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Moby-Dick; or, The Whale is Herman Melville's narrative of the voyage of Ahab, captain of the whaler Pequod, in vengeful pursuit of the white whale Moby Dick, published in 1851. A commercial failure and out of print at the time of the author's death in 1891, its reputation has grown immensely during the twentieth century. According to D.H. Lawrence, it is "one of the strongest and most wonderful books in the world," and "the greatest book of the sea ever written." Moby-Dick is considered one of the Great American Novels and a leading work of American Romanticism.
The product of a year and a half of writing, the book draws on Melville's own whaling voyages, on his reading in whaling and on literary sources. Ishmael narrates the voyage of the whaleship Pequod and its captain's monomaniacal quest for revenge on the albino sperm whale Moby Dick, which on a previous voyage destroyed Ahab's ship and severed his leg at the knee. The detailed and realistic descriptions of whale hunting and the process of extracting whale oil, as well as life aboard ship among a culturally diverse crew, are mixed with exploration of class and social status, good and evil, and the existence of God. In addition to narrative prose, Melville uses a wide range of styles and literary devices ranging from songs, poetry and catalogs to Shakespearean stage directions, soliloquies, and asides.
The author changed the title at the very last moment in September 1851, and so the work first appeared as The Whale in London in October 1851, and then under its definitive title Moby-Dick in New York in November. The British edition of fivehundred copies was not reprinted during the author's life, the American of almost three thousand was reprinted three times at approximately 250 copies, the last reprinting in 1871. These figures are flattered because three hundred copies were destroyed in a fire at Harper's, 3.200 copies were actually sold during the author's life.
- Autobiographical elements
- Publication history