on January 31, 2012
Unless you are a naval historian or a Melville scholar, you probably won't have a rewarding (or even comprehensible) time with much of MOBY DICK at this remove unless the edition you're using comes with a good set of footnotes. Here's the skinny on the various editions you are likely to find on shelves these days:
THESE HAVE FOOTNOTES ON THE PAGE ITSELF:
* Charles Feidelson, Jr.'s annotated edition. Unquestionably the most all-around useful edition of Moby-Dick ever printed! Generous and highly useful footnotes right on the page, covering lexical, allusional, and cross-referential items. Two disadvantages: you may at times feel put upon by Feidelson's interlarded interpretations, and the thing is totally out of print. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1964. ISBN: 067260311X. If you are writing a serious paper on this novel, you’d be foolish to be without this edition.
* The "Norton critical" edition, edited by Parker and Hayford. The edition most widely employed by scholars. Stingier with the footnotes than Feidelson’s, but still a good second choice. Many useful essays at the end. The layout of the text is a bit hard on the eye, though. Make sure you get the SECOND edition, from 2001. ISBN: 0393972836
* The "B***** and N**** Classics" edition. The footnotes for the most part are skimpy and confined to obscure vocabulary, not cultural and literary allusions, but there is a good dictionary of sea terms. There is also a 41-page introduction. ISBN: 1-59308-018-2. Alternatively, 978-1-59308-018-1. One could do worse.
* Moby-Dick: An Authoritative Text (Norton Critical Edition). Warrants a special explanation for what it tries to be. This edition is for textual scholars. It incorporates the little differences between the British and American texts in the running text! If you have no idea what I just said, you shouldn't buy this edition. For copyright reasons, Moby Dick was first published in Britain (!) by Bentley, although the American publisher, Harper & Row, was already in possession of the MS. Melville took that MS and made many corrections, and this became the British edition! So the British edition should be the authoritative text, right? Except here's the problem. Melville's corrected MS was additionally bowdlerized by Bentley's editors, so the final product does indeed contain many differences from the Ur-text (the one published later, by Harper & Row). So the decades-old problem is: which of the corrections were made by Melville himself and which were made by the British censors? Sleuthing this out is in fact the foundation of most Moby Dick textual criticism, a field that, incidentally, has seen better days. This would be an easy question to resolve if we found that MS corrected in Melville's hand. Tragically, however, we have not -- at least as of this writing. So what this Longman edition attempts to do is print the American edition, the Ur-text, with the British revisions overlaid in darker text, so you can see where the corrections were made. Previous editions, such as the Norton, did this with lists at the back of the book. In cases where it's not clear whether it was Melville or the censors, there'll be a little sidebar at the bottom of the page. So that's basically what you're looking at. In addition, of course, there are all these graphs and illustrations, footnotes, introductory essays, etc. Anyhow. What a worthy purchase, but only for deep-divers. Amazon ASIN: B009W58IXU.
THESE HAVE A FOOTNOTES SECTION IN THE BACK OF THE BOOK:
* The "Oxford World Classics" edition. About 11 pp. at the end. ISBN: 0-19-283385-5
* The "Modern Library" edition. About 13 pp. at the end. ISBN: 0-679-78327-X. Note that recent printings of this have been including the famous illustrations by Rockwell Kent, which are often deemed never to have been surpassed.
* The "Penguin Classics" edition. About 15 pp. of notes at the end by Tom Quirk. ISBN: 0-14-24.3724-7 (This is their fancy hardbound version: see next item.)
* The "Penguin Classics" Dexluxe edition. About 15 pp. of notes at the end by Tom Quirk. ISBN: 0-14-03-9084-7 (This is their paperback edition, which looks totally different but is exactly the same as the previous entry. This claims to be the "definitive text," but any such claim is spurious, but see above for a discussion of good discussion of why. Penguin previously came out with an identical-looking but much thicker version annotated by Harold Beaver: the notes for that edition were copious, but on the whole too fanciful and self-indulgent to be of much use.) A recent printing, ISBN 978 014 243 7247 has a 28-page introduction by Andrew Delbanco, who recently published a biography of Melville. Otherwise, the explanatory notes at the end of the book are the same as those by Tom Quirk. Note there are also maps and an impressive glossary of nautical terms, making this final incarnation a worthy purchase.
* The "Library of America" edition. (This is the one that is included in the same volume with "Redburn" and "White Jacket.") About 9 pp. of notes at the end. Unfortunately, they're a bit skimpy. You see, they're of the "go get it yourself" kind. For example, when Melville writes, "send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger," the footnotes -- the incidence of which is not marked in the running text -- merely says "Luke 16:24". In other words, you've got to look it up yourself. So I would characterize the footnotes as sparse and taciturn: they'll clue you in to the source, but as for the exact wording of something and its accumulated historical connotations, you've got to come up with those yourself. ISBN: 0-940450-09-7
THESE HAVE NO FOOTNOTES WHATSOEVER:
Why do publishers still print editions of Moby Dick without any footnotes or glossary whatsoever? Who can read it? What a waste of paper. I get so irritated! In any event, the following publishers have decided you'd prefer your white whale raw. Note that there are probably hundreds of such editions.
* The "Bantam Classic" edition. ISBN: 0-553-21311-3 Ain't got jack.
* The Signet Edition. ISBN-10: 0451532287. The bare-bones text only.
* Moby Dick, ISBN 0-8101-1991-0. The Northwestern-Newberry 150th Anniversary edition. 2 pages of a forward by Parker, but otherwise no notes on the page or at the back of the book.
* The handsome “Fall River Press” edition, found often in the B**** & N**** discount bin. ISBN: 9781435160637. A cover so handsome it’ll stop you in your tracks, but that’s it.
* The "Everyman's Library" edition. ISBN: 0-679-40559-3. Zilch.
* The "Penguin 150th Anniversary" edition. ISBN: 0-14-20.0008-6 Bupkiss! Handsome, though.
* The "Arion Press" edition. ISBN: 0-520-04354-5. Also annoyingly oversized.
Dozens of possibilities, but I’m going to recommend the Wordsworth edition, even though I can’t find it on Amazon at the moment. In addition to being cheap, it can boast the following advantages: the text shows up clean and seamless on your Kindle, without a lot of blank lines, words running together, or other ills consequent upon certain publishers scanning in public domain works. There is also a good section of explanatory notes at the end. Big problem with this edition is that the explanatory links aren’t hyperlinked to the text, meaning that, at least with current Kindle technology, you’ll have to manually re-search the text to get back to where you started from.