Friday 21 February 2020

Moby-Dick Chapters 111 - 120

Ch 111: The Pacific
  • A quick chapter for Ishmael to wax lyrical about the 'serene Pacific'.
  • Everyone else may be feeling serene and meditative, but Ahab is 'purpose intensified' - where's that whale?!

Ch 112: The Blacksmith
  • This is one of those diversionary chapters that Melville loves so much.
  • The tragic back story of Perth, the blacksmith.
  • A man ruined by drinking. 
  • He lost his job, his family, his home and almost his life. 
  • But he went to sea instead, in a whaling ship.

Ch 113: The Forge
  • A rather Shakespearean chapter as Ahab asks Perth to make him a harpoon for killing the white whale.
  • They bond over their mental health issues.
  • Ahab then calls on Queequeg, Tashtego and Daggoo to give him some of their blood so that he baptise his new harpoon in the name of the Devil.
    • Ego non baptizo te in nomine patris, sed in nomine diaboli!
    • I baptize thee not in the name of the Father, but in the name of the Devil!
  • 'pole, iron, and rope—like the Three Fates—remained inseparable, and Ahab moodily stalked away with the weapon; the sound of his ivory leg, and the sound of the hickory pole, both hollowly ringing along every plank.'
  • Melville leaves us with the wretched laugh of Pip ringing out, mocking this melancholy ship.

Ch 114: The Gilder
  • Melville has us see-sawing between peaceful chapters about the ocean to manic ones featuring Ahab preparing for battle.
  • After forging a new weapon, we return to dreamy quietude, tranquil beauty and the brilliancy of the ocean's skin.
  • And another weaving metaphor.
    • But the mingled, mingling threads of life are woven by warp and woof: calms crossed by storms, a storm for every calm. There is no steady unretracing progress in this life; we do not advance through fixed gradations, and at the last one pause.

Ch 115: The Pequod Meets the Bachelor
  • No red roses, or the promise of date night here. This Bachelor is a date with destiny.
  • A happy ship. A lucky ship. A complete contrast to the Pequod.
    • one all jubilations for things passed, the other all forebodings as to things to come.
  • Ahab asks if they have seen the white whale and they reply, "No; only heard of him; but don't believe in him at all."
    • In Ch 100 Captain Boomer sees Moby-Dick as just another whale. 
    • The unnamed Captain of the Bachelor sees Moby-Dick as myth.
  • The party boat continues on it's merry way home.
  • Ahab pulls, from his pocket, a vial of sand from Nantucket. He has been carrying it this whole time. Perhaps this bit of home is meant to ground him or remind him of the family waiting for him back home. As he watches the Bachelor sail off, the distance between home and his mission only widens further.

Ch 116: The Dying Whale
  • Some of the good luck of the Bachelor appears to have rubbed off on the Pequod as whales were seen and four were slain.
  • Even Ahab killed a whale that wasn't Moby-Dick!
  • But then we get to watch one of the whales slowly die in front of Ahab.
    • The whale turns and rolls towards the sun, his homage-rendering and invoking brow, taking in one last sight of the sun before dying.
    • He too worships fire.

Ch 117: The Whale Watch
  • Ahab dreams and more prophecies by Fedallah.
    • "Have I not said, old man, that neither hearse nor coffin can be thine?"
    • "But I said, old man, that ere thou couldst die on this voyage, two hearses must verily be seen by thee on the sea; the first not made by mortal hands; and the visible wood of the last one must be grown in America."
    • "Though it come to the last, I shall still go before thee thy pilot."
    • "Hemp only can kill thee."
    • Ahab assumes this means he will be hanged.

Ch 118: The Quadrant
  • Ahab smashes his quadrant.
    • "Science! Curse thee, thou vain toy; and cursed be all the things that cast man's eyes aloft to that heaven."
    • He has given up on science (rational thought), the heavens (faith) and any idea of returning home.
  • More images and metaphors around the sun, fire and light.

Ch 119: The Candles
  • Another stormy night at sea and Stubb breaks into song!
    • "But I am not a brave man; never said I was a brave man; I am a coward; and I sing to keep up my spirits."
  • Starbuck craves the comforts of home.
  • And an editing curiosity.
    • The online Power Moby-Dick says "Look aloft!" cried Starbuck. "The St. Elmo's Lights (corpus sancti) corpusants! the corpusants!"
    • My 2012 Penguin edition simply says "Look aloft!" cried Starbuck. "The corpusants! the corpusants!"
    • Which one is correct?
    • Margaret Guroff in her Notes on the Text of Power Moby-Dick clarified a few issues -
    Moby-Dick is what is called a "fluid text": there are several different versions of the book. The first American edition, published in November of 1851, contained typographical errors, along with other errors that Herman Melville later corrected himself. The first British edition, published that same year, included some of Melville's corrections and some valid ones of its own, but was also edited to remove bawdy and anti-monarchical passages, among other material thought objectionable. The first British edition also accidentally omitted the book's epilogue.
    There is no known surviving manuscript of the book, and editors through the years have worked to reconstruct what Melville's original intentions for it may have been—and made their own corrections and abridgements along the way.
    For this online version, I began with the text of the first American edition. As I was annotating it, I came across a few passages that were unclear because of known typos or errors. These, I altered to align with later editions that made more sense to me

    • So, why remove the reference to St Elmo's Fire? Very curious.
  • Starbuck tells Ahab that the voyage is now "ill begun, ill continued' and that "God is against thee, old man".
  • Ahab reminds the crew that they all swore an oath that binds them to him and his quest, "heart, soul and body". 

Ch 120: The Deck towards the End of the First Night Watch (Ahab standing by the helm. Starbuck approaching him).
  • A brief chapter that shows Starbuck concerned about the safety of the ship and the crew during the storm.
  • Ahab ignores all his suggestions, "strike nothing, and stir nothing, but lash everything."
    • Once again we see Ahab so focused on his mission that his crew and ship mean nothing to him.
  • This is not going to end well.

We now have only one more week left of our slow read of Moby-Dick. How are you going?

I'd love to hear about your progress through Moby-Dick and please remember to add any new posts about the book or Melville to the linky in the original post.

Extracts - Chapter 7
Chapters 12 - 16
Chapters 17 - 20
Chapters 21 - 25
Chapters 26 - 30
Chapters 31 - 34
Chapters 35 - 40
Chapters 41 - 44
Chapters 45 - 49
Chapters 50 - 60
Chapters 61 - 70
Chapters 71 - 80
Chapters 81 - 90
Chapters 91 - 100


  1. That's interesting about the textual variation in Ch. 119. My edition (an inexpensive Bantam, edited by Charles Child Walcutt) doesn't have "St. Elmo's Lights" and I had to look up corpusant--I would have known St. Elmo's Fire or Lights. There's no textual notes in mine so I don't know where the text comes from. (It says it's complete! and does include the Epilogue that got left off the first British edition.)

    I wonder if anybody is reading it in the Library of America edition. That would probably say.

    1. All I can think of is that the word corpusant was in more regular use back in the 1850's thanks to the primacy of shipping, so the editing process got rid of a tautology?

  2. You're almost done! This is going to be such a major event in itself!

    1. I think I will have to throw a (whale of a) party :-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.