October 18, 1851: Moby-Dick is published.

Herman Melville's classic novel, one of the “Great American Novels”, opened with one of the most famous lines of all time: “Call me Ishmael”. It was first published during a period sometimes called the American Renaissance, during which The Scarlet LetterWaldenLeaves of Grass, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and other classic literary works were also published. Alternatively called The Whale, Melville’s novel may have been inspired by - first, the sinking of the Massachusetts whaling ship Essex by a sperm whale in 1820, and second, accounts of whale attacks by an enormous white sperm whale whalers called “Mocha Dick” (yes, Mocha Dick). Melville undoubtedly incorporated some of his own experiences aboard whaling ships in the early 1840s. 

Melville, who called it a “wicked book”, considered the work his magnum opus, and he was shocked when critical response was less than enthusiastic. Nathaniel Hawthorne, the person to whom Melville dedicated his novel to, wrote that the book gave him “an idea of much greater power than his preceding ones”, but others criticized it as an awkward blend of the technicalities and romance of the whaling industry, as disjointed and confusing, as illogical and strange. The fact that a British publishing company released the book after expurgating it and removing the epilogue altogether may have added to confusion. Whatever the case, Moby-Dick remained a relatively obscure book until the post-World War I era, seventy years after its original publication and thirty years after Melville’s death. Melville’s skill and his novel’s merits were recognized partially through the efforts of Carl Van Doren, who dedicated a section of his study The American Novel to him. The Observer placed it among the top 25 of its "100 Greatest Novels of All Time" list.

Also, today’s Google Doodle.

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Other links: full book online.

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