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Friday, November 15, 2013

Of Moore and Melville

In last week's blog post we wished Bram Stoker a happy birthday; this week it is Marianne Moore's turn. She was born on November 15, 1887, which would make today her 126th birthday! Here at the Rosenbach we celebrated on Wednesday with a great talk by Moore scholar Linda Leavell on her new Moore biography, Holding on Upside Down.

This week also marks the anniversary of the American publication of Herman Melville's great novel Moby Dick, or The Whale which was published by Harper & Brothers on November 14, 1851.

Herman Melville , Moby Dick, or, The whale  New York: Harper & Brothers, 1851
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Herman Melville , Moby Dick, or, The whale  New York: Harper & Brothers, 1851
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It had been published a month earlier as The Whale, by Melville's British publisher, Richard Bentley. The American edition differed from the British in a few respects beyond the title, including that the British version had been edited to remove some potentially offensive material and that the Bentley edition (presumably accidentally)  did not include the short epilogue that explains how Ishmael survived the sinking of the Pequod and thus lived to recount the story. Here is the last page of the British version (before the Etymology and Extracts, which appeared at the end of the British edition)--it ends "the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago."

Herman Melville , The whale  London: Richard Bentley, 1851
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Apparently killing off the narrator of a first-person tale led many British readers to cry foul. You can read a selection of British and American reviews at The Life and Works of Herman Melville; check out the London Spectator review, which specifically mentions this issue.

Given the twin subjects of poets and cetaceans in this post, I think it is only fitting to end by bringing them together and pointing out that one of Marianne Moore's suggestions when she was famously asked to come up with names for the car that became the Edsel was "The Intelligent Whale."

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library.


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