Five Facts about Moby-Dick

1. Herman Melville’s novel, Moby-Dick (note the hyphen, which many people omit), was subtitled The Whale and appeared in 1851. It signalled a change in the author’s fortunes, but not of the good kind: although he had been critically and commercially successful prior to the publication of Moby-Dick, this – which is now considered his most famous novel – met with hostile reviews when it first appeared. Melville’s career never recovered, and he slid into obscurity in later life. It was only in the twentieth century, and particularly in the wake of literary modernism, that Melville’s work was rediscovered.


2. The one thing that probably everyone knows about Moby-Dick isn’t true. That is, most people ‘know’ that the first line of the novel is ‘Call me Ishmael’ (Ishmael being the narrator of the story). Whilst it is true that this is the first line of the first chapter, the novel actually begins with a series of ‘extracts’ (‘supplied by a sub-sub-librarian’) about whales penned by writers and philosophers throughout history. This is the real start of the novel, and the extracts form an integral part of Melville’s multi-textual narrative.

3. The Starbucks coffee-house chain took their company name from a character in the novel. Starbuck is one of the ship’s crew. Originally the company was going to be called Pequod (after Ahab’s boat), but this was rejected in favour of one of the characters on the ship. Contrary to popular belief, in the novel Starbuck doesn’t express any particular fondness for coffee; the founders of Starbucks merely liked the name.

4. The American DJ and musician Moby took his stage name from the novel. Richard Melville Hall (born September 11th, 1965) is a descendant of Melville, and named himself after his ancestor’s most famous novel.

5. An extinct species of sperm whale is named in honour of Melville. When the fossil of an ancient sperm whale was discovered in 2010, the 12-million-year-old creature – dubbed ‘Leviathan’ by scientists – was given the official taxonomic name Leviathan melvillei because the discoverers of the specimen were fans of Melville’s novel. More about this story can be found here.


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  8. I couldn’t find a “search” box on your home page to look up Moby Dick. I’m reading it for the 5th time now. Like other great works of art–whether they be the visual arts, music, or literature–I discover something new with each exposure.