The New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby-Dick Marathon is an annual non-stop reading of Herman Melville's literary masterpiece. The multi-day program of entertaining activities and events is presented every January. Admission to the Marathon is free.

Friday, March 18, 2011

...when Leviathan is the text - 7

(7th in the search for the ideal edition for an MDM)

...gropes he not his way by mere dead reckoning of the error-abounding log?
- Chapter CXXIII

Avast, mates! I need to hit the reset button.

This won't be news to the legitimate literati among you, but the examination of the 1995 Könemann edition of M-D showed me the error of my ways—those "Note on the Text" sections included in many tomes are skipped at one's peril. Even recent editions of our beloved text can carry errors dating as far back as that first publication in London on October 18, 1851. These errors run the gamut from distracting typos (e.g. "...him bevy small-e fish-e..." ) to passages that make no sense. (The meaning of "One hundred pounds of clay reward for Pip..." in The Log and Line is opaque until emended to "One hundred pounds of clay! reward for Pip...")

To cut to the punch line, the accepted accurate version of M-D is found in the Northwestern-Newberry Edition of The Writings of Herman Melville, originally published in 1988. It is the result of the research of Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle. Any edition of M-D published before 1988 is bound to contain known errors. It's also worth noting that a post-'88 publication date is no guarantee of fidelity, as in the case of the Könemann.

So where does the addition of this new criterion leave us in the search for the ideal MDM companion?

First, we must jettison from consideration any pre-'88 publication. This includes the Spencer Press and Encyclopædia Britannica offerings already reviewed, as well as others I had on-deck from Grolier; Easton Press; Franklin Library; Macmillan Company; Dodd, Mead & Co.; Norton, 1976; Hendricks House; The Folio Society; and Albert & Charles Boni. Many of these are beautiful examples of the printer's art. You should indulge your lust for them over at the estimable blog, The Moby-Dick Collection, but remember we're looking for a working volume that will be our marathon craft.

Second, note that the Modern Library edition, previously reviewed, is not "Northwestern-Newberry compliant," even though it was published in 1992 (even though it has those captivating Rockwell Kent illustrations). Likewise the Reader's Digest edition—easily found, nicely put-together, but it contains errors that are corrected in "N-N."

The way forward...

Is there an affordable, Northwestern-Newberry M-D with sewn binding? We have the Library of America edition, but it's a 3-pack of works that includes Redburn and White-Jacket, so it's hefty.

I reckon the ideal volume could be made from a Lib. of Am. edition by lopping off the unnecessary (for the MDM) signatures and re-binding. There are several new copies available now on Amazon for about $25, including shipping, then for about $40, Lynda's Custom Bookbinding (about which I know nothing) will re-bind it with a cloth hardcover. (Do-it-yourself binding is another option.) In the end you would have a marathon-ready book for $65 or so.

A more economical path is to jettison the hardcover-sewn-binding criterion. Paula Radcliffe doesn't expect her running shoes to last forever; B.B. King doesn't expect his guitar strings to last forever. If we consider our marathon M-D to be a tool, a consumable, we needn't worry that eventually the binding might split and the pages fall out. We'll replace it and return to the work.

A scan of Amazon gave me nine paperback editions for consideration, all published after 2000, so they damn well should use the Northwestern-Newberry text. I picked up a copy of one of these at a local, no-nonsense bookstore, and (dare I say it?) it could be the one.

To be continued...

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