Who is the Dedicatee of Moby-Dick? The Story Behind Melville’s Tribute to Hawthorne

Moby-Dick, the epic novel by Herman Melville, is widely regarded as one of the greatest works of American literature. The story of Captain Ahab’s obsessive quest for the white whale Moby Dick has captivated generations of readers and inspired countless adaptations and interpretations. But who is the dedicatee of this masterpiece? And what is the connection between Melville and the person he honored with his dedication?


Nathaniel Hawthorne: A Fellow Writer and a Friend

The dedicatee of Moby-Dick is none other than Nathaniel Hawthorne, the author of The Scarlet Letter, The House of the Seven Gables, and other classic novels and stories. Hawthorne was one of the most prominent figures of the American Renaissance, a period of literary and cultural flourishing in the mid-19th century. He was also a friend and mentor to Melville, who admired his genius and sought his advice and feedback.

Melville and Hawthorne met in August 1850, when both of them were staying at the Berkshires, a mountainous region in Massachusetts. They were introduced by a mutual acquaintance, the publisher Evert Duyckinck, who thought they would get along well. He was right: Melville and Hawthorne soon developed a close friendship, based on their shared interest in literature, philosophy, and spirituality. They often visited each other, exchanged letters, and discussed their works in progress.

The Influence of Hawthorne on Moby-Dick

Hawthorne had a profound influence on Melville’s writing, especially on Moby-Dick. Melville was already working on the novel when he met Hawthorne, but he was inspired to revise and deepen it after reading Hawthorne’s Mosses from an Old Manse, a collection of stories and essays. Melville was impressed by Hawthorne’s use of symbolism, allegory, and ambiguity, as well as his exploration of the dark and mysterious aspects of human nature. He wrote a glowing review of the book, in which he compared Hawthorne to Shakespeare and declared him to be the greatest American writer.

Melville also sent Hawthorne some chapters of Moby-Dick, asking for his opinion and suggestions. Hawthorne praised Melville’s work, but also encouraged him to be more daring and original. He urged him to avoid the conventions of popular fiction and to express his own vision and voice. He also hinted that he would like to see more of Ahab, the enigmatic and tragic protagonist of the novel.

Melville took Hawthorne’s advice to heart and made significant changes to Moby-Dick. He expanded the role and character of Ahab, making him a complex and compelling figure who represents the human struggle with fate, free will, and evil. He also added more philosophical and metaphysical elements to the novel, such as the chapters on the whiteness of the whale, the doubloon, and the try-works. He also experimented with different styles and genres, ranging from comedy and drama to poetry and sermon. He transformed Moby-Dick from a simple adventure story to a rich and multifaceted epic, full of symbolism, irony, and ambiguity.

The Dedication of Moby-Dick to Hawthorne

Melville decided to dedicate Moby-Dick to Hawthorne, as a token of his admiration and gratitude. He wrote in a letter to Hawthorne: “I have written a wicked book, and feel spotless as the lamb. Ineffable socialities are in me. I would sit down and dine with you and all the gods in old Rome’s Pantheon. It is a strange feeling – no hopefulness is in it, no despair. Content – that is it; and irresponsibility; but without licentious inclination. I speak now of my profoundest sense of being, not of an incidental feeling.”

The dedication reads: “To Nathaniel Hawthorne. In Token of My Admiration for His Genius.” It is simple and sincere, but also significant and meaningful. It shows Melville’s respect and affection for Hawthorne, as well as his recognition of his influence and inspiration. It also suggests a sense of kinship and solidarity between the two writers, who shared a similar vision and ambition, but also faced similar challenges and difficulties. Both of them struggled with financial problems, critical reception, and public recognition. Both of them also suffered from depression and isolation, and eventually drifted apart from each other.

The dedication of Moby-Dick to Hawthorne is one of the most famous and poignant dedications in literary history. It marks a moment of friendship and collaboration between two of the greatest American authors, who enriched and transformed the American literature and culture. It also reflects the complexity and beauty of Moby-Dick, a novel that is both a tribute and a challenge to its dedicatee.

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