A bit more readable still than Melville's first three books, but lacking the high flights of metaphor in his later works, Redburn is an interesting Am...moreA bit more readable still than Melville's first three books, but lacking the high flights of metaphor in his later works, Redburn is an interesting American bildungsroman in the 'coming of age' genre. Melville did not rise to the level of Huckleberry Finn (or anywhere close), but the novel holds interest for Melville scholars for its narrative structure and its (likely) autobiographical elements.
As in Moby Dick, the narrator in Redburn is both a first-person teller of the tale, and an older, self-reflective version of himself (the tale being told in the past tense). This structure allowed Melville to build a gentle ironic commentary around Redburn's youth and inexperience (possibly his own), as Redburn himself hints from time to time that he recognizes his former naivete.
The story is a readable but generally average to above-average story of a young man seeing the world, and growing in mind. The problem may be that Redburn's growth is not very great, his most significant experience being a slight mystification at discovering his father's old guidebook (a stand-in for the Christian Bible), does not match up with the landmarks of the contemporary British Isles. Redburn does not even seem to question whether the problem of the guidebook's truth might be with the (man-made and therefore mutable) landmarks, rather than the book itself.(less)
As with other Library of America editions, this book is excellent if all you need is the primary text(s); LoA editions do not include much in the way...moreAs with other Library of America editions, this book is excellent if all you need is the primary text(s); LoA editions do not include much in the way of scholarly notes or commentary (sometimes there will be a "note on the text" but, generally, nothing more). LoA editions being uniform, I have always found them to be of high quality, meaning the paper is a nice, bright white; the font is clear and pleasant; and, of course, each book is hardbound.
Typee and Omoo, the first two novels Melville wrote, are quite readable for the average reader. If you find Moby Dick difficult or tedious, fear not, these two stories are much more accessible. Both stories possess details of historical interest, well-woven with the main stories and numerous short episodes. Typee has a bit more suspense, a bit more drama than Omoo (Omoo may have more humor), but both stories keep you interested with a suspense natural to a story of a man marooned amongst a strange island culture. Scholars and the erudite may recognize both stories as quasi-idealized test cases for Rousseau's 'natural man', and similar philosophical theories.
Mardi is a very different matter, having been Melville's first attempt at literature of high seriousness. The moral criticisms Melville levelled at Christian missionaries in his first two books, in Mardi became a broader critique of Christianity and religion in general. The story of Mardi is really a thin skin stretched over a -- rather didactic for a novel -- sprawling dialogue of metaphysics, peppered with allusions to all kinds of literature. The structure is not unlike Canterbury Tales or the Decameron, but the dialogue is far more didactic. Mardi is a must-read for Melville scholars, as it prefigures much of the religio-philosophical concerns raised in Moby Dick and virtually all other stories he wrote.
On the whole, these are three very fine stories, and well presented in the Library of America edition.(less)
I liked this particular edition (Univ. of California, Illus. by Barry Moser) more than any other edition of Moby Dick, for two primary reasons: 1) no...moreI liked this particular edition (Univ. of California, Illus. by Barry Moser) more than any other edition of Moby Dick, for two primary reasons: 1) no notes or appendicies! and 2) it has great aesthetic qualities.
The lack of explanatory notes and interpretive essays, I count as a "plus." This is the kind of book you read for pleasure, and which you display as a masterpiece of American writing. It is not a tool or study guide, and yet, neither is it the sort of thing you buy to let it sit on the shelf and collect dust. One (generally) does not append 300 pages of essays to the back of a fine painting -- why do that to a work of literature? So this an edition for reading and enjoying, and perhaps for showing off to friends.
Readers who found Moby Dick intimidating in college might appreciate this edition, not least because it includes illustrations. These illustrations, it should be noted, are not depictions of the scenes in the book -- Ishmael is not pictured, nor Queequeg, or any of the other iconic characters. The illustrations are, rather, beautiful, factual renditions of whaling-related people and objects. They are a sort of visual dictionary for those of us unacquainted with whaling.
Aside from their informative role, the drawings help emphasize Melville's metaphorical transformations from his many pages of technical information on whaling. Melville "read the book of nature" in whaling, meaning he drew metaphorical and symbolical meanings out of the otherwise mundane scenes and activities of a whaling voyage. On one page, Melville would describe in minute detail a given species of whale, as if it were a scientific specimen; then on the next page he would show us that animal according to a new perspective, a metaphysical perspective, inspired by a deep interest in what power upholds and moves nature. The drawings show you sailors and whales, ships and tools, each in a simple woodcut style. But I would hazard a guess that the artist contemplated the same metaphysical questions raised by Melville's prose: the harpoon, is it a symbol of gratuitous violence, or a symbol of mankind's ingenious mastery over nature? A beautiful tool, an ugly tool? Or some amalgam of all of these? (The artist's rendering of a harpoon is very fine, by the way).
For these reasons, I would recommend this edition for someone who wants to own a copy of Moby Dick for purposes other than schoolwork.(less)