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: