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  • Melville
  • John Samson

In an unusual year for Melville studies, Moby-Dick and Pierre received relatively little critical treatment, while Typee, the short stories—particularly "Bartleby, the Scrivener"—and the poetry were the subjects of considerable and valuable attention. Also significant was a welcome change in the Melville Society's publication; Melville Society Extracts was scaled back from four issues to two to make room for Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies, a semiannual that publishes more—and more extensive—articles.

i General

The most significant contribution to Melville studies this year is Samuel Otter's Melville's Anatomies (Calif.), a work showing deep research, insight, and an interesting presentation. Locating his readings in the context of antebellum discourses on the body, on race, and on literary anatomies, Otter offers full discussions of Typee, White-Jacket, Moby-Dick, and Pierre. He examines Melville's thematics of tattooing and cannibalism in Typee in light of contemporaneous ethnology and the "science" of racial differentiation, while he sees White-Jacket as concerned with the analogy between sailor and slave, "an analogy that gets out of hand, that threatens to confound the distinctions between terms and to mark its user, and that then must be disciplined." To Otter, Moby-Dick is "an anatomy of anatomies," in which Melville shows the full range of the 19th-century obsession with the body. Pierre is the culmination of Melville's anatomical investigation, Otter argues, and Melville's analysis of the penetrating eye and the inscribed heart, discussed in the context of picturesque landscape painting and sentimentalism, ultimately reveals "an eloquent, layered emptiness." Throughout the book, [End Page 53] Otter presents "a Melville fascinated with the rhetorical structures and ideological functions of antebellum discourse. Melville offers neither a transcendent critique nor a symptomatic recapitulation, but an inside sense of the power of ideology, its satisfactions and its rewards."

Linda Costanzo Cahir's Solitude and Society in the Works of Melville and Wharton begins by elaborating the two authors' biographical similarities; Cahir then devotes the bulk of her study to character comparisons. Cahir concludes that "Wharton's characters, like Melville's, dramatize the condition of humankind's existential alienation in a world where God's existence is suspect—at times apparently little more than a frustrated desire—and where love in perpetuity is more properly the domain of pulpy fancy than solid reality." Organizing her study around character types, Cahir discusses Ahab, Pierre, and others as "the Devil's children," who carry Emersonian self-reliance to the point of destruction. "The Mysterious Stranger" figure—such as Bartleby, Benito Cereno, and Isabel Banford—is an enigmatic isolato who provokes a significant realization in the spiritual innocent to whom he or she is linked. "The Sociable Isolato," most clearly seen in Ishmael, enjoys the company of others but is simultaneously a lone soul. Finally, Cahir discusses "The Sexual Transgressor" in the homosexuality of Ishmael and Claggart and the incest of Pierre.

Kevin J. Hayes's Melville's Folk Roots (Kent State) is a short book that begins by examining the five folk genres Melville makes references to throughout his works: sailor superstitions, folk songs, proverbs (always used ironically), ghost stories, and tall tales. Hayes then looks more closely at how folklore operates in three of Melville's works. He places Redburn in the context of the chapbook, composed of "cheap pamphlets, paperbound occult books, children's story books, and popular literature." Hayes also discusses how whaling legends figure in Moby-Dick and Christian legends in Clarel.

A number of shorter essays discuss issues ranging throughout Melville's career. The best of these, Bryan C. Short's "Melville's Memory" (ArQ 55, i: 39-65), traces the development of Melville's concept of memory from Typee through The Confidence-Man. In Melville's work through Moby-Dick, Short explains, memory has a dual rhetorical role: to lend authority to his narrators' reporting of their experiences and to link characters to a past, thus providing a "self-actualizing subjectivity." The philosophical backgrounds of this concept lie in Platonism, which Melville's reading in empiricism will lead him to challenge. By the time [End Page 54] of Pierre, Short says, "Melville's middle works...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2125
Print ISSN
0065-9142
Pages
pp. 51-69
Launched on MUSE
1999-01-01
Open Access
No
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