Abstract

This essay proposes a trajectory from a romantic to a modern author figure that incorporates, rather than abandons, melodrama. Melodrama’s faith in spectacle renders this successful modern author a priest, not a prophet—an artist who is the vessel for truth’s performance, not the heroic seeker of its hiddenness. I chart this trajectory across two novels (Herman Melville’s Pierre and Pauline Hopkins’s Of One Blood) written fifty years apart. Melville’s novel uses melodrama to puncture the romantic ideal. Hopkins uses melodrama to push toward a recognizably modern figure: Reuel at the end has become an Ethiopian precursor to T.S. Eliot’s impersonal poet. This comparison recognizes modernism’s religious investments, showing how the prophet-to-priest shift relied on an assertion of the legibility of transcendence embedded in melodramatic form. Hopkins’s melodramatic author figure also models a productive stance for historicist criticism, one that self-consciously stands as a catalyst between past and present.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 23-47
Launched on MUSE
2017-09-29
Open Access
No
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