Cannibal Old Me
Spoken Sources in Melville's Early Works
Publication Year: 2009
Published by: The Kent State University Press
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SINCE Herman Melville was first a sailor and then a writer, I will begin by thanking the sailors who most influenced me. The near-legendary Irving Johnson, whose career was dedicated to preserving the traditions of square-rig sail, was a towering and definitive figure in my family’s life. My father, Jay Bercaw, who served as Johnson’s first mate during the fifth and sixth world voyages...
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IF sheer bulk is any measure, one could assert that scholars know all there is to know about Herman Melville’s use of sources.Melville now holds an iconic place in American literature, but his sixth book and masterpiece Moby-Dick failed to sell out its first printing in his lifetime, and his career and reputation languished in unexamined obscurity for decades after his death. Source...
1. “Where the Wild Things Are”: Questioning Typee
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THAT Herman Melville spent at least four weeks living among the inhabitants of the Taipi valley on Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands has never been questioned. Although scholars have long dismissed Melville’s elaborations and fictional extension of time in the valley, no biographer—not even Andrew Delbanco, Hershel Parker, or Laurie Robertson-Lorant—has doubted the veracity...
2. “Six Months at Sea! Yes, Reader, as I Live”: Sailor Talk
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MELVILLE based the above statement on his own experiences aboard the merchant vessel St. Lawrence in 1839. Following the untimely death of his father and the subsequent lapse of the family’s fortunes, Melville joined this vessel as a greenhand and embarked on his first direct experience of the maritime world. This was his initial immersion in sailor talk. The four years he spent at sea from 1841 through 1844 on three whaleships and a naval frigate deepened...
3. “They Say They Don’t Like Sailor’s Flesh, It’s Too Salt”: Cannibal Talk
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WHEN Herman Melville deserted the whaleship Acushnet at Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas Islands on July 9, 1842, he crossed the beach, both literally and metaphorically,with a set of preconceptions about the identification and nature of cannibals.His sojourn among the inhabitants of a reputed “cannibal isle,”...
4. “Their Gestures Shame the Very Brutes”: Missionary Talk
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TALK had a unique, formative role in the creation of missionaries. Sailor talk is predicated on action, or what Margaret Cohen calls “know-how.”1 Cannibal talk is predicated on perception. But missionary talk is above all talk. It was this talk that inspired men and women to travel to unknown places on the other side of the world to evangelize for their religion, and talk that formed the main...
5. “Cannibal Old Me”: The Development of Melville’s Narrative Voice
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MELVILLE’S first words of the first chapter of his first book appear not as a statement, not as a description, but rather as a direct conversational address to his audience. “Six months at sea! Yes, reader, as I live” (Typee 3). It’s as though you struck up a conversation with a stranger at a bar who begins forthwith to regale you with an account of his own remarkable doings. The ensuing paragraph...
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Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2009