Chapter I. Romanticism in american literature of the XIX century

Chapter 3. “Moby Dick” as romantic poetics

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Late romanticism

Chapter 3. “Moby Dick” as romantic poetics
“Moby Dick, or the White Whale” (1851) is a unique work, written contrary to all existing concepts about the laws of the genre. American critics of the mid-19th century considered this book “strange.” The sense of “strangeness” that comes from reading Melville’s masterpiece continues today.13
Many have read this world-famous novel, the main character of which is a ferocious whale, or watched Francis Coppola's film "Moby Dick", full of computer special effects and stunning location shooting. But few people know that the sperm whale that sank the ship was not invented by Melville. Its prototype actually existed.
The American whaling ship Essex caught whales in the South Pacific on November 20, 1820. The hunt was unsuccessful, only once fountains of sperm whales flashed on the horizon. But it was calm, and the whalers could not pursue the giants, who were leaving to the north. Suddenly a sailor, monitoring the situation from the top of the mast, shouted: “Whales! A whole herd! Three whaleboats were immediately launched into the water. The first was commanded by the captain of the Essex, George Pollard , the second was commanded by First Mate Owen Chase, and the third by Second Mate Mazer Joy. The whalers pressed their oars together, and the whaleboats, rapidly cutting through the water, began to approach the herd of sea giants. More than half of the 52-man crew remained on the Essex.
The old sea wolves knew that the big males had to be harpooned first. God forbid that you kill the female or the baby first - the herd will smash the fragile little boats to pieces. Owen Chase selected the largest male, approximately 85 feet (25 meters) long, and threw the first harpoon at him. The wounded monster began to rush about and beat the water with its gigantic tail. With a powerful blow he damaged the boat. The chief mate ordered the harpoon line to be cut, and the whaleboat headed towards the ship.
The other two whaleboats remained in place, as people were afraid to approach the wounded monster. Meanwhile, the sperm whale, like a torpedo, rushed towards the Essex and struck it with a powerful blow with its head on the side. There was a cracking of planks and water rushed into the hold. Keith repeated the attack. After the second crushing ram, the Essex was doomed...
Only eight whalers managed to escape. It was they who told the world about the disaster. It was the episode of a whale attack on a ship that former whaler Herman Melville used in his book.
However , the white color of the whale was long considered a complete absurdity - until in 1974, Canadian sailors spotted an albino whale in the Atlantic. A sea monster pursued their ship for many hours. During this time, a radiogram was received from scientists with a request to catch the rarest specimen alive at all costs. The whale was driven into the bay and entangled in nets. It turned out it was a young female. For a long time, the captive lived in a special pool under the supervision of zoologists. So the white whale turned out to be not a fiction.
The novel about the White Whale is a difficult book and cannot be skimmed. There are two reasons for this. The first is that each of the novel's 135 chapters is thought-provoking, which is probably the highest praise one can give to a beloved work of art. The thoughts that arise in the reader during the reading process relate not only to the content of the novel, but also to one’s own life, one’s time, one’s purpose on earth, patterns in people’s behavior, and the general principles of human existence.14
The second reason lies in the quality of the novel itself, its organization, structure, and way of presenting the material. The sequence of chapters and even the form is characterized by a kind of retelling that destroys the inertia of the narrative. As soon as, for example, the reader gets carried away by the description of the sea elements, the author “slips” into him a classification of whales; the epic narrative about ship life is interrupted by monologues, dialogues and even entire scenes in the spirit of tragedy, followed by abstract reasoning. A series of plots and forms flows in continuous streams: dialogues, monologues, dry scientific reasoning, descriptions of the details of whaling, reflections on human destiny, on the history of peoples and states, studies of religious systems - all this seems to be meaningless, in essence, dictated by a special depth of logic author's thought.
The writer was tormented by problems of structure, composition, plot, character construction, internal logic that could bring heterogeneous elements into a system, etc. Moreover, underneath all this lay the foundation of the most painful reflections on the most complex aspects of American social reality, on the strange and often incomprehensible to Melville, the transformations of American bourgeois democracy, about the incomprehensible zigzags of national history, about the dark forces that mysteriously subjugated, as it seemed to him, the moral development of the nation, about the laws passed by Congress that were wild in their cruelty, about the deep internal contradictions that existed in the public consciousness , in social practice, as well as between consciousness and practice. In short, these were the thoughts that made up the content of Moby Dick. Melville's attention was attracted primarily by what was close to his own thoughts. Sometimes Melville became infected with Shakespeare's way of thinking, picked up the concepts with which Shakespeare operated, and explored the “method of proclaiming truth.” But the starting point of thought always remained the consciousness of Melville himself. In this respect one must agree with Matissen , who repeatedly said that " Melville's sense of life was deeply affected by Shakespeare", but that Melville's art was based not on Shakespeare, but on his own understanding of nature and man.
Melville's contemporary Henry Longfellow, paying tribute to the romantic flavor of Moby-Dick, said about this novel: “...Very wild, unusual and interesting.” If we trace and define “extraordinaryness” in the organization of artistic material, then it will turn out to be, first of all, the most condensed concentration of visual means, brought to the level of tragic grotesquery, a concentration around the concepts: “whale”, “whaling”. Everything here is legendary, everything is tragic. Tombstones of whalers inside church walls: whalers don’t have graves, they die somewhere off the coast of Patagonia , off Cape Horn, on the open sea; the ship " Pequod " with a tiller carved entirely from the jaw of a whale, and with sperm whale teeth instead of pins, with a captain's tent made of whalebone, and finally, Captain Ahab with a bone leg from the jaw of a sperm whale - this immediately stuns the reader and amazes his imagination. The novel fully justifies its name - it’s all about whales, the narrative begins from prehistoric times, when there was no man on earth. Gradually, almost all the mythological heroes of antiquity fit into it: the valiant Perseus, the son of Zeus, and Hercules, and the eastern god Vishnu. By the middle of the novel, the tales about whales become more and more amazing, more and more fantastic - whales in the mountains, whales among the stars, etc.
Apparently, the “fundamentally new concept” (Chase) of Moby-Dick was not so new. It can be assumed with reasonable grounds that the novel that eventually came from Melville’s pen was exactly the kind of book that he dreamed of, but at first did not dare to write. The social and philosophical issues of the novel contain precisely the range of issues that most occupied the writer in the late forties and early fifties, the most pressing issues of our time.
"Moby Dick" is a unique and unusual work. It is difficult to find anything similar to it in American literature. With all its complexity and diversity, its main element, to which actions, the author’s description, and character are subordinated, is thought. A deep philosophical thought with the help of which the author tries to highlight the mythological beginning of his work.15 Thought is constantly searching, pulsating, soaring from the trivialities of everyday life to the starry worlds, embodied either in the simple words of sailors, or in puzzling symbols, tragically petrifying before the meaningfulness and empty universe, penetrating beneath the surface of phenomena; thought, striving for its only and main goal - to comprehend the universal truth, is the main character of Moby Dick knowledge in the field of setology , ranging from the myths of ancient Greece to the production subtleties of processing a whale carcass, to create a super-hyperbolic , terrifying image of the White Whale - a monster of “ all-oceanic fame”, the legendary Moby Dick. The only, insidious and evil killer, whose signs are known to harpooners of all seas - monstrous size, unprecedented, snow-white, furrowed forehead, a high pyramidal hump, a special branched fountain, a jaw curled on its side and... harpoons twisted in a corkscrew sitting in his skin . The White Whale not only has a unique appearance, it has its own habits, its own way of fighting, attacking, treacherously retreating, capsizing whaleboats with a sudden throw of its tail, and ramming ships. It was he who, with a lightning-quick movement of his sickle-shaped jaw, mowed down Ahab’s leg, “like a mower cutting a green blade of grass in a meadow.”
“In him I see brutal strength, backed by incomprehensible malice ,” says Captain Ahab. “And it is this incomprehensible malice that I hate most of all.”
Researchers often compare Melville's narrative style to the surface of the ocean. The unhurried, calm narrative grows gradually and slowly, like a nascent wave. Then it speeds up, moves upward, a crest appears on the “wave”, and then it explodes, sending thousands of splashes and shreds of foam to the sky. Then the “wave” subsides, and the slow, unhurried flow of words and thoughts begins again. The finale of Chapter XL is such a splash. After it, all the formal elements of the drama leave the narrative to reappear in the monologue and dialogue chapters of the final part of the novel. And the epilogue of the book opens with the words: “The drama is played out. Why is someone going to the ramp again?”
The novel did not repeat the success of the first books. Outwardly this is a tale of whaling adventure, but chapters on the taxonomy of cetaceans, the techniques of catching and butchering whales, superb descriptions of the ocean and some of its amazing inhabitants, psychological sketches of the characters of individual whalers and long philosophical discussions are centered around the plot of the mad captain's exciting pursuit of a whale. Probably, at first Melville intended to limit himself to an adventurous plot, but as he worked on the manuscript, his penchant for edification and moralizing took precedence over the narrative. The result was not allegory, which he had vigilantly avoided after the failure of Mardi , but a unique combination of adventure, melodrama and philosophy.
In the creative history of "Moby-Dick" there is one important circumstance that invariably attracts the attention of all researchers, but has not yet received a correct interpretation.
It is generally accepted that Moby Dick was originally intended to be a whaling adventure novel, detailing the details of whaling. This view is based on a number of letters from Melville and his friends. In May 1850, Melville wrote to Richard Dana
about the specific difficulties of the “whaling-adventure” genre:
“I'm afraid this will be a strange book: blubber is blubber; although fat can be obtained from it, poetry flows from it as sparingly as sap from a frozen maple; and in order to concoct a book, I need to add entertainment, which, by the nature of my subject, cannot be graceful, like the jumps of the whales themselves. Still, I hope to give a truthful portrayal despite all this."
Two months later, he found it possible to inform his London publisher Richard Bentley about the nature of the upcoming book: “This book is an adventure story based on some wild legends about whalers...”
Melville showed the manuscript to Evert Daikinku , whose critical instincts he trusted! After viewing it, Duyckinck wrote to his brother:
"Melville has almost finished a new book ; a romantic, fascinating, very accurate and interesting depiction of whaling - something completely new."
Some historians of American literature are inclined to believe that the change in the original concept occurred gradually, almost imperceptibly for Melville himself. This position is taken, for example, by Chase in his book The American Novel and Its Traditions. He believes that Moby-Dick was originally intended to be "another quasi -autobiographical travel book" in which the author wanted to draw on his experiences on the Acushnet from departure to his escape in the Marquesas Islands. However, in the course of his work, he saw that the plot he had chosen opened up broader possibilities, and gradually a new concept for the book began to crystallize in his mind. By the time this happened, much of the novel had already been written, and Melville decided not to redo it. Hence a number of inconsistencies in the narrative: some characters, who play an important role in the initial chapters, then disappear ( Bulkington ) or lose their original character (Ishmael), others, on the contrary, grow and, displacing the rest, occupy a central place in the narrative (Ahab). The style and language of the narrative gradually changes: the humorous, conversational intonation gives way to rhetoric decorated with metaphors, etc.
A different point of view is shared by the author of one of the most complete biographies of Melville, Leon Howard . Like Chase, he is inclined to attribute many of the changes in the novel's conception to the "nature of the material" with which he dealt.
Melville case. In his opinion, Melville, already in the process of work, discovered that the material in the book required different compositional principles. This forced him to reconsider the system of images and highlight Ahab, endowing him with special power. The “new” Ahab outgrew the originally intended conflict (Ahab - Starbeck ) and demanded a more worthy opponent. Melville was to make this adversary a whale, which originally appeared as a kind of prop, the subject of the controversy between Ahab and Starbuck . The narrative became too intense and broad to be conducted through the medium of a “present” narrator. Ishmael gave way to the “omniscient” author. This, in turn, led to changes in language, style, etc. However, Howard believes that all these changes were not carried out gradually. On the contrary, he sees a sharp divide, which, as it seems to him, lies between chapters and of the novel. After Chapter XXXI, a new dramatic conflict is established, in which an important (now no longer mechanical) role is played by the whale, which acquires special significance.16 Keith becomes the force that controls the internal struggle in Ahab's mind. The development of action after Chapter XXXI is subject to a different artistic logic than the action of the first three dozen chapters.
Melville's positive hero is Captain Ahab in Moby Dick -always a lover of truth, a man of duty, a defender of justice. And because Ahab serves the truth (“every creation obeys the call of justice... truth has no limits...”) and considers this service his duty, his figure receives a legendary fatalistic coloring.
The charm of truth is so great that even such sensible people as Starbeck and Stubb follow Ahab , despite the fact that the aura of doom over Captain Ahab is clear to them from the very beginning.
Passion, will, all-conquering determination (“this is the superiority of man!”) are represented in the character of Ahab in such concentration that he calls himself “more a demon than a man.” Melville told Hawthorne that there were reflections of "hellfire" in his novel. He reread Milton's Paradise Lost in the summer of 1850 - just at the time when the trade tale he had conceived was turning into a philosophical novel.
Melville's gloomy psychologism served to reveal the spiritual world of a lone rebel who experienced frenzied disappointment in people, but did not waste his indomitability and faith in himself. Self-confidence is his only wealth, his refuge, his weapon. Melville glorifies the boundless, insane courage and tenacity of Ahab (although he condemns his individualism), glorifies his fearlessness and unbending will. For him, Ahab - unlike the White Whale - is a symbol of the power of human nature.
This is precisely what is romantic in Moby Dick . The romantic is an insight into the wild and restless proud soul of a madman who has shouldered a gigantic burden; the romantic is an image of the extreme tension of human passions (passion taken to the limit is always on the verge of madness) and the same hypertrophied tension of thought; Melville's emotional is inseparably fused with the intellectual. Thanks to this intensity of passion, thought and feeling, the work takes on the character of tragedy and pronounced conflict (to perish, but not to retreat), which in turn implies active action, struggle. Melville's characters—heroes not in the literary sense of the word , but in its literal meaning. They fight against the irresistible forces of nature, but do not retreat even in the face of the threat of imminent death.
The tragic is the true sphere of Melville's talent. He is a great master at whipping up a tragic atmosphere—the characters in the book breathe it long before they set foot on the deck of the doomed ship Pequod . It was not dispelled by the sea winds: the fatal principle inherent in the madman Ahab seemed to be personified and became visible in the mysterious crew of the fourth whaleboat, which the captain hired for himself, secretly from the shipowners, in order to personally pursue the White Whale when he found him. The order of the furious captain: “Course around the world, keep it up!” further enhances the dramatic tension of the pursuit of a formidable and elusive enemy, and the terrible question to the oncoming ships: “ Hey!.., have you seen a white whale?”, like the chorus of an eerie song, maintains this tension until the final act of the tragedy.
The long-awaited battle between Captain Ahab and the White Whale lasted three days. The author describes this unequal battle in pathetic, biblical tones: “The chase, day one,” “The chase, day two,” “The chase, day three.” And at the first meeting, the White Whale bit Ahab's whaleboat in half, and the captain himself was barely saved from his rage. And on the second day, Keith smashed all three whaleboats from the Pequod , despite the fact that three harpoons pierced his body. Ahab's whaleboat was turned over in the air, and the warrior broke his bone leg. But Ahab did not retreat. And on the third day, the White Whale smashed two whaleboats and rammed the ship. As the captain watches, the Pequod sinks, and Ahab once again throws a harpoon at the White Whale. But a tangled line engulfs him in a noose, and the whale drags Ahab into the depths of the sea.
Fedallah's gloomy predictions came true. Everyone died. But Ishmael survived. And not only so that the author, through the mouth of an eyewitness, could tell about the ocean tragedy that unfolded, but so that the heroic became the property of humanity; so that audacity of spirit and willpower delight, terrify and captivate. To remember for a long time the scene when the unarmed gray-haired captain tears apart the monstrous mouth of the Whale with his bare hands, trying to tear the half-crushed whaleboat out of his terrible fangs. So that the reader will be shocked by the dedication of a handful of sailors who, faster than lightning, rushed to intercept the monster ramming the ship: they are trying to take the blow and save the ship.
It is not horror that dominates the final pages of Melville’s novel, but fabulous valor, divine fearlessness, inherent only to man, only to him among all living things on earth.
Melville's heroic-romantic tragedy ends with one of the most expressive and unforgettable symbols in all of romantic American literature. The Tashtigo Indian was nailing at the time of the disaster the crimson flag on the Pequod 's mast. And “when the waves were already splashing, closing over the head of the Indian, who stood on the mainmast, from which only a few inches were now visible above the water along with a long waving flag... at that moment the red-skinned woman rose into the air hand with a hammer and swung, nailing the flag even more firmly to the quickly sinking topmast.”
Human hands, a flag, a hammer, raised above the closing waves as an emblem of indestructibility, crown Melville's wonderful novel.
Melville in Moby Dick is universal: he presented in the novel the properties of all three types of literature: epic, lyric and drama; he needs this universalism of literary form to fulfill his broad philosophical plan.

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