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Life Arts    H4'ed 9/6/21

Brian Higgins and Hershel Parker on Melville's Sensationalistic 1852 Novel (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Herman Melville by Joseph O Eaton.
Herman Melville by Joseph O Eaton.
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Duluth, Minnesota (OpEdNews) September 6, 2021: In 1850, the successful young American author Herman Melville (1819-1891), author of the semi-autobiographical adventure books Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847) anonymously published a two-part article celebrating the older successful American author Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), author of short stories gathered together in Twice-Told Tales (1837), Grandfather's Chair (1840), and Mosses from an Old Manse (1846), and of the novels The Scarlet Letter: A Romance (1850) and The House of the Seven Gables (1851).

Young Melville's anonymously published two-part 1850 article "Hawthorne and His Mosses" not only celebrates Hawthorne's 1846 book Mosses from an Old Manse, but also serves Melville's growing sense of the emergence of distinctively American literature in the still young American Republic. Thus, his anonymous article celebrating the American author Hawthorne was also a nationalistic literary manifesto - and the young author Melville hoped to be a significant part of the distinctively American literature emerging in the young American Republic.

But is Melville's bold nationalistic 1850 literary manifesto the manifestation and expression in him of what Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) later came to refer to as the will to power?

See Nietzsche's The Will to Power, edited and with commentary by Walter Kaufmann; translated by Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Random House, 1967).

For the record, let us note here the overall course of Melville's life. He was born in 1819. At the age of 23, he went to sea, jumped ship and briefly lived among cannibals. In 1846, the year in which he published Typee, in part, about his experience of living among cannibals, he turned 27. In 1850, the year in which he published "Hawthorne and His Mosses," his bold nationalistic literary manifesto, Melville turned 31. In 1851, the year in which he published Moby-Dick, clearly ahead of his time, he turned 32. In 1852, the year in which he published Pierre, about a deceased unfaithful husband (who resembles Melville's own deceased father!), an incestuous mother-son relationship, and an incestuous brother-sister relationship (but they are half-brother and half-sister), Melville turned 33. In 1876, the year in which he published his 18,000-line centennial poem Clarel, about a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he turned 57. He died in 1891 at the age of 72.

Concerning Clarel (1876), see my OEN articles:

(1) "July 4, 1776; July 4, 1876, July 4, 2020" (dated June 23, 2020): Click Here

(2) "Is Melville's 18,000-line 1876 centennial poem worth reading today?" (dated July 8, 2020): Click Here

Now, the young Melville's paternal grandfather Thomas Melvill (sic; 1751-1832) and his maternal grandfather Peter Gansevoort (1749-1812) were celebrated heroes in the young American Republic. However, despite young Melville's family and class background, his formal education had been limited because of the untimely death of his father Allan Melvill (sic; 1782-1832), who left his widow Maria Gansevoort Melville (sic; 1791-1872) and family in financial distress. In any event, with Melville's family background, it is not exactly surprising that he would think in nationalistic terms in his 1850 literary manifesto.

For a detailed account of Melville's life and family background, see Hershel Parker's massive two-volume Herman Melville: A Biography (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996 and 2002).

Now, despite the American nationalistic spirit in Melville's 1850 literary manifesto, the fact remained that British literary works were the gold standard in English-speaking literature at the time. Consequently, for an American literary author to compete effectively with British literary works, he or she had to become deeply familiar with British literary works.

In Dr. Henry A. Murray's lengthy "Introduction" and "Explanatory Notes" to the 1949 edition of Melville's Pierre; or, The Ambiguities, edited by Henry A. Murray (New York: Hendricks House, pages xiii-ciii and 429-504), Dr. Murray surveys the British literary works that Melville had used as exemplars in writing his 1852 novel.

However, above and beyond matters of characterization, description, style, and tone in Melville's 1852 novel, I would draw your attention to his creation of the narrator in that novel. Yes, the narrator is an omniscient narrator. But the narrator is also remarkably changeable and remarkably articulate.

Now, in my OEN article "Hershel Parker on the Making of Melville the Poet" (dated September 1, 2021), I have discussed certain highlights of Hershel Parker's 2008 book Melville: The Making of the Poet (Northwestern University Press) in connection with the American Jesuit Walter J. Ong's discussion of residual orality:

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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