Moby-Dick is 161 Years Old Today

Moby-Dick; or, The Whale was written by iconic American author Herman Melville and first published in 1851. The book is widely considered to be a “Great American Novel”.

The story tells the adventures of a wandering sailor named Ishmael, and his travels on a whaling vessel named Pequod and commanded by Captain Ahab. Ishmael soon learns that Ahab is driven by a single driving purpose — revenge against a specific elusive white sperm whale whale he calls “Moby Dick”. The whale destroyed Ahab’s ship and cost him his leg in an earlier encounter.

Through Ishmael’s journey Mellville examines the concepts of class and social status, good and evil, and the existence of God. His descriptions of a sailor’s life aboard a whaling ship, are woven into the narrative to give the book its rich sense of time and place.

Moby-Dick was first published by Richard Bentley in London on October 18, 1851, in a shorter three-volume edition titled The Whale. New York City publisher Harper and Brothers were the first to publish “Moby-Dick; or, The Whale” as a complete novel on November 14, 1851. The novel initially garnered very mixed reviews, but over time Moby-Dick has come to take a place in the list of great American novels.

In the Accessible Archives

The National Era, a weekly abolitionist newspaper, published a wider range of material which, unlike the National Anti-Slavery Standard, was not exclusively dedicated to the slavery issue. The paper’s editor  was interested in publishing literary ideas as well as developments and changes taking place during this period of history.  A regular feature was the paper’s “Literary Notices”.  The November 20, 1851 edition contained the announcement about Moby-Dick.

The voyage of the Pequod

The voyage of the Pequod


Literary Notices

KNICKERBOCKER. November, 1851. Samuel Hueston, New York. For sale by W. Adam, Pennsylvania avenue, Washington, D.C. The publisher of this entertaining monthly announces that it enjoys “a larger subscription list, and pays better than it ever did before; and for this reason he is enabled to reduce its price, from five dollars to three dollars a year, after the 1st of January next. Clubs of ten are charged at the rate of $2.50 a year. The thirty-ninth volume will begin next January.

CHRISTIAN EXAMINER. November, 1851. Boston: Crosby & Nichols. For sale by Taylor & Maury, Pennsylvania avenue, Washington, D.C. The Examiner contains a spirited vindication of Elias Hicks and his followers, attributing the division in the Society of Friends in this country to the influence of the English Quakers. “The Germans in America ” is the title of an article calculated to awaken serious speculations respecting the influence of foreign immigration on the destinies of this country. The other articles of the Review treat of topics of present interest.

HARPER’S NEW MONTHLY. November, 1851. For sale by Taylor & Maury. While Graham and Sartain are doing what they can for native literature, Harper is presenting, in a cheap form, the wealth of foreign literature. It now contains regularly, according to its announcement, one or more original articles, copious selections from current periodical literature; a lengthy record of foreign and domestic events; critical notices of new books; a monthly summary of literary intelligence; an editor’s table; an editor’s drawer.

THE FIFTEEN DECISIVE BATTLES OF THE WORLD. By R.S. Creasy, M.A. New York: Harper & Brothers. For sale by Franck Taylor, Pennsylvania avenue. This volume is suggestive, if nothing more. Its views of the fifteen decisive battles of the world are ingenious, sometimes just, sometimes visionary. It pleases the fancy, if it does not satisfy the judgment, to trace the dependency of great events upon causes so insignificant as to have escaped the superficial eye.

MOBY DICK, OR THE WHALE. By Herman Melville . New York: Harper & Brothers. For sale as above. Melville has never written anything so delightful as Typee and Omoo, but we still look with interest for the issues of his pen. His “Life on Board a Man of War” was a capital book, good to read, and good for use. “MOBEY DICK” (sic) introduces us to the hard eventful life of a whaleman, and, so far as we have read, is a volume of great interest.

Collection: African American Newspapers
Date: November 20, 1851
Title: Literary Notices
Location: Washington, D.C.

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