Friday, September 4, 2015

Moby-Dick, or, the Plurality of the Whale

Illustration by Rockwell Kent“Call me Ishmael.” Even if you have never read Moby-Dick, chances are you know the first line and something about Captain Ahab’s obsessive hunt for the white whale. The plot and key characters have become part of our popular culture and are referred to by people who couldn’t tell you if Ahab survives his final encounter with the beast that took his leg.

One reason the novel has so thoroughly entered our popular imagination is because it is not really just one novel. Moby-Dick has been repackaged time and time again to serve multiple purposes and satisfy different audiences. It has been a muse for artists, a dry meditation on the human condition for students to suffer through, an exciting story of the sea, and an action story befitting of comic book heroes.

Our latest exhibition, Moby-Dick, or, the Plurality of the Whale --  a riff on the full title of the novel, Moby-Dick, or, the Whale -- opens this Friday, showcasing editions that span centuries, artistic styles, and even genres. We've blogged about our two first editions of Moby-Dick, but now we have a chance to showcase a larger portion of our Melville collection. From the first editions, to the famous Rockwell Kent illustrations (one seen above), to comic books and even a dinner plate, this show has something for all audiences.

Gif of fore-edge painting
This gif shows one of the editions that didn't make it. The gilt edges of this 1923 edition, when correctly manipulated, reveal a hand-painted scene of the harbor at Christiansted, St. Croix, in what is now the U. S. Virgin Islands. You can't view the image without bending the book -- and it would be horrible for the book to be kept like this for the next three months! 

Come see Moby-Dick, or, the Plurality of the Whale, on display from September 4 to November 15, 2015, in the Class of 1965 galleries on the mezzanine level of Rauner!

If you want to see the edition with the fore-edge painting, ask for Rauner Melville PS2384 .M62 1923c.

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