Moby-Dick as Proto-Modernist Prophecy

Randall W. Harrell


This project relies on two main bodies of work: the text and reception history of Moby-Dick. I argue that the novel’s prophetic insights unfold in its failure and resurrection. The reception history consists of early reviewers, biographers, and critics both hailing and discounting Moby-Dick’s literary value. The first section, “Proto-Modernist Melville: Specific Difficulty in Moby-Dick,” explores the peculiar difficulty inherent in the text of Moby-Dick, namely its divergent, evasive, and hieroglyphic properties. Chapter 2, “Reception: Nineteenth-Century Failure and Modernist Success,” chronicles the novel’s reception history, focusing largely on the critics of twentieth-century modernism. In “Moby-Dick as Prophetic Anticipation and Fulfillment,” I examine the link between the inherent difficulty found within Moby-Dick and its reception history. I propose that Melville’s novel theorizes its prophetic anticipation of literary modernism as well as Melville’s own authorial failure and redemption narrative.