This morning DailyLit sent me my last installment of Moby Dick, which I finished reading only a few moments ago. I don’t know whether it is because I spent about six months reading it or whether Moby Dick is such a notoriously difficult book to get through, but I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment. At the end of the installment, DailyLit enclosed the following message: “Congratulations! You have finished Moby Dick.”
I do think Melville was in need of a good editor. One of the best pieces of advice I was given as a writer was to cut anything that stopped the forward motion of the plot. I think long passages of description are fine when it’s something the reader needs to know. On the other hand, the whole section on cetology should be cut, in my opinion. I can well imagine that many people who are trying to read the novel give up right there in the middle. On the other hand, when the novel does contain action, it’s high caliber, and the writing is excellent. My favorite passages:
After Ahab sends the Rachel away, refusing to help her captain look for his lost son, the chapter concludes:
But by her still halting course and winding, woeful way, you plainly saw that this ship that so wept with spray, still remained without comfort. She was Rachel, weeping for her children, because they were not.
I just think that’s beautiful writing. My absolute favorite part was in the chapter “The Symphony,” and it is easy for me to see now how Sena Jeter Naslund was inspired by this chapter to write Ahab’s Wife:
“God! God! God!–crack my heart!–stave my brain!–mockery! mockery! bitter, biting mockery of grey hairs, have I lived enough joy to wear ye; and seem and feel thus intolerably old? Close! stand close to me, Starbuck; let me look into a human eye; it is better than to gaze into sea or sky; better than to gaze upon God. By the green land; by the bright hearth-stone! this is the magic glass, man; I see my wife and my child in thine eye. No, no; stay on board, on board!–lower not when I do; when branded Ahab gives chase to Moby Dick. That hazard shall not be thine. No, no! not with the far away home I see in that eye!” …
“What is it, what nameless, inscrutable, unearthly thing is it; what cozening, hidden lord and master, and cruel, remorseless emperor commands me; that against all natural lovings and longings, I so keep pushing, and crowding, and jamming myself on all the time; recklessly making me ready to do what in my own proper, natural heart, I durst not so much as dare? Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; but is as an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I. By heaven, man, we are turned round and round in this world, like yonder windlass, and Fate is the handspike.
I think Melville’s use of stage directions was novel and interesting as well, and not something I would have thought of doing. I am very glad I read the book, but even more so that I did it through DailyLit. I feel that because I read just a little bit every day, even if it took me six months, I was less frustrated with the parts that dragged than I would have been had I tried to read it in a much shorter space of time.