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Call Me Ishmael

'Call Me Ishmael' cover image

Call Me Ishmael

One of the most stimulating essays ever written on Moby Dick, and for that matter on any piece of literature, and the forces behind it."—San Francisco Chronicle

First published in 1947, this acknowledged classic of American literary criticism explores the influences—especially Shakespearean ones—on Melville's writing of Moby-Dick. One of the first Melvilleans to advance what has since become known as the "theory of the two Moby-Dicks," Olson argues that there were two versions of Moby-Dick, and that Melville's reading King Lear for the first time in between the first and second versions of the book had a profound impact on his conception of the saga: "the first book did not contain Ahab," writes Olson, and "it may not, except incidentally, have contained Moby-Dick." If literary critics and reviewers at the time responded with varying degrees of skepticism to the "theory of the two Moby-Dicks," it was the experimental style and organization of the book that generated the most controversy.