Herman Melville (1819-1891) Credit: Biography.com
After retiring at the age of 62, I had all the time in the world to do whatever I pleased, as long as it was within the constraints of my Social Security check. I managed to squeeze in a modest P&S digital camera which I later upgraded to a DSLR device for improved photographs. It was my foray into the fascinating territory of photography. I’ve enjoyed the hobby ever since.
I also tried being a blogger and opened two blogs. The first one was Epiac’s Place using a blogging platform known as LiveJournal. Then I escalated to Lingua Franca hosted by WordPress. It was another rewarding experience which merged photography and the English language, which had been placed on the back burner for much too long.
In an attempt to liven up my blog, I started to read English books which I purchased from Amazon at bargain prices. The time was ripe for affordable digital books, also known as electronic books, or e-books for short. Reading digital books was a piece of cake, using a software called Kindle for Windows which made it possible to download a book in less than a minute for about $9.99 apiece. Next I saved my pennies and acquired an e-book reader—the Kindle Fire from Amazon. So far, I’ve read fourteen books, most of them related to the global financial meltdown of 2008. The last one was the official biography of Steve Jobs written by Walter Isaacson.
All of this was well and good, but I knew my English was still dull and limited. There were zillion of words I ignored, maybe due to mental laziness I chose to look the other way. It was time to change course and start a new adventure in the English language. I set my mind to read books written by classic American authors. I’m referring to American icons like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck and Herman Melville.
I started with the latter and downloaded his famous novel Moby Dick: or, The White Whale published in 1851. I was aware it was going to be a painful experience. Even though it is a masterpiece, it was written in old English, with abundant symbols and Shakespearean literary passages. “No pain, no gain.” This is true, but I was determined to lift the veil of a classic American novel.
Moby Dick: or, The White Whale was first published in 1851. It is considered to be one of the Great American Novels and a treasure of world literature. In this book, Melville employs stylized language, symbolism, and the metaphor to explore numerous complex themes. The book initially received mixed reviews, but Moby Dick is now considered part of the Western canon, and at the center of the canon of American novels.
The book was based on a true happening in Chile, South America. The event was the alleged killing in the late 1830s of the albino sperm whale Mocha Dick, in the waters off the Chilean island of Mocha. Mocha Dick was rumored to have twenty or so harpoons in his back from other whalers, and appeared to attack ships with premeditated ferocity. One of his battles with a whaler served as subject for an article by explorer Jeremiah N. Reynolds in the May 1839 issue of The Knickerbocker or New-York Monthly Magazine. Melville was familiar with the article, which described the gargantuan albino whale this way:
“This renowned monster, who had come off victorious in a hundred fights with his pursuers, was an old bull whale, of prodigious size and strength. From the effect of age, or more probably from a freak of nature… a singular consequence had resulted—he was white as wool!”
It is to be noted that Herman Melville from the age of twelve, worked as a clerk, teacher, and farm worker. In search of adventures, he shipped out in 1841-42 and spent 18 months on board the whaler Achushnet. Due to the many hardships on board, he deserted from the ship and was captured by a tribe of cannibals. He later was rescued and returned to the United States where he continued to write. When he died in 1891, he was almost completely forgotten.
Below are small excerpts of the writing style of Herman Melville from his novel Moby Dick:
“I sat down on an old wooden settle, carved all over like a bench on the Battery. At one end of a ruminating tar was still further adorning it with his jack-knife, stooping over and diligently working away at the space between his legs. He was trying his hand at a ship under full sail, but he didn’t make much headway, I thought.”
“However, a good laugh is a mighty good thing, and rather too scarce a good thing; the more the pity. So, if any one man, in his own proper person, afford stuff for a good joke to anybody, let him not be backward, but let him cheerfully allow himself to spend and to be spent in that way. And the man that has anything bountifully laughable about him, be sure there is more in that man than you perhaps think for.”
Needless to say, I’m reading more from an online English dictionary than from the book itself. But I was expecting this. Reading Herman Melville is not a walk in the park. It will take a strong will, patience and a lot of linguistic curiosity. As you already know, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Good Day and “commend yourself to the care of heaven.”
Oh one more thing…I wish to thank Linda, author of the blog The Task at Hand, for showing me the way towards prominent literature. I thank her greatly.
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