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Review Herman Melville: Tales, Poems, and Other Writings Edited with an Introduction and Notes JOHN BRYANT New York: The Modern Library, 2001. 622 pages M elvilleis a mighty figure and the idea of a selection from his writings could be a daunting one. It is virtually impossible to have a selection reflect in any reasonable way his achievement as a novelist. The best way to attack is to offera view of the stories and sketches, the literary criticism , and the poetry, with some attention to the letters. Over the years we have been given helpful selections from Willard Thorpe, Hennig Cohen, and Richard Chase, among others, and these have served their purpose well. But such volumes become dated after an interval and these need to be replaced by one which will take into account recent scholarship and the shifts of interest in Melville studies. Getting a selection of the works of a writer like Melville into a reasonably sized volume is a difficult and trying process. There must be representative groups of each kind of writing, including short stories, sketches, book reviews, letters, and poetry. The questions come thick and fast: how much of any particular genre? How much of introductory material and notes to include for each selection? Should there be selected chapters from novels? Is there room for discussion of the included material? And so on and on. John Bryant has done a finejob of getting a new selection before readers . In its present form, it could be the basis, for a teacher, of a course dedicated to Melville’sworks. The assignment of novels as part of the course would make a very satisfactory package for either undergraduate or graduate courses . And, since Bryant’s volume is part of the Modern Library series, a publication of Random House, we can assume that it will have a long shelf life. Though the book is a long one, its compact format, thin but opaque pages, and clear, attractive printing make it an immediately useful and pleasing artifact for the Melville enthusiast. Bryant’scomprehensive knowledge of Melville’s life and works has made it inevitable that his selection could hardly be bettered. An introduction entitled “A Writer in Process” offers a thumbnail sketch of the writer’s long and varied life as well as a preliminary critical look at his work. It gives a sensible L E V I A T H A N 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 7 3 R E V I E W account of Melville’slater life and work, emphasizing the poetry as a prominent and crucial part of the writings, something that hasn’t been done in the general atmosphere of neglect of the poetry. The Melville who worked at his poetry from the 1876 publication of Clarel to his death in 1891 is, even leaving out a consideration of Billy Budd, a looming figure in American literature, but his place has not been given its appropriate emphasis. Bryant goes far toward righting this imbalance in his introduction to the poetry and his selection of poems to print. At the beginning, we are given the young Melville with just enough emphasis to show the writer’s “Fragments from a Writing Desk” and a fluid text version of Chapter 14of Typee. As a close student of Melville’smanuscript fragments for the novel, Bryant is able to show the revisions that were made in this first published book. Some letters to Hawthorne and the text of “Hawthorne and His Mosses” splendidly show the relations between the writers and the basis for their friendship. Over two hundred pages are given to the tales and sketches of the 1850s.Here we have “Bartleby,”“BenitoCereno,” the Chola Widow sketch (we might have wished for more of TheEncantadas), and among other pieces, “The Piazza,” which gives Melville’sinteresting device of bringing together the stories and sketches into The Piazza Tales and making them appear more closely joined than they actually are. The recovered lecture on “Statues in Rome” (1857) does show, as Bryant points out, “Melville’sgrowing interest in art.” Melville...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 73-75
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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