Some might think that reading Moby-Dick is like running a marathon. Well, this weekend reading Moby-Dick actually is a marathon event at the New Bedford Whaling Museum which is hosting it’s 15th year celebrating Melville’s American classic.
Beth Perdue wrote a great article in today’s Coastin’ section of the New Bedford Standard Times about what you can expect which includes the below highlights so that you can chart your experience. Standing Watch – A marathon timeline (times are approximate)
Chapter 1-6, Noon, Saturday
These first few chapters are entertaining for several reasons, including the comical treatment Melville gives to the relationship of Ishmael and Queequeg and the rare and intriguing look at the city of New Bedford as seen through Melville’s 19th-century eyes. And, this year, the Whaling Museum returns the reading’s kickoff to the Lagoda, its 89-foot, half-scale whaleship replica, adding a new layer of atmosphere to the reading.
Chapter 7-9: Seamen’s Bethel and Father Mapple sermon, 1:20 p.m.
Being in the Bethel, the inspiration for this scene, is reason enough to make the trip up Johnny Cake Hill to hear the famous sermon by Father Mapple. The sermon, full of fire and brimstone and delivered with passion for the past few years by Rev. Dr. Edward R. Dufresne, is another great reason. If that’s not enough, the hymn (from the 1956 film) that kicks off the sermon will be sung by Joanna McQuillan Weeks, local choir singer and secretary of the Ladies’ Branch of the New Bedford Port Society.
Chapter 32: “Cetology,” 6:20 p.m.
This look at the scientific classification of whales is a “love it or hate it” kind of chapter with many votes landing in the latter category. In reality, Melville scholar Dr. Laurie Robertson-Lorant said, for those willing to dive in, the chapter can be very funny. “It’s hilarious because what’s he doing is deconstructing scientific classification,” said Robertson-Lorant. “He’s poking fun at this idea that now we have everything nailed down because we can make a chart.”
Chapter 40: “Midnight Forecastle” 7:45 p.m.
Written in theatrical style, this is an annual favorite among marathoners and this year promises to be extra special with the debut of Culture*Park, the New Bedford theater ensemble, to the mix. About 10 actors will perform the section which shows the ship’s watch, made up of representatives from many countries and cultures, eyeing a coming storm.
Chapter 69: “The Funeral,” 1:30 a.m. Sunday
Melville isn’t pulling punches with this powerful look at the 19th-century industry’s brutal treatment of whales. A key image here is the floating white mass of the whale’s corpse, according to “Moby-Dick” scholar and literature professor Robert Wallace, who called it one of the strongest ecological images in 19th-century literature.
Chapter 78: “Cistern and Buckets,” 3 a.m.
A short comic chapter showing Tashtego falling into a gutted whale carcass and then into the sea, only to be rescued by Queequeg. “It has what Melville calls ‘unspeakable horror’ as well as redemption and wry humor,” said Melville expert Mary K. Bercaw Edwards.
Chapter 81: “The Pequod Meets the Virgin,” 3:30 a.m.
A good example of the fun Melville managed to work into his tragedy, this chapter combines high nationalistic comedy — spoofing the futility of the German whalers — with deep Shakespearean tragedy — in the Pequod’s unnecessary cruelty to the old, blind, wounded bull whale, according to Wallace.
Chapter 87: “The Grand Armada,” 5 a.m.
In this chapter, the whaleboat enters a circle of mother whales and calves. Scholars say for all the novel’s focus on Ahab’s obsession, the whale is the book’s central figure and this chapter is its spiritual center. “Ishmael’s vision of the baby whale in the heart of the carnage “» is the spiritual touchstone for the entire book,” said Wallace.
Chapter 93: “The Castaway,” 6:10 a.m.
The beauty of Melville’s language, noted again and again in conversations about “Moby-Dick” is especially evident in this chapter about Pip going overboard and being dragged down into the depths of the sea, according to Robertson-Lorant.
Chapter 99: “The Doubloon,” 7 a.m.
A dramatic reading where Ahab nails a doubloon to the mast and each of the whaler’s crew members interprets its meaning, each according to their subjective view point, said Robertson-Lorant.
Chapter 110: “Queequeg in His Coffin,” 9 a.m.
“The fact that Queequeg cannot interpret the tattooing on his own chest even though his own heart beats against it is a lesson for us all,” said Wallace. “The dialogue between him and Pip in this chapter is unbearably poignant.”
Chapters 133-135: “The Chase,” 11:45 a.m.
The novel ends with an action-packed bang in these final chapters when Moby-Dick appears and the whalers begin their chase in earnest. “They’re chasing Moby-Dick, knowing that they’re doomed,” said Robertson-Lorant. “The language is so dramatic. The description of fear is the best there is.”
Want to experience things like Melville did as he prepared for his journey on the whaleship Acushnet, cross the street and step into the Seamen’s Bethel (aka Whalemen’s Chapel) where Father Mapple’s sermon will be delivered. Here’s a taste:
Back to the marathon.