Please use our A-Z INDEX to navigate this site




The Independent book review In Northern Waters by Ian McGuire


This article gives a very brief insight into 'The North Water' in the context of Moby Dick. The critics at the time of release in 1851 had not realised the importance of Moby Dick, or the genius of the writer in creating such a story from a mixture of real life experience and factual sinkings by sperm whales. Something that the whaling industry did what they could to suppress. The fact that Herman's death almost went unnoticed in New York, is something of a shocker. Fortunately, Melville lives on as the inspiration for reviews and adaptations that have cast his name is stone.




Moby Dick by Herman Melville, book of a lifetime: A playful, experimental novel
In writing a high tragedy about a whaling voyage, Melville is emulating and paying tribute to Shakespeare and the larger literary tradition, but he's also revising and Americanising it

"A whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard." That's Ishmael, the narrator, speaking, but it could easily be Herman Melville himself. Melville left school at 12 and never attended college. He was 29, and had already published two successful travel books, before he read Shakespeare or Milton. When you read this great, bamboozling novel it is helpful to remember that it is the work of late-blooming autodidact, suddenly desperate to get in on the literary action.

I'm no autodidact myself (for my sins, I've spent almost all my adult life in or around university English departments), but I imagine that one of the advantages of being one is that it doesn't feel very traditional or fixed it feels new, and it feels like something that can be altered and played around with.
Moby-Dick is a playful, experimental novel (which is why, having been neglected on publication, it was championed and made famous in the era of modernism) it's also deeply democratic in its themes and its methods.



Captain Ahab, played by Gregory Peck in 1956


Gregory Peck gave an outstanding performance as Captain Ahab, in the 1956 movie: Moby Dick. He'll take a lot of beating. If they were to combine the special effects of In the Heart of the Sea, with someone as powerful as Gregory Peck to play a new Captain Ahab, we'd be in for a treat. There had been a lot of in between movies of Titanic and King Kong, before they finally made the fantastic CGI versions that have us almost believing the Leonardo and Kate were on the fated ship, or that Naomi Watts had a thing for the big ape.



In Chapter 26, Melville invokes the muse-like Spirit of Equality to justify his decision to ascribe high qualities and tragic grace to the "meanest mariners and renegades and castaways". In writing a high tragedy about a whaling voyage Melville is emulating and paying tribute to Shakespeare and the larger literary tradition, but he's also revising and Americanising it at the same time. (In Shakespeare, of course, the workers are mainly there for comic relief).

There is an autodidactic bolshiness to that revisionist move which is still impressive and which gives this great novel much of its energy and grandeur. But now, 124 years after his death,
Melville has himself become part of the literary canon. A fixture. And reading Moby Dick can sometimes feel a bit dutiful, like climbing the spiral staircase of some great American monument. Time then, perhaps, to revise the reviser.


That is what I've done, or tried to do, in my new novel The North Water. Revising Moby Dick may seem like the height of authorial hubris, but then hubris is what Moby Dick is all about the hubris of Ahab, and also the hubris of Melville. To alter and re-imagine it is, in that sense, only to follow its remarkable lead. By Ian McGuire

Ian McGuire's 'The North Water' is published by Scribner




Herman Melville was the author of a novel abut what we'd now consider an illegal activity; the commercial hunting of whales for oil and meat. In capturing the whaling industry at its peak, showcasing the rebellious white whale, in our view he was lobbying for the whales, the innocent victims in his story. Following his death in New York City in 1891, some thirty years later, he posthumously came to be regarded as one of the great American writers.





Independent Digital News & Media Limited
2 Derry Street
London W8 5HF
United Kingdom
020 7005 2000

Editor: Christian Broughton
Deputy Editor: David Marley
Assistant Editor: Lucie McInerney
Head of Production: Linda Taylor
Premium Editor: Michael Owens
Editorial Compliance Manager: Madeline Palacz
News Editor: Olivia Alabaster
International Desk: Gemma Fox
Voices (Comment) Editors: Hannah Fearn, Chris Stevenson (UK), Holly Baxter (US)
Culture Editor: Patrick Smith
Lifestyle Editor: Harriet Hall
Head of Travel: Cathy Adams (
Sports Editor: Ben Burrows (
Group Managing Editor: Doug Wills
Letters to the Editor (for possible publication):

Personal email addresses follow this format:





Bartleby, the Scrivener
Benito Cereno
The Encantadas
The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids


Typee (1846)
Omoo (1847)
Mardi (1849)
Redburn (1849)
White-Jacket (1850)
Moby Dick (1851)
Pierre (1852)
Israel Potter (1855)
The Confidence-Man (1857)
Billy Budd (1924)



Typee A Peep at Polynesian Life  White Jacket  Redburn Hid First Voyage  Omoo South Sea Sailing Adventures  Moby Dick


Mardi and a Voyage Thither  Pierre the Ambiguities  Israel Potter his 50 years exile  The Confidence Man  Billy Budd, Sailor



Herman Melville was born in New York City on the 1st of August 1819. He died on the 28th of September 1891. He was an American novelist, short story writer and poet of the American Renaissance period. Among his best-known works are Moby-Dick (1851), Typee (1846), a romanticized account of his experiences in Polynesia, and Billy Budd, Sailor, a posthumously published novella. The centennial of his birth in 1919 was the starting point of a Melville revival, when Moby-Dick began to be considered one of the great American novels.




Herman Melville's Moby Dick, is the story of a great white sperm whale that fought back at whalers who tried to harpoon him. The idea came to Herman Melville after he spent time on a commercial whaler, where stories abounded of the sinking of the Essex in 1821 and Mocha Dick, a giant sperm whale that sank around 20 ships, before being harpooned in 1838.










Please use our A-Z INDEX to navigate this site



This website is Copyright 2020 Cleaner Ocean Foundation Ltd and Jameson Hunter Ltd