Saturday 12 October 2019

Moby-Dick Chapters 35 - 40

This past two weeks has been as crazy busy as I predicted, and despite best intentions, I have fallen behind with my Moby-Dick schedule. Today I had a mini-binge read, and I'm now only 4 chapters behind.

I could be using this time to read those four chapters, but have decided instead to finish this blog post. I'm enjoying writing up these mini recaps of the chapters. At first is was to record my experiences, favourite quotes and first impressions. But as my chapter reading has moved ahead of my blogging, the recaps now reflect the foreknowledge of the chapters to come as well as my extra research of the various notes I have made in the margins.

This led me to the discovery of The Beige Moth blog - an entire blog dedicated, chapter-by-chapter to Moby-Dick. Hosted by Robin VanGilder, the blog involves,
chasing down stray biblical and cultural references from the 1840s, examining specific moments in depth, piecing together broad themes. Early on, I got caught up a lot in summarizing the chapter, but I’ve been focusing more on reacting to it lately.

Robin is currently up to chapter 57, so I suspect I will catch up before too much longer, much like the Whale, Whale, Whale podcast, now floundering at chapter 32. Cetology was obviously too much for them to continue!
Or perhaps Moby-Dick is just too big a book to maintain one's enthusiasm and energy for an indepth discussion of every single chapter (without being paid to do so)!?

My competitive streak has me thrilled that with this post I've flown well past the podcasts last episode. And I'm only two weeks away from catching up to The Beige Moth! Whatever it takes, I say, whatever it takes.

But now for my chapters...

Chapter 35: The Mast-Head
  • I was feeling happy to have Ishmael back as narrator...until I realised we were going to get a whole chapter about the history of mast-heads! He claimed that,
    • the business of standing mast-heads, ashore or afloat, is a very ancient and interesting one.
    • But I had my doubts!
  • Starting with Saint Stylites from 390-459 AD who sat upon a stone pillar in the desert to modern day statues of famous men (naturally there's a list!)
  • Eventually we get to the act of standing to mast-head -
    • manned from sun-rise to sun-set
    • relieving each other every two hours.
    • in the serene weather of the tropics it is exceedlingly pleasant.
    • There you stand, lost in the infinite series of the sea, with nothing ruffled but the waves.
    • everything resolves you into languor.
    • you hear no news, read no hear of no domestic afflictions; bankrupt securities; fall of stocks.
  • A lengthy discussion about the types (or not) of permitted coverings or shelters in mast-heads.
  • Ishmael's confession...
    • I kept but a sorry such a thought-engendering altitude, - how could I but lightly hold my obligations.
  • ...followed by loads of Ishamel philosophy! 
  • Some interesting stuff about what we know versus what we don't know and what we make up in the middle.
  • Ishmael leaves us with a friendly warning though to not 'move your foot or hand an inch' or 'slip your hold at all' unless you want to 'with one half-throttled shriek...drop through that transparent air into the summer sea.'
Chapter 36: The Quarter-Deck (Enter Ahab: Then, all.)
  • Stage directions in the subtitle for this chapter.
    • Adds a theatrical element to the story. 
    • We are watching a drama unfold in front of our eyes. A drama we have no ability to change or alter. All we can do is go along for the ride.
  • Ahab reveals his dastardly plan to the entire crew, as well as his manic obsessive personality.
  • Starbuck tries to resist but is confounded by Ahab's rhetoric.
  • Money and mania wins everyone over, one way or the other.
  • The word 'inscrutable' appears regularly in this next few chapters - to describe Ahab, the whale and their purpose. 
    • All my reading also suggests that it was God's inscrutable nature that Melville struggled with the most.
    • The inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate.
  • The three mates quailed before his strong, sustained, and mystic aspect.
  • Ahab sees Moby-Dick as his fate or destiny. They are linked by forces beyond their control. 

Chapter 37: Sunset (The cabin; by the stern windows; Ahab sitting alone, and gazing out.)

  • poetic, romantic, tragic image of Ahab.
    • all loveliness is anguish to me, since I can ne'er enjoy.
    • compares Ahab's burden to that of Christ's on the cross (Iron Crown of Lombardy)
    • I'm demoniac, I am madness maddened!
    • he's mocking the gods.

Chapter 38: Dusk (by the mainmast; Starbuck leaning against it.)

  • stage directions in the chapter sub-headings continues.
  • This is Starbuck's chapter.
    • Ahab is alone in and staring moodily in his chapter; Starbuck is shown at work, in position, relaxed, reflective.
      • But he drilled deep, and blasted all my reason out of me! I think I see his impious end; but feel that I must help him too it.
    • Sense of destiny, compulsion.
    • (A burst of revelry from the forecastle.)
    • Stands separate to the masses, isolated, above and looking on.
      • Oh, God! to sail with such a heathen crew that have small touch of human mothers in them!
    • refers to the white whale as as a demogorgon - an underworld demon or deity with formidable, primordial powers - think of the monster in Stranger Things.
      • the long howl thrills me through!
    • and with the soft feeling of the human in me, yet will I try to fight ye, ye grim, phantom futures!

Chapter 39: First Night-Watch - FORETOP (Stubb solus, and mending a brace.)

  • Stubb is busy, at work, philosophical.
    • a laugh's the wisest, easiest answer to all that's queer...that unfailing comfort is, it's all predestinated.
    • I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I'll go to it laughing.
  • a man who follows orders and thrills to the hunt of the chase.

Chapter 40: Forecastle - Midnight
  • The Play, complete with Chorus.
    • I wonder why Flask didn't get a chapter here?
  • the aftermath of Ahab giving the crew alcohol during his famous speech.
  • sea-shanties galore!
  • diversity of the crew highlighted again.
  • disputes and differences of opinion build up, then -
  • stormy weather - and they work together to get through it.
  • Pip - despite the frivolity, the tension and the team work, Pip is worried.
    • Oh, thou big white God aloft there somewhere in yon darkness, have mercy on this small black boy down here; preserve him from all men that have no bowels to feel fear!

What a fascinating story this is and what a truly curious man Melville must have been. His mind worked in such mysterious, ingenious ways. I'm captivated and astounded with each chapter. What will he do next?


  1. It's odd but I hated it when teachers forced me into taking notes in school, but I delight in taking notes as an adult. Why is that? Taking notes and doing research on the side were great fun during my Moby Dick read.

    1. I know what you mean. Poetry in particular was always parsed and annotated beyond belief in highschool! Yet even back then, I could see the benefit of doing it as I came to love the poems I studied by the end of the term and love them still.

  2. Excellent notes, as always. I don't know if the other crews you follow will complete, I hope you do.
    I can't believe I am at 70 percent of the book. I don't tire of it at all. I take some breaks, and other days I too binge on it until I decide to stop. Maybe I will check those bloggers that are lifting the Biblical and cultural references.
    I got tired of blogging through Don Quixote by the time I reached part II. But that's fine, I will be renewed soon and tackle book 2.
    There are around 150 chapters? Do keep doing what you are doing, and specially reading and enjoying it.

    1. Thanks Silvia, I'm hoping my relaxed reading schedule will help me to maintain enthusiasm all the way to the end. The note making and these posts are helping me see all the foreshadowing that Melville uses as well as seeing some of the patterns or themes that recur.

      It's certainly the most thorough reading of a book I've ever done :-)

  3. Ha ha, had to laugh at your doubts about the fascinating history of mast-heads! Yes, Melville does seem determined not to let any extensive piece of research go to waste...

    1. Over the weekend I read a chapter all about charts...I'm sure it wont be the last such chapter :-D


This blog has now moved to Wordpress.
Please visit This Reading Life to comment.

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.