Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Reading Moby Dick, 4: Nantucket

I’m now on page 149, having just gotten through the classification of various types of whales, which was interesting, especially given the wry remarks the author often inserted. Of the “Sulphur Bottom,” Melville wrote, “He is never chased; he would run away with rope-walks of line. Prodigies are told of him. Adieu, Sulphur Bottom! I can say nothing more that is true of ye, nor can the oldest Nantucketer.”

Here’s a picture.

Indeed, I’ll probably be looking up several different pictures; how wonderful it would be to be reading an illustrated edition (if such a thing exists; if it doesn’t, it should).

And speaking of Nantucket, I loved this description, early on, when Ishmael and Queequeg arrive on the island:

“Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it. See what a real corner of the world it occupies; how it stands there, away off shore, more lonely than the Eddystone lighthouse. Look at it—a mere hillock, and elbow of sand; all beach, without a background. There is more sand there than you would use in twenty years as a substitute for blotting paper. Some gamesome wights will tell you that they have to plant weeds there, they don’t grow naturally; that they import Canada thistles; that they have to send beyond seas for a spile to stop a leak in an oil cask; that pieces of wood in Nantucket are carried about like bits of the true cross in Rome; that people there plant toadstools before their houses, to get under the sake in summer time; that one blade of grass makes an oasis, three blades in a day’s walk a prairie; that they wear quicksand shoes, something like Laplander snowshoes; that they are so shut up, belted about, every way inclosed, surrounded, and made an utter island of by the ocean, that to their very chairs and tables small clams will sometimes be found adhering, as to the backs of sea turtles. But these extravaganzas only show that Nantucket is no Illinois.”

What a great way to close off that paragraph!

Here are my recent impressions of Nantucket, for contrast, though I would agree that it still “is no Illinois.”


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.