No American masterpiece casts quite as awesome a shadow as Melville's monumental Moby Dick. First published in 1851, the sage of Captain Ahab and his monomaniacal pursuit of the white whale remains a peerless adventure story but one full of mythic grandeur, poetic majesty, and symbolic power. Filtered through the consciousness of the novel's narrator, Ishmael, Moby-Dick draws us into a universe full of fascinating characters and stories, from the noble cannibal Queequeg to the natural history of whales, while reaching existensial depths that excite debate and contemplation to this day.
Moby-Dick is one of the great epics in all of literature. Captain Ahab's hunt for the white whale drives the narrative at a relentless pace, while Ishmael's meditations on whales and whaling, on the sublime indifference of nature, and on the grimy physical details of the extraction of oil provide a reflective counterpoint to the headlong idolatrous quest. Sometimes read as a terrifying study of monomania or as a critical inquiry into the effects of reducing life to symbols, Moby-Dick also offers colorful and often comic glimpses of life aboard a whaling ship.
For the first time, the authoritative editions of works by American novelists, poets, scholars, and essayists collected in the hardcover volumes of The Library of America are being published singly in a series of handsome paperback books. A distinguished writer has contributed an introduction for each volume, which also includes a chronology of the author's life an essay on the text, and notes.
Elizabeth Hardwick (19162007) is the author of many books and essays, including Herman Melville (Penguin Lives), American Fictions, and Seduction and Betrayal: Women and Literature.