The author informed Bentley of this, along with his last-minute decision to change the novel's title from The Whale to Moby-Dick. By the time he received the update, Bentley was able to insert the dedication into the book; he was not able, however, to change the book's title. The Whale would remain unnamed. That the novel went to print with a title its author had not intended was appropriate.
Bentley had taken the book's Extracts , which Melville had intended as a kind of overture to the novel, and made them into an Appendix. Worse, though, he had taken the Epilogue —again, the crucial section of the book in which Ishmael recounts how he survived to tell his story—out of the book completely. When Brits read The Whale , they were understandably a bit confused. What's going on here?
Wasn't the narrator dead? Which is, in part, how the book that is today regarded as one of the best novels ever written became, to many of its contemporary readers, something of a disappointment. London Examiner , November : "We cannot say that we recognize in this writer any advance on the admirable qualities displayed in his earlier books—we do not see that he even greatly cares to put forth the strength of which he has shown himself undoubtedly possessed. They counted around of them.
The American editions, furthermore, contained 35 passages that were missing from the British.
For Melville and his masterpiece, the insult of all this was doubly injurious: The results of Bentley's meddling affected Moby-Dick 's critical reception in the States as well as Britain. And this was despite the fact that the American edition, published in November , was true to Melville's manuscript. For one thing—loose copyright laws again—American newspapers and journals were in the habit of simply reprinting reviews from British periodicals. But even when the reviews weren't copied, American critics tended to be heavily influenced by their British counterparts.
Which led to reviews like this one :. We have read nearly one-half of this book and are satisfied that the London Athenaeum is right in calling it: "an ill-compounded mixture of romance and matter-of-fact.
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Not all the reviews were negative. Not all the negative reviews had to do with the missing pages. Still, though: Imagine being Herman Melville.
Imagine writing Moby-Dick. And imagine, then, reading that dismissive assessment of your work. Nearly one-half of this book! Imagine being confused, indignant, furious, worried. Imagine receiving copies of your book months after those copies had been released into the world. Imagine flipping through the pages. Imagine realizing they were wrong. Via Library of America and Writer's Almanac. We want to hear what you think about this article.
Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters theatlantic. Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic , where she covers culture. Contents good. Edges lightly rubbed. More images can be taken upon request.
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Why Does Moby-Dick (Sometimes) Have a Hyphen?
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The Man Who Edited Melville - by Lee Sandlin
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