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R E V I E W EDGAR A. DRYDEN Monumental Melville: The Formation of a Literary Career Stanford University Press, 2004. 230 pages. H erman Melville’s career as a publishing fiction writer lasted for eleven years, from 1846 to 1857. It was a period of great public success and greater public failure—failure, at least, from the perspective of certain professional critics and guardians of public morality who found such narratives as Pierre; or, The Ambiguities (1852) to be a hodgepodge of sometimes blasphemous, nearly maniacal but mostly incomprehensible crosspurposes . After Melville lost his audience, after it became redundantly evident that he could not earn a living either as a novelist or a traveling lecturer, he made the momentous commitment to turn himself into a poet for life. Following the publication of The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857) he dedicated more than three decades to mastering the demands of metrical verse, beginning with the unpublished 1860 volume Poems and continuing through four published volumes—Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866), Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land (1876), John Marr and Other Sailors (1888), and Timoleon (1891). At his death he left a nearly finished volume of poems, Weeds and Wildings Chiefly: with a Rose or Two. Billy Budd, Sailor (1924), also nearly finished at Melville’s death, was actually the great anomaly of Melville’s career. The novel was begun approximately thirty years after the publication of The Confidence-Man and grew slowly and unsurely out of a prose headnote to the poem that now concludes the novel. The temporal disproportion that characterizes Melville’s writing career poses a daunting challenge to scholarship and criticism, especially if one attempts to explain the relationship between Melville’s relatively brief career as a writer of fiction and Melville’s much longer career as a writer of poems. Establishing a point of origin is no simple matter. When did Melville’s sense of himself as a prospective poet actually begin? Is there a demonstrable connection between his extensive exposure to verse during his childhood and adolescence and the creation of his later poems, especially in view of the early influence of Milton and Byron? Does one take seriously Yoomy’s light verse in Mardi (1849) and see it as a reflection of Melville’s inchoate desire C  2006 The Authors Journal compilation C  2006 The Melville Society and Blackwell Publishing Inc 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 91 R E V I E W to be a practicing poet? Or does one find in the lyricism of Moby-Dick’s neoElizabethan cadences the germinous seeds of his poetry? There are many good books that detail the progress of Melville as a fiction-writer and fewer good books that chart the reaches of his poetry. Edgar A. Dryden’s Monumental Melville: The Formation of a Literary Career engages the difficult matter of examining the fiction for the light that it casts on the later poetry. In tracing the origin of Melville’s poetry to the aesthetics and themes of the post-Moby-Dick fiction of the 1850s, Dryden carefully describes how Melville’s disaffiliation with the values of his literary marketplace led him to reconceive the ways in which he as a writer might “speak to and for his culture.” Melville sought “to articulate his own sense of the relation of the literary vocation to the local, that is to say to history, politics, and the products of popular culture” (7). According to Dryden, these matters impel Melville’s rejection of the more public and seemingly transparent forms of fiction and his embrace of the more rarified, idiosyncratic and ironic involutions of verse. In his turn to poetry Melville found forms that would allow him to shape what he had to say not for the mass audience he once craved, but for a small imagined audience of kindred tastes and sensibilities. Central to Dryden’s study is the premise that Melville continues in his poetry to develop the aesthetic strategy articulated in “Hawthorne and His Mosses,” a rhetorical form...


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