Great Art Bad Reviews Herman Melville's Moby Dick

About Herman Melville's Moby Dick, a great work of art which was originally given bad reviews.


Melville's Moby Dick

The Work: Moby Dick, written by Herman Melville in 1851, is the story of a demented sea captain's obsession with finding and killing the great white whale that ate his leg years before. It is moreover an immense parable of human life and the quest for identity.

The Critics Speak: Moby Dick got mixed reviews, but on the whole they were disappointing to Melville. The critics were particularly annoyed by Melville's departures from the standard structures of novel-writing. All of the following excerpts are from reviews that appeared unsigned.

From the Athenaeum: "The opening of this wild book contains some graphic descriptions of a dreariness such as we do not remember to have met with before in marine literature."

From the London Morning Chronicle: "Raving and rhapsodizing in chapter after chapter . . . sheer moonstruck lunacy."

From the Southern Quarterly Review: "[Aside from the parts where the whale is directly involved] the book is sad stuff, dull and dreary, or ridiculous. Mr. Melville's Quakers are the wretchedest dolts and drivellers, and his Mad Captain . . . is a monstrous bore. . . . His ravings . . . and the ravings of Mr. Melville himself . . . are such as would justify a writ de lunatico for all the parties."

History Speaks: Moby Dick is today considered Melville's great masterpiece, as adventure tale, parable, and innovative novel. Moby Dick has taken such a permanent place in the body of American literature that it has been required reading for several generations of students.

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