In this week’s Guardian, Philip Hoare celebrates Moby Dick on the occasion of Herman Melville’s 200th year birthday– and offers six reasons why this is the novel for our times.
Mark & I have completed two studies of this incredible and uncanny book this past year–and will offer one more study starting in September.
Here is Hoare on why everyone should read this book:
“The book features gay marriage, hits out at slavery and imperialism and predicts the climate crisis – 200 years after the birth of its author, Herman Melville, it has never been more important.
Thursday marks the 200th birthday of Herman Melville – the author of the greatest unread novel in the English language. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen eyes glaze over when I ask people if they have conquered Moby-Dick. It is the Mount Everest of literature: huge and apparently insurmountable, its snowy peak as elusive as the tail of the great white whale himself.
Having grown up loving whales as a boy – in the era of the Save the Whale campaigns of the 1970s – I was underwhelmed when I watched John Huston’s grandiose 1956 film, Moby Dick. Perhaps it was because I saw it on a tiny black-and-white TV, but the whole story seemed impenetrable to me. And there weren’t enough whales. I would have been even less keen had I known that the whale footage Huston did include had been specially shot off Madeira, where they were still being hunted. For the Hemingwayesque director, there was none of that final-credit nonsense: “No animals were harmed in the making of this film.” Because they very much were.
Forty years later, I saw my first whales in the wild, off Provincetown, a former whaling port on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. It was there, in New England, that I finally finished the book. What had seemed to be a heroic tale of the high seas proved to be something much darker and more sublime. I realised its secret. Not only is it very funny and very subversive, but it maps out the modern world as if Melville had lived his life in the future and was only waiting for us to catch up. I fell in love with Melville as much as I had fallen in love with the whales. My own five-year-long voyage searching for these magnificent creatures produced my own book, Leviathan or, The Whale and a subsequent film, The Hunt for Moby-Dick. But even now, having read it a dozen times, I’m still not sure I can tell you what Moby-Dick is all about. Yes, it’s the tale of Captain Ahab, who sails his ship, the Pequod, in search of a white whale that had bitten off his leg. But it’s also a wildly digressive attempt to comprehend the animals themselves. And despite the author’s rather unhelpful conclusion, after 650 pages, about the whale, “I know him not, and never will”, here are some very good reasons why you need to read his crazily wonderful book.
Enjoy the rest of the article: