The Whale; or, Moby Dick
London: Richard Bentley, 1851.
London: Richard Bentley, 1851. First edition. True first edition of Moby Dick, preceding the American edition by a month and containing substantial textual differences. Just 500 copies were printed, many of which didn't sell, leading to a remaindered edition with 1853-dated title pages.
An excellent, clean set bound to style in modern blue calf over marbled boards. Red morocco spine labels, plain end papers, edges sprinkled red. Half-title in volume 1 only, as called for (a concession made by the publisher for disregarding Melville's late change to the title). One of the rarest and most desirable of the triple deckers.
The English edition was set up from the proof sheets of the American edition, published by Harper a month after Bentley's edition. Without Melville's knowledge, Richard Bentley extensively edited the novel, toning down the profanity and irreverent references and cutting approximately 35 passages, including the epilogue. The lack of the epilogue, which accounts for Ishmael's survival, prompted negative reviews of the novel as a whole, most notably in the London Spectator, criticizing a first person narrative ending with the death of all involved. The experience of "seeing his book mutilated and mocked had the effect of angering Melville permanently against publisher and critics." (Delbanco p. 178)
As he finished writing Moby-Dick, Melville confided to Nathaniel Hawthorne that, "I have written a wicked book, and feel spotless as the lamb." This wicked book was mostly ignored upon publication, but since the early decades of the twentieth century, Moby-Dick has been reevaluated and claimed as one of the greatest novels ever written in English. It is a work that has challenged readers with its arcane knowledge of the whaling industry but rewarded those same readers with meditations on the best and worst of humanity: greed and power, friendship and sympathy, violence and rebirth, devotion and loneliness.
BAL 13663; Grolier American 60; Sadlier 1685 - "one of the rarest of three-deckers." Andrew Delbanco, Melville: His World and Work, 2006. (Item #5122)