Moby Dick Slowest Readalong Ever

Actually, this is more of a read-behind for me.   I was supposed to have finished through c. 38 something like three weeks ago.  But I got distracted by Wittgensteins and then coffins and I don’t know what all.   Crushing electronic candies may also have been a problem.  So not much reading has taken place.   I hope to reform.

Oddly enough I was in Vancouver reading Moby Dick when in the text was a mention of Vancouver the Explorer.   In another meaningless coincidence, I saw a white whale while there.   A Beluga, not a sperm whale.  

 

 

Image

 

So in this second part, we finally get to sea, we meet Ahab and we learn about his obsession with the white whale.   Which we knew already.   Because you pick that up just living in society.  It is definitely not as amusing as it was.  Wry observations from Ishmael are few and far between.    Personally I cannot fathom going around the world in a ship like they sailed in then, let alone tracking a single whale.   Does anyone know if they hang out in the same place year in, year out?   If they don’t, the odds of finding him are astronomically bad.   Of course, it is a novel, so he’s gotta find him, but it does seem a ridiculous premise.   Even as big a critter as a whale is a teeny, tiny speck in the broad and vasty deep.

Moby Dick Readalong Part the First

Okay, if you’re new to readalong posts, they’re full of spoilers.   As this is only the first section, chapters 1-20, the spoilers shouldn’t be too spoilery.   This readalong is hosted by Roof Beam Reader.  Many thanks to him, as I’m already further along in M-D then I’ve gotten before.   You’ve probably heard much the same things about Moby Dick that I have.   Classic, long, fascinating, but with long boring whaling chapters,  boring with long, boring whaling chapters, a story of obsession, whaling, and the opening line:  Call me Ishmael.  I have no idea why that’s a great opening line, but it is.   Something in the name.   Call me Fred just doesn’t have the same ring.

But one thing I don’t think I ever heard about Moby Dick is that it is funny.   Not laff riot or Tina Fey funny, but Ishmael is a great narrator and his wry observations are highly entertaining.   He’s also a more evolved person than millions around today.  I never had to read Moby Dick in school, and that’s in a way good as reading things in school frequently ruins them for people, but a whole lot of people could do with reading at least the first part of this book.   

Some of my favorite lines:

and especially whenever 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 sea
as soon as I can.

But BEING
PAID,--what will compare with it? The urbane activity with which a man
receives money is really marvellous, considering that we so earnestly
believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account
can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves
to perdition!
Ignorance is the parent of fear, and being completely nonplussed and
confounded about the stranger, I confess I was now as much afraid of him
as if it was the devil himself who had thus broken into my room at
the dead of night.

But
THAT was certainly very coolly done by him, and every one knows that in
most people's estimation, to do anything coolly is to do it genteelly.
"Fiery pit! fiery pit! ye insult me, man; past all natural bearing, ye
insult me. It's an all-fired outrage to tell any human creature that
he's bound to hell.

Heaven have mercy on us all--Presbyterians and Pagans
alike--for we are all somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and
sadly need mending.

Betty, go to Snarles the Painter, and tell
him to paint me a sign, with--"no suicides permitted here, and no
smoking in the parlor;"--might as well kill both birds at once.



Ishmael and Queequeg's friendship, which develops rapidly after Ishmael gets over his initial fears,is charming. Queequeg's insistence upon Ishmael choosing the ship when they get to Nantucket seems unfortunate. Ishmael knows nothing of whaling, but even without that I think he really should have given more consideration to those other ships. I'd be happier knowing they had things wrong with
them more alarming than the behavior of Captain Ahab whom we haven't even met yet. He's not sick, but he's not well either. Really? You want to be at sea for three years with the man in charge
described in this fashion? Ishmael does have some misgivings, but he ignores them and I suppose he has to as otherwise, we wouldn't have this story, but still, I'd feel better if he went to the
other ships and either they wouldn't take him, or they were horribly disorganized or some reason the Pequod seems the best of the lot even with an iffy captain. But they are about to leave at last
and I suppose soon we'll get to the boring bits. So far it's not been dull at all. One last
quote:

for I cherish the greatest respect towards everybody's religious obligations,
never mind how comical

Spoilery, Late, Wind-up of Lady Audley’s Super Secret Readalong

I finished early and am still writing late.   I think I must defend poor old George from my fellow readaglongers’ wrath.   George gets no credit for the letters he writes.   For the good things he tries to do.   All he gets is flack.   It’s a good thing he’s a fictional character because he does not deserve so much flack.   All right, he’s a dope.   And not a good father.   But he tried to be a good husband, he really did.   He couldn’t find a job.   What were his options?   What was he supposed to do?   All he’s good at is looking good in uniform and climbing.   No one would hire him.   So, he went to Australia where all you have to do (at the time) to get rich is dig a lot and be lucky.  And dammit, he wrote Lucy a letter that he was doing this.    Remember who we’re talking about here:  Lucy.   Spoiled brat who married him only because she thought he was rich.   Lucy who didn’t give a rat’s ass about him, though he doted on her.   (He was an idiot.   It’s true.  But not a bad person.)   Lucy who’s one dream in life is to enchant the county with how pretty she is.   Of course, she didn’t wait for him.   Of course she abandoned her child to her drunken father and wrote them both off.   (Why the hell she couldn’t manage to hide the money she earned from him, I cannot guess.  She’s pretty clever and conniving otherwise.)

Then again at the end, George is accused of just abandoning his friend.   No.   He didn’t.   He wrote.   He made the mistake of giving the letter to Luke.   But this is not really stupid.   His entire experience of Luke was of someone helpful and friendly.   Possibly the only time in his life Luke has ever been helpful and friendly.   George trusted him to deliver the letters.   This is a shame, but not George’s fault.   It’s not like Robert who, fully knowing Hellucy’s character tells her everything over and over again.   Robert’s a dope, too.   Though not as big a dope as George.   

I was very glad and excited to read the end.   And astonished at how completely I had forgotten this book.   Did I really read it?   I thought I had, but you would think some of it would at least seem familiar.   And apparently all Victorian fiction is totally gay in disguise.    Robert and George are just the latest.   And they end up living together!   It’s so romantic.   I expect Clara and Alicia (or whatever her name is.  I’ve already forgotten it) can keep each other company.

Oh, and the doctor’s right.   Lady Audley is not mad.   Maybe she fears the taint in her blood, but really she just uses it as an excuse to do whatever she wants.    Can anyone name anything mad truly mad that Lucy has done?   Immoral, yes.   Unethical, yup.   But mad?  No.   She’s just looking out for number one, and has a few missteps along the way.   Her mother does truly seem to have been mentally ill.   She doesn’t know any of them when they visit her.   But Lucy?  Lucy is crazy like a fox.   She is a narcissist, almost entirely without empathy.   But Rochester’s wife, she ain’t.   

I kind of want a sequel.   She doesn’t really die of boredom in Belgium.   She fakes her own death and escapes.   Marrying a third time seems a bit risky, so she becomes a jewel thief.   Yeah, that’s it.   And somehow we’ll bring in that red herring about how much Phoebe looked like Lady A.   Ooh, maybe in the faking her own death.   At that point, who’d miss Phoebe?   No one.  That’s who.  

I would like to thank Alice for another fun readalong.   I hope we get to do it again!   From the lone member of Team George.

Lady Audley’s Secret Non-Spoilery Review, Not Final Readalong Post

In a way it’s absurd to write a review on a book that’s a 150 years old — it’s been around all that time, there must be something to it, no?  Lady Audley’s Secret is one of the best examples of what’s called Victorian Sensation Fiction, meaning it’s a potboiler, or considered one.  But I think this term is a bit condescending.   Look at any list of best sellers or the shelf of books in the grocery or at the airport – chock full of sensation fiction, some better, some worse, but all of it designed to keep us interested turning pages, gasping in horror, or in lust, or purely curious, help us forget our boring surroundings or our problems for a bit.   

Image

 

Lady Audley is, in my view (and not just mine), not as good as Dickens or Wilkie Collins, but is significant for being a good, page-turning read from a woman in Victorian times.  True, her characters haven’t got the depth or humor of those in Bleak House or The Moonstone, but she does something that I think few people did, she made the beautiful woman with blue eyes and golden ringlets a villain.   This is revealed pretty early on, so I don’t think knowing this will spoil it for anyone.   How great a villain she is remains a question until far into the book, but nonetheless, beauty not equalling virtue is fairly revolutionary.  

Also unusual is Braddon’s hero, Robert Audley, who until the beginning of this book has done as little in his life as possible, and since he’s well off, it’s possible to do very little.  Bob is blessed with the ability to lounge, read novels, and apparently never get antsy or feel called upon to accomplish a darned thing.  

Bob runs into his old pal George, just back from Australia, having made his fortune. Shortly after returning home George learns his wife has recently died.  He is utterly crushed.  Bob looks after him because there is no one else and they become the best of friends.   Bob’s easy friendship with George is rather surprising because it becomes clear Bob doesn’t have any other friends.   He’s on good terms with his Uncle and his cousin Alicia, he’s a cheerful, if indolent fellow, and yet he’s got no friends.  Alicia, too, though having no alarming flaws also has no friends.   I don’t think it’s significant, just odd.

Lady Audley herself would be completely irritating if she weren’t evil.  She’s annoyingly childlike, spoiled by her husband, condescending, generally uncaring about anybody except herself.   Her only interests appear to be clothes, jewels, charming everyone in the county and alienating her stepdaughter from her father.  Her feathery curls are mentioned rather too often though occasionally in amusing ways:

My lady, safely sheltered behind her step-daughter, shook her yellow curls at the angry animal, and defied him maliciously.

She alternates between being an impressively cool under pressure person to a typically hysterical Victorian character inclined to fainting and needing to lie on chaises longues with a bottle of smelling salts.

This is quite an enjoyable read.   It’s not terribly long, keeps moving and has fewer paid-by-the-word digressions than a lot of fiction of the time.   Though some of those are pretty absurd.   Braddon waxing poetic about how lovely women are as they pour tea is hard to figure out.   This is our highest calling?   Is she serious?   Hard to tell.   Her women characters are generally strong and smart.   She herself worked as an actress and wrote.   Should she have stuck to pouring tea?  Overall, though an entertaining and surprisingly thought-provoking novel and while maybe not as good as Bleak House, it’s miles and miles better than The Mysteries of Udolpho.

Searching for images of Lady Audley I stumbled across this one of Theda Bara in the movie in 1915.  Oh, how I wish I could see that!   

Image