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Towards Milton R. Stern (1928–2011) JOHN WENKE Salisbury University I n fall 1973, I heard about a professor at the University of Connecticut who had taken an innovative approach to literary writing. He had also written a major book on Herman Melville. Following my acceptance to UConn’s graduate program in English, I wrote and asked that John Seelye be assigned as my advisor. I was excited by the prospect of studying under the author of The Kid, The True Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Melville: The Ironic Diagram. I did not know then that Seelye was on his way out of Storrs, bound for greener southern pastures. When I got my official assignment, I saw Milton R. Stern listed as my advisor. I asked Thomas Werge, Notre Dame’s Melville specialist, if he had ever heard of Milton R. Stern. Werge immediately replied, “The Fine Hammered Steel of Herman Melville.” c  2012 The Melville Society and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 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 69 I N M E M O R I A M On July 26, 2011, Milton R. Stern died at the age of 82 due to complications from a stroke. Stern, who preferred to be called Mickey, was a brilliant scholar and critic, great teacher, tireless faculty advocate, and demanding, supportive mentor. He was a longtime member and friend of The Melville Society, serving as president in 1984 and later as part of the steering committee that divided the prodigious responsibilities performed by Donald Yannella into three parts: John Bryant became the Society’s editor; Stanton Garner assumed the post of secretary; I took over as treasurer. As a scholar, Mickey Stern produced a remarkable body of published works. He wrote landmark books on Melville, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. With Seymour L. Gross, he edited the pioneering fourvolume American Literature Survey in The Viking Portable Library. His life-long critical and scholarly preoccupation was the holistic enterprise he identified as “the politics of American literature,” with “politics” referring not to partisan affairs but to more elemental and encompassing Aristotelian concerns. Stern’s sense of literary and cultural politics derived from the dialectical energies that he associated with T. E. Hulme’s “Romanticism and Classicism,” or what he described in Contexts for Hawthorne (1991) as “the politics of openness and closure .” He edited the Critical Essays volumes for G. K. Hall on Melville’s Typee and Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night and the Penguin edition of Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables. His introductions to these three volumes are masterworks in the art of critical and scholarly discernment. In 1975, he published a controversial edition of Billy Budd that restored a number of passages that were not included in the 1962 Hayford-Sealts reading text of Billy Budd. Appendix Two of this volume provides a striking three-column collation (with commentary) comparing the Stern text, Melville’s manuscript, and the Hayford-Sealts text. Stern’s edition underscores the fluid nature of any approach to Melville’s nearly finished novella and suggests as well the challenges confronting future textual scholars of Billy Budd. Once, in the late 1970s, I ran into Mickey in the hallway and explained my concern that part of my dissertation-in-progress “might be ambiguous.” He laughed and said, “Ambiguity is our greatest defense.” He was also fond of applying the phrase “negatively useful” to a host of irritations large and small, textual or otherwise. For example, he argued that approaching Bartleby through his apparent stoicism could only be “negatively useful.” His writings, however, were neither ambiguous nor “negatively useful.” Instead, he wrote in a style that was lucid, forceful, and rhythmic. Even today, as we like to say, more than fifty years after its publication, The Fine Hammered Steel of Herman Melville remains unimpaired by the work of time. It has not been rendered obsolete due to the oscillations of “critical modishness”—one of 70 L E V I A T H A N M I L...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 69-72
Launched on MUSE
2013-05-29
Open Access
No
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