Caliban’s Rage (Seeing and Not Seeing My Face in a Mirror)

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I’m fifty and I’ve still got a full head of hair. That’s a good thing, right?

Wrong. My locks, I tell you, have got me tied up in knots.

It’s those men and their amazing reflecting machines – mirrors, they call them.

Ostensibly aids in the trimming of hair, these dastardly devices serve a more sinister purpose: they cut characters like me down to size.

Which brings me to Shakespeare’s Tempest.

According to Oscar Wilde, Caliban is infuriated by seeing – and not seeing – his face in a glass. His rage, Oscar argues, accounts for the ‘nineteenth century dislike’ of realism and romanticism alike.

Call me Caliban.

What I see in a mirror is my face and yet it’s not; the reflection is real enough and yet it shatters my illusions.

It’s enough to drive a man mad – and to steer me clear of barbers’ scissors.

[Image from The Met]

They Called Him Herman (Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’)

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‘Call me Ishmael.’

So begins Moby Dick, Herman Melville’s classic tale of whales and whaling, first published in America on this day back in 1851.

The brevity of the book’s opening line is misleading: Melville’s masterpiece has 135 chapters and more than 500 pages, making it a whale-sized story by anyone’s standards.

Was the novel the ‘draft of a draft’, as Melville himself supposedly suggested? If so, his editor ought to have taken a harpoon to the text.

Melville had a tough time as a kid. Money was short, his eyesight was weakened by fever, and the lad had trouble impressing his father, who described him as being ‘backward in speech and somewhat slow in comprehension’.


Melville’s success might be attributed, in part, to an early lucky break. Unlike his brother, who wrote nothing, he was not given the name Gansevoort. He was called Herman instead.

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