Moby Dick: a sentence or two from each chapter; a type of Cliff notes, if you will. (Chapters 1-10 so far.)

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I never expected to be so thoroughly entranced by Moby Dick. I knew I wanted to read it because a reader should be aware of such classics, because Herman Melville’s birthday was 200 years ago on August 1, because it has been sitting on my shelf for years. But, I never knew that each chapter, even each page, would have something significant to say.

In order to remember such a long novel accurately, I am writing down quotes which seem to highlight each chapter. I will post them in groups of ten, to access them more easily. (And Brona, I realize this was to be a slow read-along, but I am compelled to sail along.)

Chapter 1: Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world.

Chapter 2: …it became a matter of concernment where I was to eat and sleep meanwhile. It was a very dubious-looking, nay, a very dark and dismal night, bitingly cold and cheerless. I knew no one in the place (New Bedford, Massachusetts).

Chapter 3: Upon entering the place ((The Spouter Inn) I found a number of young seamen gathered about a table, examining by a dim light divers specimens of skrimshander. I sought the landlord, and telling him I desired to be accommodated with a room, received for answer that his house was full – not a bed unoccupied. ‘But avast,’ he added, tapping his forehead,  ‘you hadn’t no objections to sharing a harpooner’s blanket, have ye? I s’pose you are goin’ a whalin’, so you’d better get used to that sort of thing.’

Chapter 4: Upon waking next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg’s arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner…The counterpane was of patchwork, full of odd little parti-colored squares and triangles; and this arm of his tattooed all over with an interminable Cretan labyrinth of a figure, no two parts of which were one precise shade…this same arm of his, I say, looked for all the world like a strip of that same patchwork quilt.

Chapter 5: Queequeg’s greatest admirer could not have cordially justified his bringing his harpoon into breakfast with him, and using it there without ceremony; reaching over the table with it, to the imminent jeopardy of many heads, and grappling the beefsteaks towards him. But that was certainly very coolly done by him, and everyone knows that in most people’s estimation, to do anything coolly is to do it genteelly.

Chapter 6: …in New Bedford, actual cannibals stand chatting at street corners; savages outright; many of whom yet carry on their bones unholy flesh. It makes a stranger stare.

Chapter 7:  In what census of living creatures, the dead of mankind are included…how it is that we still refuse to be comforted for those who we nevertheless maintain are dwelling in unspeakable bliss.

Chapter 8:  Yes, the world’s a ship in its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.

Chapter 9: Woe to him who seeks to pour oil upon the waters when God has brewed them into a gale!

Chapter 10: No more my splintered heart and maddened hand were turned against the wolfish world. This soothing savage (Queequeg) had redeemed it…He seemed to take me quite as naturally and unbiddingly as I to him; and when our smoke was over, he pressed his forehead against mine, clasped me around the waist, and said that henceforth we were married; meaning, in his country’s phrase, that we were bosom friends; he would gladly die for me, if need should be.

Can’t you just see Queequeg’s tattoos? The harpoon with which he first shaves and then spears his beefsteak for breakfast? The church with its pulpit and tombstones and somber foreshadowing of what one feels certain will come? This book has me by the throat, and I love it.

16 thoughts on “Moby Dick: a sentence or two from each chapter; a type of Cliff notes, if you will. (Chapters 1-10 so far.)

  1. Ah, no quotes from the ETYMOLOGY or the EXTRACTS. Pity the poor sub-sub-librarian.

    This is one of the all-time greats. In a sense, “each page” has “something significant to say” is a definition of that concept.

    You are not only seeing Queequeg’s tattoos, but you are reading them. I guess that is in a much later chapter. Never mind. Spoiler alert.

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    • I never expected to be so entranced by this book. I thought it was one to be dutifully read, not savored. Love your spoiler alert…usually skip the etymology bits of books, to my chagrin. Does understanding the King James Bible help? I think in many instances, when it comes to reading classics, it does. And speaking of King James and the Bible, my goodness I was surprised (a delighted!) to find sound Christian principles within the first 10 chapters.

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    • You usually skip the etymology bits! Which other books even have etymology bits? Anyway, they are certainly worth reading in this novel. Only a page, for one thing, and you meet the pale, consumptive Usher. Whether the sub-sub-librarian’s full range of EXTRACTS are worth reading at a go is another issue, although they answer your question about the King James Bible.

      Does your edition have the ETYMOLOGY and EXTRACTS? Some editions omit them for some reason. The first line of this novel is not, is definitely not, “Call me Ishmael.” It is more like “The pale Usher – threadbare in coat, body, and brain; I see him now.”

      I fear the Christian principles may become somewhat unsound as the book goes on. Heretical, even. Manichean. But anyway, knowing the King James, oh yes. Maybe the Old Testament more than the New. Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook?

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  2. You’ve brought to mind an amusing contest that was sponsored by some magazine or other, sometime in the distant past. The point was to revise the opening sentence of a book, changing its meaning by changing the punctuation. Of course the one I remember is the first sentence of Moby Dick,, changed to, “Call me, Ismael.”
    Implied is, “Maybe we can do lunch.”

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    • I love your story!!! First of all, the whole idea of punctuation (a lost art, which fell by the wayside along with the proper use of adverbs and adjectives) being changed to alter the whole meaning of a sentence is fantastic. Then, this specific example? Like, “Ishmael. Dude. Call me.” Great fun!

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  3. I remember visiting that very church in New Bedford, many years ago, with its boat-pulpit, and memorials to drowned sailors round the walls. Still haunted by dead whalers. Haven’t read the novel since university days, but it’s still there in the memory. I recall passages which read like Jacobean blank verse – in a good way.

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    • Oh, I would love to see that church. My husband and I sat in the box seats of a chirch in Rhode Island, but to see that pulpit? To sit in that very church? To read those tombstones? It must have been very somber. Melville added tombstones to his chapter, as you probably recall, each of which I carefully read.

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  4. I love this idea, and love this book, even though I’ve only read the first half twice! I should really finish it. It’s GOOD. 😄 Thanks for reminding me! Such a hardy, robust, and sea-flavored tale!!

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    • Do join in Brona’s read-along if you wish, Jillian. There is wonderful discussion on Twitter and a wonderful audio site which reads each chapter aloud by some famous person. (I can’t remember them all now, but if you’re interested scroll down a few posts and I have it all laid out.) We were saying on Twitter that whether it is Winter where you live (as Brona does, in Australia) or Symmer as it is for me, Moby Dick perfectly fits the season.

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  5. Starting from the first three words, the story sounds like it should be savored: a confident character talking, a simple sailor citing philosophy.

    I’m just in the first three chapters and I’m enjoying it already.

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  6. Pingback: A new journey in literature | let us begin then. – |reading backwards|

  7. Pingback: a november of my soul | joining in for Moby-Dick – |reading backwards|

  8. Bellezza,

    I agree wholeheartedly with you about the amazing “nuggets” throughout Moby Dick. I still think about one that I came across several years ago. I’m adding it below, but please feel free to delete this comment if you feel it detracts in any way from your thoughtful post.

    “To enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. If you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more. For this reason a sleeping apartment should never be furnished with a fire, which is one of the luxurious discomforts of the rich. For the height of this sort of deliciousness is to have nothing but the blanket between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air. Then there you lie like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal.”

    I’m not sure which Chapter it’s from, but isn’t it wonderful?

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