This year’s scholarship is notable for its range. While Herman Melville’s late poetry continues to attract attention from scholars interested in poetics and textual studies, his short fiction and major novels elicit new readings that blend transnationalist, ecocritical, ideological, and queer theory interpretations. Melville’s own penchant for employing somewhat disparate source materials makes his literary works fertile ground for new scholarship that draws freely from the toolbox of recent theoretical approaches. Over 25 articles (not all of them considered here), 4 chapters in books and edited collections, and 5 monographs were published in 2012, including comparative studies that examine Melville’s early sea novels in relation to those of James Fenimore Cooper and Melville’s “The Encantadas” in relation to the fiction of Edgar Allan Poe.
i Biographies, Editions, and Reference Works
Hershel Parker’s Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative (Northwestern) is both an autobiography of one of Melville’s most prestigious biographers and an anecdotal study of the methodology used to resolve problematic moments in the documentary record of Melville’s life and career. This “inside narrative” tells the story of Parker’s two-volume Herman Melville: A Biography (1996 and 2002) and its critical reception. Admirers of Parker’s work will appreciate his account in Part 1 of how he “followed in the footsteps” of Melville, imagining his way into his subject and absorbing facts and experiences that give his biography a level of historical detail and [End Page 33] accuracy unmatched by his peers. Much of Part 2 offers a vindication and defense from the assumptions and accusations made by scholars associated with New Criticism. In Part 3 Parker examines specific episodes in Melville’s career, notably his financial struggles and his reassessment of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ability as a writer. These biographical vignettes are also testaments to the value of archival research and the lasting insights that lifelong scholarship can bring.
In “Cultures, Canons and Cetology: Modernist Anthropology and the Form of Culture in Lewis Mumford’s Herman Melville” (ESQ 58: 185–217) Eric Aronoff focuses on the coincidence of the Melville revival of the 1920s with the “development and institutionalization of American studies in the academy” to support his claim that the study of Melville is “equivalent to the study of American Literature as a discipline.” Aronoff sees this revival as symptomatic of a conservative, nationalist ideology that pitted advocates of traditional high cultural values against a laboring class characterized as foreign, feminine, and racially other. He takes as his principal example Lewis Mumford’s biography Herman Melville (1929) and its connection to the emergence of cultural anthropology as a distinct academic discipline. Placing that work in the context of Mumford’s other writings on architecture and regional planning, Aronoff examines Mumford’s presentation of Moby-Dick as exemplary of a form of regional “culture” that resists the “spurious uniformity” created by an imperialist form of “American” nationalism. He suggests that Americanists today might find in Mumford’s reading of Moby-Dick a “‘usable past’ for the current transnational turn in the field.”
Gail Shannon sheds further light on Melville’s lecture career in “Melville in Montreal: The Archives of the Montreal Mercantile Library Association” (Leviathan 14, ii: 44–53). Her examination of the correspondence and minutes of that organization, building on the research of Frederick James Kennedy, reveals that the organizing committee expressed real concern that Melville’s lecture “Statues in Rome” would fail to draw a large audience. The committee took it upon themselves to change Melville’s title to “Sight-Seeing in Rome” and promoted the lecture in conjunction with a panorama of Italy. This new evidence confirms the difficulties Melville faced in bringing his aesthetic interests before the public, revealing how the MMLA’s promotional efforts “misled his audience into expecting a travelogue, a light evening of entertainment,” rather than the somewhat turgid lecture on aesthetics and Roman statuary he actually delivered. [End Page 34]
Jincai Yang provides a valuable new bibliographical resource for Melville studies in “The Critical Reception of Herman Melville in China” (Leviathan 14, ii: 54–65), which includes a bibliography of more than 100 articles and monographs published by Chinese scholars...