poet, essayist, editor, teacher
Yes, reading MD sometimes feels like slogging through a word-swamp in the fog at midnight whereas reading GE feels like a brisk walk across an open word-field on a beautiful day, but I don’t think it’s a matter of Melville versus Dickens as a writer but rather the style of writing perfectly matching the narrator and his story. Take, for example, the “who I am” openings mentioned by Dawn in an earlier post. Both narrators are self-named but one seems to be a fictitious name while the other is a true name. MD opens with what appears to be a clear and direct statement but is it really? There is, to point out again the theatricality of Melville’s writing, the slightest pause between “Call me” and “Ishmael” (in a play script I would expect to see “beat” between them) that immediately creates a layer of obfuscation, which, in turn, immediately makes me question the reliability of this narrator. The narrator seems to be choosing a name rather than revealing his true name. Although Ishmael intrigues me, I also want to keep a bit of a distance from him. I’m reluctant to follow him because, from the get-go, I know this isn’t going to be an easy journey and probably won’t end well. On the other hand Pip’s open and lengthier explanation of his name leaves no doubt it’s his true name. I’m charmed by Pip’s childlike frankness. Am I the only one who, after reading the paragraph about the tombstones, wanted to hug him? Okay, confession time: I’ve wanted to hug him several times during these opening chapters! I’m eager to follow Pip because, although I don’t know how difficult the journey will be, I do know it will end relatively well.Others have noted Dickens’ wonderful poignant humor. I want to point out how funny Melville can be. I was in my thirties when I first read MD. I had started to read it a few times but had always given up until a friend’s enthusiasm for it helped me push beyond the opening chapters. Since then I have re-read it at least four times and with each reading I get on a friendlier basis with it. At first, because of its reputation and the thicket of Melville’s writing style, I approached it as A VERY SERIOUS BOOK. But on the third reading I suddenly realized how FUNNY it is--for example, the conversation between the Ishmael and Peter Coffin about Queequeg’s “broken” head. Then in the middle of that Abbot and Costello-ish routine (think “Who’s on First?”) Peter Coffin throws in, “…ain’t there too many heads in the world,” which is funny and profound at the same time. One can read that sentence as a jab at some of the “heads” of that time (e.g. Emerson who I love but who could be a bit….heady). Once I connected with the humor in it, the thicket became a lot less thick.I have also, while driving to and from the MFA in Theatre program that I attended, listened to MD at least three times (a decent recording on it can be downloaded for free from LibriVox). I don’t generally listen to recordings of books because I don’t like hearing another person’s reading voice in my head. But, as I mentioned in an earlier post, this narrative is very dramatic and thus lends itself to listening. I recommend downloading it and listening to the opening chapters.
I apologize for the multiple postings of my comments but blogger and my computer seem to have an antagonistic relationship. Last week when I tried to upload comments blogger deleted them. This weeek multiple comments. Sigh.
I agree entirely about the humor in MD: when I used the word "seriousness," I suppose I meant an overarching moral imperative . . . which isn't to say that Dickens doesn't also have moral imperatives, but some impetus seems to be different. I haven't yet articulated what.Teresa, your comment about the theatricality of "Call me Ishmael" interests me. I don't hear a pause in the first line. What I hear is "Stress Stress Stress-mael," with each stess rising slightly in intensity until dropping back into the unaccented "mael." I wonder how other people hear that line.One of Dickens's great accomplishments in GE was to make us yearn over poor little Pip early in the book and then make us watch him disintegrate into error as a man. It's very difficult to watch that happen, once we've learn to love him. David Copperfield we can admire all the way through his novel; Pip, not so much.
Teresa, I too hear the beat and it makes me want to keep a few paces behind until I know where I'll be headed, pun intended!. I do think the style of each book matches the intent and the subject matter of each respective book. I remember really enjoying MD, but did not get the humor in high school.
the last post is me...Ruth...don't know what happened
Oh no, Pip turns bad in this? I don't know if I can go on . . maybe you can let me know what chapter I should read to so I can quit before his sympathy runs out. I didn't remember the humor in MD either, so I was pleasantly surprised by the scene that Teresa mentions--that and the slapstick of Ishmael waking up with Queequeg's arm draped over him.I can't decide how "funny" these moments are--I mean, I'm laughing out loud, literally, with GE, but Melville's attempts have me making faces more than anything. It's like that's not what I go to him for, and I'm ready to get back to the brooding.And I read the opening sentence of MD as a pair of trochees.
Darling Pip disintegrates into error as a man?!? I'm with Mr. Hill about not knowing if I can go on. This is my first reading of GE and at this point I am completely smitten with Pip.
Don't worry; you'll still love him. You'll just worry about him. It's like having a teenager.
What? My kids turn bad, too? There are way too many spoilers in this thread today.
I'm also a fan of the different types of humor in the two books, though agree that GE is more laugh out loud. But I am also fond of how both authors lavish on the thick description: Melville makes us feel what New Bedford is like, both dark at night, and yet rich enough to marry off those girls. Dickens pulls us into the Christmas party remarking on both customs and the setting. These details make the settings come alive, even if both figures -- Ishmael and Pip -- are somewhat vague at this point.
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