- Melville's Intervisionary Network: Balzac, Hawthorne, and Realism in the American Renaissance by John Haydock
To understand Melville's Intervisionary Network, one must recall the differences between comparative literature and source study. A. Owen Aldridge, who taught so many of us about comparative literature, makes a good guide. In the early twentieth [End Page 354] century the historical approach shaped the development of comparative literature, and influence studies proliferated. The historical approach waned during the second half of the twentieth century in favor of an aesthetic approach, and influence studies gave way to affinity studies. In other words, students of comparative literature now sought to identify affinities between two authors coming from different nations and writing in different languages, not necessarily to see how one influenced the other but to understand the reasons for their similarities and differences (Aldridge 4–5). In recent decades affinity studies continue to dominate the field, though the aesthetic approach has often given way to the study of cultural, ideological, social, and racial reasons to account for similarities and differences.
Influence studies have continued largely in the form of source studies, which have received a bad rap from some academic types who look down their critical noses at them, seeing the search for sources as a second-class approach to literary study. Harold Bloom, for one, calls source hunters the "carrion-eaters of scholarship" (17). And Stephen Greenblatt, matching Bloom in venom and vitriol, calls source study "the elephants' graveyard of literary history" (163). These derogatory comments are unfair. Source studies that merely identify verbal parallels between an earlier and a later work of literature may lack the sophistication of the best literary criticism, but source studies that not only identify similarities between works of literature but also put those sources in the hands of an author to create a vivid picture of him or her reading can be very special. Well done source studies can make important contributions to literary biography. The best ones discover new pieces of information and assemble them to tell stories about how and why great writers read what they did when they did. John Haydock positions Melville's Intervisionary Network as an elaborate source study, but it has much in common with the aesthetic approach to comparative literature.
The fancy title of Haydock's book requires some explanation. By "intervisionary" he means the vision of the world and its inhabitants that Herman Melville and Honoré de Balzac shared. By "network" he means the different channels—commercial, institutional, personal—through which Melville could have learned about Balzac. Haydock develops his network theory in Chapter 1. The chapter's first section is devoted to packet boats, the steam-powered vessels that brought the latest British books, including English translations of current French literature, from Liverpool to New York in a matter of two or three weeks, letting New York publishers issue pirated editions soon after their originals appeared in London. A second section discusses new printing technologies that facilitated the publication of cheap American editions of foreign literature. Since there was no international copyright, American publishers could freely reissue foreign literature with impunity and without remunerating their authors. Haydock devotes a third section of his opening chapter to periodicals, which provided another outlet for [End Page 355] pirated foreign literature, both short stories as well as serialized novels. The chapter's fourth section discusses how critical magazine articles could have informed Melville about Balzac.
Strangely, Chapter 1 ignores libraries, which formed a major part of the intellectual network that helped put books into Melville's hands. Despite this omission, Haydock would seem to be laying the foundation for a historically-based influence study in the manner of those studies written during what Aldridge calls "the Golden Age of Comparative Literature" (4). He is not. Paradoxically, Haydock establishes this intricate literary network not as a basis for historical study, but as a convenient way to avoid doing historical research. Haydock actually bashes earlier historical studies. In his preface and again in his opening...