5 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Moby-Dick

On November 14, 1851, Herman Melville published the whaling adventure Moby-Dick.  While the book is considered a classic now, it wasn't always so well-received when it was published.  Here are five things you probably didn't know about Moby-Dick....


Two Whales Helped Inspire The Story Herman Melville was influenced by a lot of people and events, but two whales were particularly influential when it comes to the story of Moby-Dick. One was a 70 foot powerful white whale called Mocha Dick.  Mocha Dick survived at least 100 skirmishes with whalers before he was eventually killed in 1839.  For his novel, Melville would replace the word “Mocha” with “Moby” (though no one is sure why). The novel was also influenced by an event that took placed over a decade before the death of Mocha Dick.  A Nantucket whaling ship called the Essex was rammed and sunk by an angry sperm whale in the southern Pacific.  The 20 man crew jumped into lifeboats, and drifted over 3,000 miles for four months. Those who didn't die during that journey, had to resort to cannibalism; only five crewmen survived.

The Novel Is Dedicated To Nathaniel Hawthorne Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne (known for The Scarlet Letter) lived only a few miles apart from each other in Massachusetts. They first met in 1850; at that point, Melville had just finished a draft of Moby-Dick. Herman Melville was compelled to rewrite his novel after meeting with Hawthorne. Melville revamped the story entirely to focus more on the human cost in the tale. Hawthorne’s influence completely changed the direction and tone of Moby-Dick. The two literary titans became lifelong friends and Melville dedicated the book to his friend.


Another Whale Attacked Occurred Right Before Moby-Dick Was Released In August of 1851, a whale attacked and sunk a whaling vessel in Massachusetts called the Ann Alexander only three months before Moby-Dick was released in the United States.. “It is really and truly a surprising coincidence—to say the least,” Melville wrote about the Ann Alexander in a letter to an acquaintance. Melville speculated (non-seriously) in the letter that he wondered if his writing had summoned the whale and if the whale's appearance was some sort of criticism of his book.

Only 3,725 Copies Were Purchased During Melville's Lifetime Moby-Dick was Melville's sixth book. In contrast to his lighter and earlier works, Moby-Dick was met with poor sales, and considered a commercial failure. Melville’s total earnings from Moby-Dick amounted to a paltry $556.37.  The poor reception basically ended Melville's literary career. He continued to try to write magazine articles, and short stories, but he eventually got a job as a customs inspector. It wasn't until the 1920s that Moby-Dick started gaining the recognition that it has today.

Starbucks Is Named After One Of The Main Characters Whales and coffee have nothing to do with each other, but somehow the largest coffeehouse in the world ended up with a name straight out of Moby-Dick. When the founders of Starbucks were searching for a name, they turned to Mr.Starbuck, Captain Ahab’s first mate on the Pequod ship. One of the other founders  wanted to use the ships name Pequod. However in the end, they decided that "pee-quod" wasn't really the name they wanted to associate with coffee.