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A Moustache Too Far

Danny Karlin: Melville goes under, 8 May 2003

Herman MelvilleA Biography. Vol. II: 1851-91 
by Hershel Parker.
Johns Hopkins, 997 pp., £31, May 2002, 0 8018 6892 0
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... mere horizontal force. The publication of the second volume of Hershel Parker’s biography of Herman Melville brings to a close an enterprise of archival and critical scholarship that has lasted forty years – nearly as long as Melville’s writing career. The picture of ...

Consider the Narwhal

Katherine Rundell, 3 January 2019

... thin as a little finger, it grows for nearly ten years until it’s as wide as 25 cm at the base. Herman Melville writes of the ‘nostril whale’ in Moby-Dick: ‘Some sailors tell me that the Narwhale employs it for a rake in turning over the bottom of the sea for food. Charley Coffin said it was used for an ice-piercer … But you cannot prove either ...

In Memory of Michael Rogin

Stephen Greenblatt, 3 January 2002

... The Intellectuals and McCarthy: The Radical Spectre (1967), to his astonishing psychobiography of Herman Melville, Subversive Genealogy (1983), to Blackface, White Noise: Jewish Immigrants in the Hollywood Melting Pot (1996), Rogin’s writing was driven by the desire to expose hidden histories. He sought to burrow deeply into the strata where psychic ...

Living with a little halibut

John Bayley, 8 October 1992

by Anita Brookner.
Cape, 224 pp., £14.99, August 1992, 0 224 03315 8
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... we heard something like that? In several no doubt, but notably in that formulaic little tale by Herman Melville, ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’. With Bartleby the case is different. ‘I would prefer not to.’ He continues to prefer not to until he dies of inanition. What is the mystery behind the life of Bartleby, or of Anna Durrant? Really none at ...

Whalers v. Sealers

Nicholas Guyatt: Rebellion on the Tryal, 19 March 2015

Empire of Necessity: The Untold History of a Slave Rebellion in the Age of Liberty 
by Greg Grandin.
Oneworld, 360 pp., £25, May 2014, 978 1 78074 410 0
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... and all hell broke loose. Delano’s memoir sold very few copies, despite the lurid story. But Herman Melville came across it decades later and reworked the themes of deception and desperation into one of his most famous works. ‘Benito Cereno’ was serialised in Putnam’s Magazine in 1855, just as the crisis over slavery in the United States was ...

‘Look, look, what ails the ship, she is upsetting’

Peter Nichols: The ship ‘Essex’, 8 March 2001

The Loss of the Ship ‘Essex’, Sunk by a Whale 
by Thomas Nickerson and Owen Chase, edited by Nathaniel Philbrick and Thomas Philbrick et al.
Penguin, 231 pp., £7.99, June 2000, 0 14 043796 7
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... the years 1704-9), off the coast of Chile. One of the Acushnet’s fo’c’sle crew was the young Herman Melville. The two ships hove to for a few hours while their masters visited each other, and the 22-year-old Melville caught sight of the Wirt’s captain. He was impressed: ‘He was a large, powerful, well-made ...

Call me Ahab

Jeremy Harding: Moby-Dick, 31 October 2002

Moby-Dick, or, The Whale 
by Herman Melville, edited by Harrison Hayford and Hershel Parker.
Northwestern, 573 pp., £14.95, September 2001, 0 8101 1911 0
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Mariners, Renegades and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live in 
by C.L.R. James.
New England, 245 pp., £17.95, July 2001, 9781584650942
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Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival 
by Clare Spark.
Kent State, 744 pp., £46.50, May 2001, 0 87338 674 4
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Lucchesi and the Whale 
by Frank Lentricchia.
Duke, 104 pp., £14.50, February 2001, 9780822326540
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... the side of the vessel and thrashed at it with his tail as it was being raised on the davits. And Melville, or rather Melville’s narrator, Ishmael, tells a story in Chapter 45 of Moby-Dick about a ‘portly sperm whale’ fetching an American sloop-of-war ‘such a thwack that with all his pumps going he made straight for ...

The Monster in the Milk Bowl

Richard Poirier, 3 October 1996

Pierre, or The Ambiguities 
by Herman Melville, edited by Hershel Parker.
HarperCollins, 449 pp., £15.99, May 1996, 0 06 118009 2
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... Melville began writing Pierre, or The Ambiguities in August 1851; he had just turned 33 and was already the author of six books. The most recent of these, Moby-Dick, was about to be published, and reviews of it, largely negative in the United States and somewhat less so in England, would begin appearing while he was working on the new novel and negotiating the terms for its publication ...

The Last Whale

Colin Burrow, 4 June 2020

Ahab’s Rolling Sea: A Natural History of Moby-Dick 
by Richard J. King.
Chicago, 430 pp., £23, November 2019, 978 0 226 51496 3
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Complete Poems 
by Herman Melville, edited by Hershel Parker.
Library of America, 990 pp., £37.99, August 2019, 978 1 59853 618 8
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... sperm whales and is an accretion that builds up around indigestible material such as squid heads.Herman Melville culled his knowledge of whales from his voyage aboard the whaler Acushnet in 1841-42 and from authoritative texts ranging from William Scoresby’s Account of the Arctic Regions (1820), through encyclopedia entries, to Frederick Bennett’s ...

On Darwin’s Trouble with the Finches

Andrew Berry: The genius of Charles Darwin, 7 March 2002

Evolution’s Workshop: God and Science on the Galapagos Islands 
by Edward Larson.
Penguin, 320 pp., £8.99, February 2002, 0 14 100503 3
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... spot’. The islands’ blasted aspect, however, made them unpopular with visitors. Herman Melville, who visited in 1841, had the usual reaction: ‘Take five-and-twenty heaps of cinders dumped here and there in an outsize city lot, imagine some of them magnified into mountains, and the vacant lot the sea; and you will have a fit idea of ...

Under the Sphinx

Alasdair Gray, 11 March 1993

Places of the Mind: The Life and Work of James Thomson (‘B.V.’) 
by Tom Leonard.
Cape, 407 pp., £25, February 1993, 9780224031189
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... enough to face the worst. If we read further we find that Leopardi, Schopenhauer, Baudelaire, Melville, Thomas Hardy and the author of Ecclesiastes are also members. Edmund Blunden thought The City of Dreadful Night a great anticipation of The Waste Land. If Pope’s Dunciad, Johnson’s ‘London’, Blake’s Songs of Experience and Shelley’s ‘Peter ...

What time can you pick me up?

J. Robert Lennon: ‘The Art of Fielding’, 26 January 2012

The Art of Fielding 
by Chad Harbach.
Fourth Estate, 512 pp., £16.99, January 2012, 978 0 00 737444 1
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... and taskmaster of the Westish Harpooners – so named because of a rather tenuous connection to Herman Melville, the subject of a legendary dissertation-turned-critical-blockbuster called The Sperm-Squeezers by the college president, Guert Affenlight, the only thing of worth he’s ever produced. Guert has a daughter, Pella, 23: plucky, comely and on ...

A Plumless Pudding

John Sutherland: The Great John Murray Archive Disaster, 18 March 2004

... Austen, David Ricardo, Thomas Malthus, Benjamin Disraeli, William Ewart Gladstone, Samuel Smiles, Herman Melville and Washington Irving were all published from Albemarle Street. J.M.W. Turner and David Roberts provided illustrations for Murray Books. Granted, it’s a major archive. But the firm’s traditional dislike of fiction and poetry somewhat ...

Anticipatory Plagiarism

Paul Grimstad: Oulipo, 6 December 2012

Many Subtle Channels: In Praise of Potential Literature 
by Daniel Levin Becker.
Harvard, 338 pp., £19.95, May 2012, 978 0 674 06577 2
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... of the poet with the madness of the mathematician’. Perec in particular constantly invokes Herman Melville: W’s narrator identifies not with ‘Ahab’s boiling fury’ but with the sober and scrupulous Ishmael; the puzzle-making central figure in La Vie mode d’emploi is named ‘Bartlebooth’, splicing together Valery Larbaud’s ...

More Pasts Than One

Eric Foner, 23 March 1995

Telling the Truth about History 
by Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt and Margaret Jacob.
Norton, 322 pp., £19.95, August 1994, 0 393 03615 4
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... the blessings of liberty to all mankind. ‘The past is the textbook of tyrants,’ wrote Herman Melville, ‘the future is the Bible of the free.’ Even today, despite the widespread popularity of historical novels and televised representations of the past, polls consistently show that few Americans possess a significant store of accurate ...

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