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Life Arts    H4'ed 9/1/21

Hershel Parker on the Making of Melville the Poet (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 1, 2021: The American novelist and poet Herman Melville (1819-1891) died in obscurity, even though his early books Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847) had brought him early fame. Consequently, the twentieth-century Melville Revival, starting around 1919, the centennial of Melville's birth, had to rediscover him and establish his 1851 novel Moby-Dick; or, The Whale as a classic of nineteenth-century American literature.

However, not just Melville's books but also his life in general needed to be rediscovered through the twentieth-century Melville Revival's biographies of his life. Over time, through documentary evidence, Melville scholars eventually established a detailed record of his life. This detailed record of his life culminated in the massively detailed and multi-layered account of his life in Hershel Parker's well-documented two-volume biography published by Johns Hopkins University Press:

(1) Herman Melville: A Biography: Volume 1, 1819-1851 (1996);

(2) Herman Melville: A Biography: Volume 2, 1851-1891 (2002).

But Parker's two-volume biography of Melville had its critics. Consequently, Parker responds to three critics (Richard Brodhead, Andrew Delmonico, and Elizabeth Schultz) of the second volume of his biography (2002) in his "Introduction: Melville's Lost Books and the Trajectory of His Career as Poet" in his 2008 book Melville: The Making of the Poet (Northwestern University Press, pages 3-9, esp. 4-5).

Now, for understandable reasons, Parker repeats in his 2008 book certain points about Melville's life and work that he discusses in his two-volume biography. Nevertheless, Parker also discusses enough distinctive material about Melville's life as a poet to warrant his writing and publishing his 2008 book. Parker clearly announces the scope of his 2008 book: "In the chapters that follow, previously published evidence about basic topics such as Melville's hearing and reading poetry, his buying books of poetry and books containing poetry, his habit of spotting and annotating poetic echoes, his standards for ranking poets, his conscious study of poetic techniques, and his quest for satisfying aesthetic principles" (page 9).

After Parker's introductory chapter, his 2008 book unfolds through the following parts:

Chapter One: "A Poet in Prose: How Critics Prepared Melville to Think of Himself as a Poet" (pages 11-22);

Chapter Two: "Melville as Hearer and Reciter of Poetry" (pages 23-30);

Chapter Three: "The Omnipresence of Poetry, 1820s-1848" (pages 31-65);

Chapter Four: "The Renewed Power of Poetry in Melville's Life, 1849-1856" (pages 67-100);

Chapter Five: "The Status of Poetry and the Temptation of Flunkeyism" (pages 101-109);

Chapter Six: "A Non-Partisan Becoming a Poet During the Risorgimento" (pages 111-123);

Chapter Seven: Melville's Progress as Poet, 1857(?) to May 1860" (pages 125-134);

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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; Ph.D.in 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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