stew

James Joyce’s Burnt Kidney Breakfast

Herman Melville’s Whale Steaks

Ernest Hemingway’s Absinthe Cocktail, Death in the Afternoon

Vladimir Nabokov’s Eggs à la Nabocoque

Thomas Pynchon’s Banana Breakfast

Cormac McCarthy’s Turtle Soup

Robert Crumb’s Macaroni Casserole

Truman Capote’s Caviar-Smothered Baked Potatoes with 80-Proof Russian Vodka

Emily Dickinson’s Cocoanut Cake

Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream

Charles Dickens’s Own Punch

Ben Jonson’s Egg Wine

Willam Faulkner’s Hot Toddy

Christmas Bonus:  George Orwell’s Recipes for Plum Cake and Christmas Pudding

Moby-Dick(s)

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These are (as near as I can tell) all the versions (translations, if you will) of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick at our house.

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This is my beloved copy, a hardback Signet Classic edition that’s the size of a mass market paperback.

I love this copy because it was the one that I read when I really read Moby-Dick (I also kinda sorta ‘klept it).

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These abridged versions for young readers are the same, despite the cooler updated cover on the right, which I guess fooled my wife into buying another copy for me to read with my daughter. (She liked it the first time though, so….). Even the illustrations are the same:

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More of a resource than a reading copy—although as Norton Critical Editions go, this one’s footnotes aren’t too obtrusive. Handy dictionary of nautical terms.

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I am a huge fan of Bill Sienkiewicz. And Moby-Dick. I wish his Moby-Dick adaptation had no words though.

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My dad’s childhood adaption, a Grosset & Dunlap from the early ’60s.

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Sam Ita’s fantastic pop-up adaptation fails to mention Herman Melville’s name at all.

Despite the gross oversight, it’s given me hours of joy with my kids.

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Moby-Dick was published on October 18th, 1851 in England.

The English printer Peter Bentley’s text contained numerous errors, including leaving out the epilogue, where we learn that Ishmael survives to bear witness to disaster.

Although the American printing in November of 1851 emended many of these errors, the early reviews of Moby-Dick were scathing, and Melville’s career and reputation deteriorated.

It wasn’t until the advent of literary modernism in the first decades of the twentieth century that the world caught up to Moby-Dick.

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“Herman Melville” — Conrad Aiken

“Herman Melville” by Conrad Aiken:

‘My towers at last!’—
What meant the word
from what acknowledged circuit sprung
and in the heart and on the tongue
at sight of few familiar birds
when seaward his last sail unfurled
to leeward from the wheel once more
bloomed the pale crags of haunted shore
that once-more-visited notch of world:
and straight he knew as known before
the Logos in Leviathan’s roar
he deepest sounding with his lead
who all had fathomed all had said.

Much-loving hero—towers indeed
were those that overhung your log
with entries of typhoon and fog
and thunderstone for Adam’s breed:
man’s warm Sargasso Sea of faith
dislimned in light by luck or fate
you for mankind set sail by hate
and weathered it, and with it death.
And now at world’s end coasting late
in dolphined calms beyond the gate
which Hercules flung down, you come
to the grim rocks that nod you home.
Depth below depth this love of man:
among unnumbered and unknown
to mark and make his cryptic own
one landfall of all time began:
of all life’s hurts to treasure one
and hug it to the wounded breast,
in this to dedicate the rest,
all injuries received or done.
Your towers again but towers now blest
your haven in a shoreless west
o mariner of the human soul
who in the landmark notched the Pole
and in the Item loved the Whole.

 

“Hawthorne and His Mosses” — Herman Melville

“Hawthorne and His Mosses” by Herman Melville

A papered chamber in a fine old farm-house–a mile from any other dwelling, and dipped to the eaves in foliage–surrounded by mountains, old woods, and Indian ponds,–this, surely is the place to write of Hawthorne. Some charm is in this northern air, for love and duty seem both impelling to the task. A man of a deep and noble nature has seized me in this seclusion. His wild, witch voice rings through me; or, in softer cadences, I seem to hear it in the songs of the hill-side birds, that sing in the larch trees at my window.

Would that all excellent books were foundlings, without father or mother, that so it might be, we could glorify them, without including their ostensible authors. Nor would any true man take exception to this;–least of all, he who writes,–“When the Artist rises high enough to achieve the Beautiful, the symbol by which he makes it perceptible to mortal senses becomes of little value in his eyes, while his spirit possesses itself in the enjoyment of the reality.”

But more than this, I know not what would be the right name to put on the title-page of an excellent book, but this I feel, that the names of all fine authors are fictitious ones, far more than that of Junius,–simply standing, as they do, for the mystical, ever-eluding Spirit of all Beauty, which ubiquitously possesses men of genius. Purely imaginative as this fancy may appear, it nevertheless seems to receive some warranty from the fact, that on a personal interview no great author has ever come up to the idea of his reader. But that dust of which our bodies are composed, how can it fitly express the nobler intelligences among us? With reverence be it spoken, that not even in the case of one deemed more than man, not even in our Saviour, did his visible frame betoken anything of the augustness of the nature within. Else, how could those Jewish eyewitnesses fail to see heaven in his glance.

It is curious, how a man may travel along a country road, and yet miss the grandest, or sweetest of prospects, by reason of an intervening hedge, so like all other hedges, as in no way to hint of the wide landscape beyond. So has it been with me concerning the enchanting landscape in the soul of this Hawthorne, this most excellent Man of Mosses. His “Old Manse” has been written now four years, but I never read it till a day or two since. I had seen it in the book-stores–heard of it often–even had it recommended to me by a tasteful friend, as a rare, quiet book, perhaps too deserving of popularity to be popular. But there are so many books called “excellent,” and so much unpopular merit, that amid the thick stir of other things, the hint of my tasteful friend was disregarded; and for four years the Mosses on the Old Manse never refreshed me with their perennial green. It may be, however, that all this while, the book, like wine, was only improving in flavor and body. At any rate, it so chanced that this long procrastination eventuated in a happy result. At breakfast the other day, a mountain girl, a cousin of mine, who for the last two weeks has every morning helped me to strawberries and raspberries,–which like the roses and pearls in the fairy-tale, seemed to fall into the saucer from those strawberry-beds her cheeks,–this delightful crature, this charming Cherry says to me–“I see you spend your mornings in the hay-mow; and yesterday I found there ‘Dwight’s Travels in New England’. Now I have something far better than that,–something more congenial to our summer on these hills. Take these raspberries, and then I will give you some moss.”–“Moss!” said I–“Yes, and you must take it to the barn with you, and good-bye to ‘Dwight.'” Continue reading ““Hawthorne and His Mosses” — Herman Melville”