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R E V I E W S revealing structures that show how nineteenth-century Americans articuIated their world” (3).His comparisons of Melville’s writings with those of his contemporaries genuinely work to set each in the light of the other rather than to differentiate a towering genius from lesser figures. Extending well beyond the by now standard repertoire of newly recovered texts, the selections Otter culls for comparative analysisalso reveal his impressivecommand of nineteenth-century American literature. Many readers will value his micro-commentaries on such works as Brown’s Clotel, Webb’s The Garies and Their Friends, Child’s “Letter from New-York Number 36, and Whitman’s “Poem of the Body” (“I Sing the Body Electric”) as much as they will his full-scale interpretations of Melville’s novels. The contextual richness of Melville’sAnatomies-a major strength of the book-occasionally turns into a weakness, however. At certain points, the introduction of other texts becomes intrusive, taking readers away from rather than deeper into Melville’s fiction. Otter’s habit of deferring spelling out the connections between these texts and Melville’s until late in each chapter becomes especiallyannoying in the chapters on Pierre. Yet these defects may be attributed to the books ambitious scope. They do not prevent Melville’s Anatomies from ranking high as a contribution to Melville scholarship and a resource for the study of nineteenth-century American culture. Carolyn L.Karcher Tmple University Herman Melville: The Penguin Lives Series ELIZABETH HARDWICK New York: Viking Penguin,2000. 161Pages E lizabeth Hardwicks newly published study, Herman Melville, is part of the Penguin Lives series, which was established to give us short biogral phies of illustrious figures, written by “name” authors. The marketing strategy seems to be that of arranging a hot date: Edmund White on Proust, May Gordon onJoan of Arc, Bobbie Ann Mason on Elvis. Some of these matchups strike me as a mite opportunistic, and certain celebrity biographers, who may have made their reputation as fiction writers or humorists, do not always have the intellectual depth or summarizing wit to pull off this condensed genre in the authoritative manner pioneered by Doctor Johnson, Saint-Beuve and A J O U R N A L O F M E L V I L L E S T U D I E S 1 0 7 R E V I E W S in the authoritative manner pioneered by Doctor Johnson, Saint-Beuve and Lytton Strachey.But when it is done well, the pocket “Life”can be a refreshing alternative to slogging through those interminable, multi-volume biographies, whose mountains of index cards the reader can almost hear being ripped, one by one, with each additional inessential detail. And who better to do it supremely well than our queen of magisterial literary criticism, Elizabeth Hardwick? In the recent past, it seems to me, Ms Hardwick has sometimes squandered her tersely exquisite prose on topical subjects such as the trials of O.J. Simpson or the Menendez brothers, with results that did not finally give us any more insight than could be garnered from the tabloids. But with Melville, she has an author worthy of her best intellectual efforts, as we already know from her famous essay, “Bartlebyin Manhattan.” The fun is watching her suture her epigrammatic, eighteenth-century-inflected, paratactical, disenchanted sentences to Melville’s more dynamically Nineteenth Century, expansive, buoyant, but ultimately equally fatalistic temperament. How does she navigate the short biography form? Her method-as astute one, given her limited, 161-pagecount-is to meditate on Melville.Though she scrupulously delivers the main facts of his life, and comments on each of his books, all this is processed through the special tone of reverie: as though inventorymg all possible ideas as they burble up, in sentence fragments or whole phrases. Whenever possible, she seizes the opportunity to make a broader point, either through historical generalization, aphorism, or metaphor. “Going to sea was an acceptable decision in the America of the 1840s; it was a career open to talent and, more strikingly, open to lack of talent.” Summarizing Melville’s parents’ tendency to over-spend, she writes: Genteel poverty, an ambiguous condition, each...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 107-111
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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