One of the great mysteries in American literature is the title of Herman Melville's 1851 novel, Moby-Dick
. Or is it Moby Dick
? Should the title be hyphenated, or not?
The first American edition had a hyphen in the title. But confusingly, inside the book the whale was referred to as Moby Dick, without a hyphen — except for one single time, on page 609
, when the name was hyphenated because it spanned two lines.
There have been many subsequent editions. Some of them have a hyphenated title. Some of them don't. It seems to be totally random. But because that first edition had a hyphen, scholars consider that to be the correct spelling. So the title of the book is Moby-Dick
, but the name of the whale is Moby Dick.
But why the hyphen? There's a number of theories. Perhaps Melville just liked hyphenated titles. One of his earlier works, White-Jacket
, was also mysteriously hyphenated.
Or perhaps the hyphen was a mistake. Supporters of this theory note that the title was changed at the last minute, from The Whale
, and the title change was communicated to the printer by Melville's brother, Allan. So maybe Allan made a mistake, and it was never Herman's intention to hyphenate the title?
We'll never know. It'll always be one of those mysteries that literary scholars love to debate. (such as here
, and here