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  • Writer's pictureDenise Tolan

The Daily Dick: Day 56: Musings From a Sixth Reading of the Great Book

Chapter 45: The Affidavit

“Now, the Captain D’Wolf here alluded to as commanding the ship in question, is a New Englander, who, after a long life of unusual adventures as a sea-captain, this day resides in the village of Dorchester near Boston. I have the honor of being a nephew of his. I have particularly questioned him concerning this passage in Langsdorff. He substantiates every word. The ship, however, was by no means a large one: a Russian craft built on the Siberian coast, and purchased by my uncle after bartering away the vessel in which he sailed from home.”




I'll admit I never paid much attention to the second half of the Affidavit chapter before. This is my sixth reading of Moby-Dick, not to mention the dozen or so times I’ve skimmed through for research or to find quotes or for funsies. But this time we have Ishmael providing us with the names of people he knows who have been involved in whaling situations where a whale, much like Moby himself, has gotten beneath a boat and attempted to hurl it out of the water.

One of the examples, Ish uses is his ‘uncle’ Captain D’Wolf. For fun, I googled him and guess what? Captain John DeWolf was an actual sea captain and had a nephew named Herman Melville! I wonder if Melville was intent on having some fun here? If so, it makes Ishmael look rather silly and even more of an unreliable narrator.

The real Capt DeWolf shared his sea stories with his nephew Herman. Since Moby Dick is not a biography, Melville gives his memories to Ishmael to repeat. He doesn’t even change the names. There was a Langsdorff involved as well. Perhaps the passage is an homage to the uncle. We did hear it was the most important chapter in the book, after all.

The chapter feels a bit like running over a whale in the middle of a book though. It’s a stumble – intentional or not. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to give this more thought.

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