Fact or Fiction ? www.melville.org
Well through Moby Dick now (96/136’ths) and still finding so much on so many levels. The blood-soaked anatomical detail and unctious stench and sensation in the butchery is numbing, and you can see how early reviews met with issues of poor taste ! As I mentioned earlier – one striking aspect is the balance between fact and fiction in the “documentary” account of the whaling industry, Melville’s own experiences and the (presumably) fictional narrative of Ahab, Moby Dick and The Pequod. Researching that aspect, I find, as expected, that there is no shortage of opinion on the matter. Hard to tell where romaticised telling of truth become actual fiction. Seems the apparent documentary aspects (eg in The Affidavit) are indeed essentially true.
OK, OK following a few more Google hits – so clearly this fact vs fiction aspect is a well trodden path (I did say I guesed it would be, didn’t I – see earlier). Seems to be a standard US exam question on US literature. End of that thread, except …. by the way did I forget to mention, I have a family connection with whaling going back three generations on my wife’s side of the family, so I have more than a passing interest. May get some relevant photographs and documents up on the personal pages for those interested, but I digress.
On the other hand, like why did I choose to read it as part of this information modelling research ? …
“Who would have looked for philosophy in whales, or for poetry in blubber. Yet few books which professedly deal in metaphysics, or claim the parentage of the muses, contain as much true philosophy and as much genuine poetry as the tale of the Pequod’s whaling expedition [….] and the graphic representations of human nature in the startling disguises under which it appears on the deck of the Pequod [….] all these things combine to raise The Whale far beyond the level of an ordinary work of fiction. It is not a mere tale of adventures, but a whole philosophy of life, that it unfolds.”
London John Bull, October 25 1851.
(I’d have to agree – and, by the way, it is more greatly absorbing than a “mere adventure” too. Very similar mix of qualities achieved by Pirsig. Ha – qualities ! Of course as i mentioned earlier, the reason I am reading Melville, is the “prodigious comparison” with Pirsig’s ZMM by reviewer George Steiner.)
2 thoughts on “Moby Dick – Fact From Fiction”
When author discusses the crow’s nest, he says that Captain Sleet in his writing, “A Voyage among Icebergs in Quest of the Greenland Whales and incidentally for the re-discovery of the Lost Icelandic Colonies of Old Greenland” is this fact or fiction?
The specific facts, I couldn’t say Patricia, I’d need to research. It’s a while since I researched Melville, but I certainly got the impression the whole story was based on first and second-hand fact, with a dose of mythology thrown in. I certainly noticed that academic essays were often set to discuss the factual elements of Melville, so it’s a common topic.