The reading public found in Ahab a kind of kindred spirit in his hopeless obsession and ultimate personal destruction. This spirit mirrored the excesses of both modern warfare and new social mores.
It is well known that Moby-Dick was a literary flop in the nineteenth century, and editions are limited to the first printing run that failed to sell out during Melville's lifetime, and the 1892 edition, also scarce. What saved Moby-Dick from the landfill of history, could be argued, was the industrial revolution of the post Civil War era. As society was given more and more free and leisure time, society filled that time with new and wonderful endeavors, first and foremost was education, schooling replaced milking the cows. Schooling begat financial success and when faced with financial success folks wanted to show that off in their home, so the bookshelves needed to be filled with rows of matching books.
Enter J. M. Dent, an English publisher, who in 1904 began to plan the Everyman's Library. In 1906 he published 152 titles, Moby - Dick was included in 1907. So there it sat for about ten more years still unread, but on a whole lot more shelves in a whole lot more homes than it would have, had Mr. Dent not needed to fill out his offerings... Moby Dick sat on library shelves waiting for the intersection of war, flappers and the Melville Revival.
Feel free to comment, if you have anything you want to add to this or too take issue with what I have stated... Always welcome debate!