Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Rockwell Kent and Moby Dick

Moby Dick is one of my favourite novels and for a while I became quite obsessed with it, to the point where I made a pilgrimage to New Bedford and visited the Seamen's Bethel church that appears in the first chapter of the book. I expected to find a nice, twee tourist site. Surprisingly, the church had hardly changed at all in 150 years and the entrance was blocked by a gang of menacing-looking sailors. They even had proper beards.

It is a tribute to Melville's genius that he managed to make such a boring book so compelling. In the hands of a lesser author, the seemingly endless digressions and meditations on whaling and life at sea would be intolerable. But Moby Dick is like a long, utterly mad, epic poem, in the tradition of The Wanderer and The Seafarer.

Last week I came across an edition of Moby Dick published in the 1920s, with wonderful illustrations by Rockwell Kent. I looked the book up, hoping that it worth be worthless enough to give me an excuse to keep it for myself, but it was worth £30. It sold three days later.

Here is a brief selection of Kent's brilliant illustrations:









14 comments:

JRSM said...

Beautiful!

depesando said...

very good indeed.

Annabel Gaskell said...

Wonderful illustrations - I would have given in and bought it. One day I will read Moby Dick ... although I have already visited the Whaling museum and Seamen's Bethel in New Bedford.

Art said...

Oh, love the one of the whale lurking under the boat.

JonathanM said...

Very lovely indeed.

Thomas said...

These are wondeful illustrations. I have a copy of Canterbury Tales with Rockwell Kent illustrations that it also pretty darn cool.

Steerforth said...

Yes, the Canterbury Tales is also pretty impressive.

Brett said...

Modern Library reprinted the Rockwell Kent ed. in 1982.

Sam said...

Amazing photos. Melville's work is so brilliant.

Sophie said...

I've never read Moby Dick, although it's been on my 'must-read-at-some-point-when-I-have-a-moment' list for quite some time. But now I feel like I don't want to read it unless I have that copy! Those illustrations are fantastic.

V much enjoying your blog, btw, which I have only lately discovered.

Steerforth said...

"Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially when my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to see as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship."

Resolute Reader said...

Saw this on Boing Boing. Made me think of your post

http://www.boingboing.net/2009/11/10/purses-made-to-look.html

Steerforth said...

What a wonderful idea. I wish I was a woman.

Ariston said...

I have been reading Moby Dick for the first time, recently, and I found this by searching for more images of Kent's illustrations (to illustrate future blog posts), and find myself in hearty agreement with your comment that it is Melville's genius that makes this material compelling. Once I finally really picked it up, I have had a hard time setting it down at times.

As for Kent's illustrations, they are preserved in the Modern Library hardback that is in print, if you are seeking a cheaper copy for yourself.