Bad Book Covers – Moby Dick

It’s time for another installment of Bad Book Covers. Today we’ll look at Herman Melville’s Moby Dick (1851).

Previous posts in this series include: Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, The MoonstoneDracula, East Lynne, Lady Audley’s Secret, Wuthering Heights, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Scarlet Letter, Frankenstein, A Christmas Carol, Little Women, Jekyll and HydePamela, Ivanhoe, Anne of Green GablesVanity FairTurn of the ScrewShe,  The Jungle BookTess of the d’UrbervillesThe Hound of the Baskervilles, and A Tale of Two Cities.

Usual disclaimers:

1.) These are all professional book covers instead of fan or amateur artwork (or at least I hope so). I’m more than happy to pick on marketing boards who thought these were good ideas, but I don’t want to pick on fans trying to express their love of books. If a fan cover made it in to this collection, then I’m very sorry and you are clearly a good enough artist to make me assume it was professionally done.

2.) I’m ridiculing the covers, not the book itself.

3.) I’m going to swear. A lot. If this isn’t your thing, then don’t read it.

Plot Recap (SPOILERS)

Full disclosure, I’ve never read Moby Dick because I don’t have the mental bandwidth for 700 pages about blubber and how the sea is a cruel mistress. All I know about this book is that it’s super long, and far too boring to also be this gay (Melville was probably gay–as has been amply studied over the years in queer theory circles–and more than a little in love with his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne, who did not reciprocate his affections).

I do, however, have a colleague who loves this book more than life itself so I figured I could at least check out some of the artwork. Here’s what I do know about the plot: there’s a captain named Ahab who (I think?) had his leg bitten off by a whale he was trying to murder once, and instead of calling that a fair draw, Ahab is determined to find the whale again and spear-stab it until one or both of them dies.

This is exactly what happens, the end.


 What accurately summarizes a book exclusively about dudes swinging their dicks against nature, written by a closeted author? This weirdly condescending sperm-fish, clearly.

This book is now called Gently Bumping People Who Try To Stab Me.

‘Mocha Dick’ is the insult I never knew I never needed.

*Deep breath*


Our Cod is an angry Cod

You’d think out of the five covers on this cover that at least one of them would be passable.

Free Willy, but where Willy is relentlessly bent on annihilation.



I could stare at this cover of nothing for 500 hours trying to find significance that doesn’t exist.

This is the most apt representation of the book I’ve seen yet.

The Rainbow Fish is back, and he’s pissed.

I can only imagine this looming white whale gently encouraging this vulnerable little ship in the voice of John Hammond talking to those velociraptor babies in Jurassic Park.

Come on, little one. Come on!

Joaquin Phoenix is back on his weird experimental art kick, and it’s even less funny than last time.

With all this phallic imagery, how could Ahab not succeed?

Someone’s only made it through the outline stage of their art class.

Time to bury this tiny whale with this tiny shovel.

I’m not entirely sure what type of animal that’s supposed to be, but I’m glad it’s giving the ship a mutual belly rub.


“Tell Drusilla … *cough* … tell Drusilla … I’m sorry.”

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BizarreVictoria Update

Hi, All! I paused for breath and realised I haven’t updated my blog in about six weeks. That’s not a great sign, is it?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this blog and how much it’s meant to me to do over the last five years. It got me through my PhD without going insane, and it got me through the dreadful post-PhD job hunt without despairing of the world entirely. My readers have been delightful and endlessly supportive.

I’ve gone from posting every single day (during the first year of the PhD) to three times a week (the next three or four years) to posting only once per week (this last spell). Unfortunately, I’m eighteen months into my first lectureship and I just don’t have the bandwidth to keep updating regularly–even once a week. I barely have time to think about and source material for the blog, let alone write it (and let alone write it and try to be funny about it).

I’d like to keep this blog going in the spirit with which I started it: as an escape from work, rather than making the blog become work itself. To that end, I’m not going to pretend like I’ll update this with any sense of regularity, but I WILL, on occasion (maybe a few times a year) release another Bad Book Covers post, or a Victorian Snark Theatre 3000, or maybe just a good ole fashioned swear-filled post about some previously-unknown-to-me event or character from the nineteenth century.

I’ll still be active on Twitter (@BizarreVictoria) and you can watch my rants and shenanigangry over there. See you all soon, I hope . . . .

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Buffalo Bill and Susan B. Anthony

I’m re-reading Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City (2003) for the third time and stumbled across this story about the unlikely intersection of two huge nineteenth-century celebrities.

A majority of the narrative follows the construction–and ensuing success–of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. At this fair, one of the main attractions was Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show. Hundreds of thousands (possibly millions) of people saw this show during the months the Fair was open. It’s hardly surprising that the occasional celebrity guest turned up.

One such guest had had a rough morning at the fair: suffragette Susan B. Anthony had publicly stated (much to the chagrin of Sabbatarians) that the Fair should remain open on Sundays. While at the Fair, she was accosted by one such outraged Sabbatarian, who asked her if she’d prefer any son of hers to attend Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show (apparently the most shocking thing he could think of) rather than go to church.

Anthony responded: “Yes, he would learn far more.” This, of course, confirmed the Sabbatarian’s already-held belief that all suffragists and suffragettes were wicked.

The confrontation was seen by many people, and word got back to Buffalo Bill. “When Cody learned of it, he was tickled, so much so that he immediately sent Anthony a thank-you note and invited her to attend his show. He offered her a box at any performance she chose.

“At the start of the performance Cody entered the ring on horseback, his long gray hair streaming from under his white hat, the silver trim of his white jacket glinting in the sun. He kicked his horse into a gallop and raced toward Anthony’s box. The audience went quiet.

“He halted his horse in a burst of dirty and dust, removed his hat, and with a great sweeping gesture bowed until his head nearly touched the horn of his saddle.

Anthony stood and returned the bow and–‘as enthusiastic as a girl,’ a friend said–waved her handkerchief at Cody.

“The significance of the moment escaped no one. Here was one of the greatest heroes of America’s past saluting one of the foremost heroes of its future. The encounter brought the audience to its feet in a thunder of applause and cheers.

“The frontier may indeed have closed at last, as Frederick Jackson Turner proclaimed in his history-making speech at the fair, but for that moment it stood there glittering in the sun like the track of a spent tear” (320-21).

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Guiseppe Mezzofanti

I first found this story in the New Yorker here. The article is about hyperpolyglots, or people who speak at least eleven languages (the general definition of a polyglot is someone who speaks at least five languages).

One of history’s most remarkable hyperpolyglots was Cardinal Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti (1774-1849), who reputedly spoke over seventy languages.

As the article states: “Mezzofanti, an Italian cardinal, was fluent in at least thirty languages and studied another forty-two, including, he claimed, Algonquin. In the decades that he lived in Rome, as the chief custodian of the Vatican Library, notables from around the world dropped by to interrogate him in their mother tongues, and he flitted as nimbly among them as a bee in a rose garden.

Lord Byron, who is said to have spoken Greek, French, Italian, German, Latin, and some Armenian, in addition to his immortal English, lost a cursing contest with the Cardinal and afterward, with admiration, called him a “monster.” Other witnesses were less enchanted, comparing him to a parrot.

“But his gifts were certified by an Irish scholar and a British philologist, Charles William Russell and Thomas Watts, who set a standard for fluency that is still useful in vetting the claims of modern Mezzofantis: Can they speak with an unstilted freedom that transcends rote mimicry?”

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I found this story in Eric Berkowitz’s Sex & Punishment: 4000 Years of Judging Desire (2013). All quotations are from that book.

“Rukhmabai, the daughter of an educated Hindu family, had been married off to Dadaji Bhikaji (variously described in the press was ‘ignorant,’ ‘idle,’ a ‘boor,’ and a ‘coolie’) in 1876, when she was eleven and he was nineteen. The marriage was never consummated, and she remained with her stepfather until 1884, when Dadaji demanded that she come to live with him.

“Bucking thousands of years of tradition, she refused. He then went to the Bombay High Court to get an order forcing her to comply. Dadaji lost the first stage of the case, when the British judge ruled that there was no marriage because there had been no sex, and because hi claim for ‘restitution of conjugal relations’ had no root in Hindu law.

“Dadaji appealed and won; the higher court found that while native law didn’t approve such a suit, it didn’t forbid it either. Rukhmabai was ordered to go to her husband, or to jail for six months.

“Her stepfather then paid Dadaji two thousand rupees [about £370 or $470 in today’s money) to drop his suit, after which Rukhmabai traveled to England to study medicine and become a physician. She eventually returned to India to head up a women’s dispensary.

“The case was picked up in mid-stream by the London Times and immediately became a political and media football. Everyone had an opinion. Not only were Rukhmabai’s stream of letters about her case and the dark fate of Indian child brides generally published and intensely discussed, but so were the opinions of Hindu nationalists, marriage-law reform advocates, and various members of the British ruling class. The controversy tied the bodies of Hindu girls to the stability of British rule in India.

“To Rukhmabai, the issue was inequality: Indian girls were being sacrificed to a system that robbed them of an education and personal freedom [….] Rukhmabai’s views were not shared by Indian nationalists, who regarded British tampering with local marriage practices as an assault on Indian pride.

“British opinion on the Rukhmabai case was divided. Even as the British viceroy cabled messages to his colleagues that ‘it would never do to all her to be put into prison,’ a British ex-judge in India opined in a letter to The Times that ‘in Eastern climates girls are precocious, and, unless early settled in her home, the girl is almost certain to disgrace her family‘ [i.e., Eastern girls become sexually mature at a very early age and, unless married off young, they’ll turn promiscuous]. He went on to observe that the ‘real mistake was educating [Rukhmabai] so as to make her unfit company for her husband‘” (364-66).

Her case was a huge contributing factor to the 1891 Age of Consent Act, which changed the age of consent for girls from 10 to 12 in British India. Girls were still allowed to marry at 10, but consummation had to wait two years–although its unclear how much this new legislation changed anything in practice.

Rukhmabai went on to lead a full medical career for the next thirty-five years. She was also a strong advocate against the practice of Purdah, which is the Indian custom of widows being secluded from society after the death of her husband. Rukhmabai thought it was a sexist practice that rendered especially young widows useless and denied them the chance to live a full life and to contribute to society.

Her loutish husband remarried the year after the dissolution of their marriage. She never remarried, but after her ex-husband’s death in 1904, she decided to wear a white sari in compliance with the Hindu traditions of widowhood. She died in 1955.

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Genevieve Halevy Bizet Straus

This is my third and final post about Marcel Proust’s muses for his Duchess de Guermantes. This week we discuss the fab Genevieve Halevy Bizet Straus. All quotations are from the June 2018 issue of American Vogue.

“But it was through Genevieve Halevy Bizet Straus that the young Marcel (despairingly bourgeois but an assiduous flatterer) first penetrated society. An assimilated Jew (like him) and the mother of a school friend, Genevieve was a fragile, glamorous Bohemian. Her first husband, composer Georges Bizet, died on the eve of achieving world renown with his opera Carmen, whose Gypsy heroine, it was whispered, owed much to his young wife’s dark, Sephardic looks and skill at flirtation.

“Known as the ‘Mauve Muse‘ for the half-mourning she wore for years, Genevieve would loll in a peignoir on her daybed beneath a haunting portrait of herself, to pull the strings of a salon packed with high-profile artists, politicians, and writers.”

Guys, I don’t know one thing more Extra than lolling in a peignoir on a daybed beneath a haunting picture of myself while receiving high-profile visitors. This is presumably her portrait, and an associated lolling face:

She had a sad life–she lost her father (also a composer) and her sister at a young age and her mother suffered from periods of mental illness. Georges Bizet was one of her father’s students, which is how they met, although he died of a heart attack only six years later. It was through her son that she met Marcel Proust (her son and Proust met and became friends at school).

For a long while, she was the darling of French society and her salons were renowned for entertaining some of the brightest minds in Paris. However, according to Wikipedia, her popularity waned after the turn of the century and she became increasingly depressed around 1910. She isolated herself until her death in 1926, outliving both her son and Proust (who both died in 1922).

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Laure de Chevigne

Following up to my post from last week, I’m doing a second one about Marcel Proust’s other muse: Laure de Chevigne. All quotations are from the June 2018 edition of American Vogue.

“Laure de Chevigne’s ancestors included the notorious Marquis de Sade and her namesake, the poet Petrarch’s muse. She parlayed an early marriage to a lackluster count serving the exiled French court in Austria into a leading role among the gratin of Paris. Her salty language, gender-bending fashions, exaggerated links to the ancien regime, and near total independence from her husband delighted members of the all-male Jockey club, even as they raised eyebrows – and blood pressure – elsewhere”.

She was born Laure Marie Charlotte de Sade in 1859 and lived to the ripe old age of 77. She married at 20 and both she and her husbands were legitimists, meaning that they believed in the sovereignty of the eldest branch of the Bourbon dynasty, which was overthrown in 1830. Laure was a great friend of Isabella II of Spain. She was also a heavy smoker, which led to her famously husky voice.

Much like last week’s muse, Laure did not particularly like Proust (I have no idea if he was aware that his muses seemed to hate him; maybe that was part of their allure).


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