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.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

...when Leviathan is the text - 13

...perfection is not of this world... (13th in the search for the ideal edition for an MDM)

Ok, it's high time we go right to the source of the generally accepted text of our beloved book—the Northwestern University Press, which, in collaboration with the Newberry Library of Chicago, published "...the definitive critical edition of Herman Melville’s writings." (If you think one M-D is as good as another, read this post. Many editions out there contain errors and omissions that render passages unintelligible.)

This is the 2001 "150th Anniversary Edition," with a Foreword by Hershel Parker himself. (It was the research of Mr. Parker, together with Harrison Hayford and G. Thomas Tanselle, that produced the corrected text in 1988.) Parker's Foreword is reproduced on his blog. He calls this edition "sleek," and it is that. The only adjunct is his four-page contribution. It is not common in bookstores or libraries, but can be had from Amazon for about $15.

This edition fits nicely in the hand. It is the same width and height as the Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition previously examined, but 1/2" thinner, and 0.3 ounces heavier at 25.1 oz. It has 100 fewer pages than the Penguin. So we can infer that the paper stock is heavier (the plastic-laminated cover might be a bit heavier). The paper is light cream-colored; smooth, a bit stiff, with slight show-through. There's no colophon, but a note on the copyright page indicates acid-free stock: "The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of the American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials." The glued binding seems unlikely to crack. (Paperback bindings certainly have improved in recent decades.)
Gutters and side margins are adequate; top and bottom margins are roomy. Each chapter begins on a new page. Chapter-title headings are on recto pages, chapter-number headings on verso pages.

It's evident where the 100 pages were saved when you examine the type. It's on the small side. (See a sample in Typeface Tally.) Still, a keen-eyed youth might have no problem reading it for the Marathon's twenty-five hours.

So, you say, if the text is "perfect" (...beyond all other doubt than that which clings to the labors of men...), where is this imperfection to which you allude? Alas, it is in the printing itself. Flipping through this edition for a final scan, some words seemed to be set in bold type. I didn't remember Melville indulging in typographic variation beyond the rare word in italics (and "devices" like the memorial tablets in The Chapel).

Closer examination showed the cause was poor printing! The density of the ink on the page varied from light (to the point of broken "o"s, and "e"s that look like "c"s) to heavy, appearing bold. An example is shown below, from Chapter 74, page 331. The letterforms of "ear of" are broken, while "organ" is eerily over-inked.
This is not the only instance of uneven printing in this edition, though it is one of the more extreme. The quality of the printing fluctuates throughout. (FYI: The copyright page states, "Printed in the United States of America.")

Could this poor printing be isolated to a limited number of copies, or even to the single copy at hand? That's a question for someone with actual experience in mass publishing.  All I can say is caveat emptor. Even if I were able to read this edition's small type, I'd want a refund.

Better edition (editions?) ahead...

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