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244Reviews Miller, Edwin Haviland. Melville, New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1975. 382 pp. Cloth: $15.00. What more opportune moments to take an informal reading of opinion on this first Melville biography in twenty-five years than the special spring meeting of the Melville Society in his beloved Pittsfield-in-the-Berkshires during the Memorial Day weekend? Here was a tailormade sounding board of Melville authorities and devotee's—and the ambience could not have been better: Pittsfield's impressive Berkshire Athenaeum (both the old and the new); Melville's lovingly cared for Arrowhead farm (deep in the shadow of his fabled Mt. Greylock); and, of course, Hawthorne's modest Little Red House in Lenox (providing a delightful attraction for those music lovers who wander out the rear gate of the manorial Tanglewood complex). In short: here was the principal locale for the Miller book. And as for the reading of it? To a man and woman: Negatived It wasindeed difficult to find a good or kind or even mildly indifferent reaction. Of the many I canvassed, those who read it did not like it; those who had not seen it did not care to, on the basis of what they had heard. One may argue—and perhaps justifiably so, I think—that I had spoken to the wrong Melvilleans. Be it so. Nonetheless, the reactions I elicited were so strongly disdainful of Melville that one must be persuaded that Miller has plunged headlong into a critical brier patch of much density and thorniness. And interestingly so, Miller, as college teacher and writer, has rather solid credentials: five books have been done by him, including three on Whitman (his best known perhaps ishis Walt Whitman's Poetry: A PsychohgicalJourney). Yet, the quarrel with his Melville, I fear, will not end in some kind of uneasy truce. For example: one very well known Melville scholar was asked by me to sum up his feelings on Melville in a single succinct sentence; as our chartered bus rumbled away from Broadhall (once Melville's Uncle Thomas' farm and now thehome of thePittsfield Country Club), he said—softly but forcefully: "I hate it." Whathas Edwin Haviland Millerpostulated in his Melville that would seem to warrant such critical scorn? Quite simply: Miller argues that Melville, in his possibly homoerotic passion for Hawthorne as combined father-brother figure, made his move. Millerhints that Melville mayhave stunned Hawthorne with a statement akin to Hollingsworth's confession in Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance: "There is not the man in this wide world whom I can love as I could you" (p. 249). Moreover, Miller is quite insistent in his notion that Melville's untoward verbal gesture or whatever sent Hawthorne and family packing off to West Newton in a sleet storm in November of 1851—a scant fifteen months after Hawthorne and Melville had met for the first time in the Berkshires at an August, 1850 picnic on the slope of Monument Mountain. From that fateful Fifth of August, says Miller, the general relationship between the two writers was that of pursuit and withdrawal: Melvillewas the continual pursuer, and Hawthorne was the persistent withdrawer. As Miller reports: "For fifteen months Melville had basked in the aura cast by Nathaniel Hawthorne—and even more important—in his own imaginative heightening of that presence" (p. 234). And it is precisely Miller's imaginative heightening of the Melville-Hawthorne relationship to which Miller's readers seem to object. In other words, Melville is a psychobiography. Miller is a good Freudian, and—as such—might argue Melville's adherents, Miller is a bad Melvillean. That is, like most of the Freudians, Miller is making paramount what should be a matter of secondary or perhaps even contingent importance: Melville's imagined inner life. And as Miller sees it, it is a life freighted with buried sexual Studies in American Fiction245 motives, ongoing angst (bordering on fears of going mad) and lifelong artistic self-defeat. Melville is the most recent in a line of such books that range as far back as the beginning of this century. The epigram for each of them might well be that old Freudian saw: "Anatomy is destiny!" Apparently it...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 244-246
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
No
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