Moby Dick and a Cannibal’s Christmas

I’m at chapter 55 out of 135 and Moby Dick has yet to turn up in person (whale?). I find myself conflicted, as I don’t want Moby Dick to get hurt, but I do want the story to pick up, and all we’ve had so far are stories about him.

It’s hard for most people nowadays to see whales as menacing, they are motifs for wind chimes and 1980s photography posters in dental waiting rooms. And they probably would have done hardly anyone any harm back then either, if people didn’t keep chasing them about and throwing pointing things at them.

It’s been very informative regarding life at sea, and things I had never thought about, like payment structures. Getting the 275th portion of the profits was great, as it could even be 800th, lining up behind investors, widows and orphans. And the voyage is three years, so no money till then. I would throw a fit if my wages were a day late into my bank account, all kinds of direct debits would bounce. Waiting three Christmases, three birthdays, and three Eurovision Song Sontests between wage packets would turn me into a raging hag with bad hair and bare feet.

I have also found myself delighted on two counts of being right when Herman Melville is wrong. Firstly, he asserts very strongly that whales are fish. And it’s not just because people didn’t know better then, as in 1778 a Swedish biologist called Linneus had sussed out that they gave birth to live young and maintained a core temperature, and Ishmael mentions Linneus by name, but says he doesn’t think lungs, live young, and warm blood is enough to make a mammal?!

Secondly, I take objection with a line in a later chapter about how a whales’ skeleton gives a good idea of its proper shape, rather than when first landed with its mangled flesh hanging off, just as the candelabra made of Jeremy Bentham’s skeleton shows his heavy-browed features. Jeremy Bentham  the philosopher is indeed a skeleton, with a wax head, who died in 1832, living in a box in University College London, and while he has been wheeled out to attend meetings, no one has made a lamp of him or stuck candles in him. This must have been some weird myth going round. But then, Bentham was an unusual man. Progressive,in that he believed in gender equality, but also in using corpses as garden decorations as he thought we’d all be happier and fear death less if we looked at dead people. A lot.

Jeremy Bentham in his box.

Jeremy Bentham in his box.

Jeremy Bentham at a meeting. Bet he's really impressed with Powerpoint.

Jeremy Bentham at a meeting. Bet he’s really impressed with Powerpoint. And spreadsheets.

If you want a fancy things made out of bones, don’t look to Jeremy. Look to the Czech Republic and the church at Sedlec.


Anyway, I appear to have seriously wandered away from Moby Dick. One thing I have found is that the sinking of the ship the Essex by a whale, which inspired Melville, was actually a lot worse than anything the Pequod goes through, as they ended up stranded on an island, and eating each other, and as the captain ate his cousin, the term ‘gastronomic incest’ was coined.  All in all, death by whale doesn’t seem so bad, compared to the captain’s situation, as he how must have had to deal with some pretty awkward Christmases after that.