About the book:
Herman Melville’s tale of the hunt for the white whale, Moby Dick, is one of the greatest novels of all time. It is at once an adventure story of the high seas, and an exploration of the uncharted regions of the soul. Neglected in Melville’s day, Moby-Dick is now acknowledged as a sublime work of the imagination, an American Odyssey.
‘Call me Ishmael’ is one of the most famous opening sentences ever written. Moby-Dick’s narrator Ishmael is a drifter and former merchant seaman, who departs Nantucket on a perilous whaling mission to the South Seas. With him on the Pequod are the cannibal Queequeg and ‘a heathen crew … whelped somewhere by the sharkish sea’. At the helm is Captain Ahab, whose soul is bent on hunting and killing the great white whale that cost him his leg in an earlier encounter. As they voyage south, Ahab’s obsession takes his crew deeper into the abyss in desperate pursuit of ‘the gliding great demon of the seas of life’.
Herman Melville was born in New York City to wealthy parents of New English and Dutch origin. When his father died a bankrupt, Melville left school, aged 12, to work as a bank clerk. He attended night school and became a teacher before signing on as a merchant seaman. In 1841, he boarded the whaling ship Acushnet. After a year and a half, Melville jumped ship and spent a month among a tribe in the Marquesas Islands, before making his way home via Hawaii and Peru. In New York, he married and published several novels, to instant success. His meeting with Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850, while he was writing Moby-Dick, was a pivotal moment and filled him with inspiration. Moby-Dick’s reception was mixed, and his following novel Pierre was a failure. Melville’s reputation faded, and his later years were shadowed by his son’s suicide and his own ill-health. He worked as an inspector in the New York Customs House for nearly 20 years until his death in 1891.