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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 74

planted by the recentest race of men, and lave the faded but still gorgeous skirts of Asiatic lands, older than Abraham; while all between float milky-ways of coral isles, and low-lying, endless, unknown Archipelagoes, and impenetrable Japans. Thus this mysterious divine Pacific zones the world’s whole bulk about; makes all coasts one bay to it; seems the tide-beating heart of earth.” In such a setting no wonder that the chase after Moby Dick comes to have the semblance of a conflict between the eternal, unscathable forces of nature and the ineluctable enmity of man; and the eventual catastrophe, which leaves ship and sailors strangling in the water while the great beast shoulders his white way off on other business, seems the crash of a tumbling order. These are the theme and climax, barely reported, but description cannot report the extraordinary mixture in Moby Dick of vivid adventures, minute details, cloudy symbolisms, thrilling pictures of the sea in every mood, sly mirth and cosmic ironies, real and incredible characters, wit, speculation, humor, color. The style is mannered but felicitous, warm, insinuating, pictorial, allusive, and witty; though the book is long, crowded with the lore of the deep, yet the delays of the narrative but arouse more and more faculties of suspense until the end comes, swift and final. Too irregular, too bizarre, perhaps, ever to win the most popular suffrage, the immense originality of Moby Dick must warrant the claim of its admirers that it belongs with the greatest sea romances in the whole literature of the world.
  This stupendous yarn, which Melville told Hawthorne had been cooked in hell-fire, seems to have exhausted its



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