Herman Melville’s Moby Dick

 “Call me Ishmael. .  . .”


First published in 1851, Moby Dick ranks on almost any list as one of the greatest works in the English language. Its three famous opening words, and the image of the one-legged Ahab in mad pursuit of the great White Whale, have become cultural icons. This grand—and occasionally grandiose—adventure tale unites the many voices of Herman Melville in a mongrel mix of epic poetry, Shakespearean tragedy, encyclopedic cataloguing, biblical oratory—and not a small dose of comedy. With Moby Dick, Melville presents an insightful study of obsession, madness and charismatic leadership that anticipates many of our contemporary conversations of democracy, cosmopolitanism, capitalism and environmentalism.


“I am half way in the work . . . It will be a strange sort of book, tho’, I fear; blubber is blubber you know; tho’ you might get oil out of it, the poetry runs as hard as sap from a frozen maple tree;—and to cool the thing up, one must needs throw in a little fancy, which from the nature of the thing, must be ungainly as the gambols of the whales themselves. Yet I mean to give the truth of the thing, spite of this.”

Herman Melville


A few years ago, artist Angela Cockayne and writer Philip Hoare convened and curated a unique whale symposium and exhibition at Peninsula Arts, the dedicated contemporary art space at Plymouth University. This grew into an extraordinary compilation of voices, the Moby Dick Big Read, (with Tilda Swinton, Stephen Fry and many more) and art to illuminate each chapter, inspiring and inspired by this vast book.

From the site:

‘I have written a wicked book’, said Melville when his novel was first published in 1851, ‘and I feel as spotless as the lamb’. Deeply subversive, in almost every way imaginable, Moby-Dick is a virtual, alternative bible – and as such, ripe for reinterpretation in this new world of new media. Out of Dominion was born its bastard child – or perhaps its immaculate conception – the Moby-Dick Big Read: an online version of Melville’s magisterial tome: each of its 135 chapters read out aloud, by a mixture of the celebrated and the unknown, to be broadcast online in a sequence of 135 downloads, publicly and freely accessible.



  • Eight meeting study
  • Recommended edition: Moby Dick (Norton Critical Edition, Third Edition), by Herman Melville, edited by Herschel Parker; W.W. Norton & Co.; ISBN-13: 978-0393285000

If you would like to request this study or have any questions about it, please contact us


Posted on

July 22, 2018