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Sketch of the Essex being struck by the whale that sank it, by Tho Nickerson, a survivor (20 November 182 θ). Courtesy of the Nantucket Historical Association, T385. "Shanties of Chapters and Essays": Rewriting Moby-Dick ROBERT SATTELMEYER One of the most remarkable features of Moby -Dick is the provocative evidence it offers of major revision and reconception during the nearly two years Melville struggled to complete it. On 7 August 1850, Evert Duyckinck, Melville's friend and editor of the Literary World, wrote his brother George from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where he was staying with Melville, that the novelist had "a new book mostly done—a romantic, fanciful & literal & most enjoyable presentment of the Whale Fishery—something quite new."1 Melville himself, in a 27June letter to his British publisher, had pitched his newwork as "a romance of adventure, founded upon certain wild legends in the Southern Sperm Whale Fisheries," and confirmed that the book was on schedule for publication in fall 1850.2 Both descriptions indicate that the novel in progress was primarily an adventure story amplified by descriptive and discursive passages, based on Melville's own experiences and fleshed out with secondary sources—the same formula he had employed in all his earlier novels. This is not to say that there was nothing serious, reflective , or symbolic in the text at this point, but there is no hint in either description of the dark and portentous religious and philosophical themes embodied in Ahab's tragic quest for the white whale.3 Rather, Melville originally saw his principal aesthetic challenge in making the notoriously ugly and brutish business of whaling—its floating slaughterhouses manned by the dregs of ESQ \V.49\ 4TH QUARTER | 2003 213 ROBERT SAnELMEYER the maritime world—into an appealing and salable book. In a letter to R. H. Dana on I May 1850, he put the problem in a jocular way: "It will be a strange sort of a book, ... I fear; blubber is blubber you know; tho' you may get oil out of it, the poetry runs as hard as sap from a frozen maple tree ;—& to cook the thing up, one must needs throw in a little fancy, which from the nature of the thing, must be ungainly as the gambols of the whales themselves. Yet I mean to give the truth of the thing, spite of this" (Correspondence, 162). Then, as had been the case with Mardi and would become the case with Pierre and much later Billy Budd, something happened to alter the trajectory of the work drastically and delay its appearance for a year beyond its projected publication date. Buoyed in the late summer of 1850 by his discovery of what he felt to be a kindred spirit in Hawthorne and his rereading of Shakespeare's tragedies, Melville began to grow more restive and ambitious, despite the fact that he needed money and his novel was "mostly done." His essay "Hawthorne and His Mosses," published in the Literary World in August, clearly references Melville's own ambitions and creative daring, invoking Hawthorne and Shakespeare as his models for "the great Art of Telling the Truth."4 Melville did not finish Moby-Dick until almost a year later, in midsummer 1851, some time after an undetermined number of early chapters had already been typeset in New York in May.5 His letter to Hawthorne on 29 June gives the first direct clue to its revised nature: "The 'Whale' is only half through the press," he writes, and "the tail is not yet cooked—though the hell-fire in which the whole book is broiled might not unreasonably have cooked it all ere this. This is the book's motto (the secret one),—Ego non baptiso te in nomine—but make out the rest yourself." As late as 2O July, Melville wrote his British publisher that he was "now passing thro' the press, the closing sheets of [his] newwork" (Correspondence, l° 198)· The book's "secret motto" refers, of course, to Ahab's diabolic baptism of the harpoon intended for Moby Dick in chapter 113, "The Forge": "Ego non baptizo te in nomine patris, sed in nomine diaboli!'" (MD, 489)· Both this thematic transformation and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1935-021X
Print ISSN
0093-8297
Pages
pp. 213-247
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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