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  • Melville
  • Paul Hurh

Scholarship on Herman Melville continues to pursue traditional questions—politics, philosophy, nationalism, aesthetics—from both conventional and new perspectives. Hemispheric, global, and transatlantic studies of Melville are especially prominent. Also noteworthy is the increased attention to less studied works, particularly poetry, from the later part of Melville's career. Highlights of the year include a pair of articles on Moby-Dick that adapt and defend the New Americanist approach to literary study, a study of the significance of theater and drama in the 19th-century American short story that analyzes several pieces of Melville's fiction, and a special issue of Leviathan on late Melville. (In addition, Leviathan features a special section, "Melville in a Global Context" [18, i: 55–115], reporting on the 10th International Melville Conference in Tokyo in 2015 and featuring reports from Japanese scholars on Melville's influence on Japanese contemporary writers, a sign of the continuing appeal of Melville across oceans.)

Also notable is interest in Melville outside the usual scholarly venues. Two books speculating about his romantic life, Michael Sheldon's Melville in Love (HarperCollins) and Mark Beauregard's novel Whale: A Love Story (Viking), offer researched portraits of Melville's possible entanglements. Sheldon's biography claims, on the basis of opportunistic readings of letters and gifts as concealing secret messages of passion, that Melville carried on a reciprocated affair with his neighbor, Sarah Morewood, during the 1850s. Beauregard's more subtle speculation draws [End Page 33] on Melville's letters to Nathaniel Hawthorne to portray the two in an emotional, but never consummated, romance.

i Biographies, Editions, and Reference Works

Steven Olsen-Smith's "An Update on Books Owned, Borrowed, and Consulted by Melville" (Leviathan 18, ii: 90–101) notes the recent discovery of three books he owned—Narrative of the United States Exploring Expedition (1845) and editions of James Boswell's Life of Johnson and George Crabb's English Synonyms Explained—and comments on acquisitions and sales of previously identified titles.

ii General

In "Herman Melville and Joseph Henry at the Albany Academy; or, Melville's Education in Mathematics and Science" (Leviathan 18, ii: 4–28) Meredith Farmer provides a meticulously researched account of Melville's early exposure to science and in particular his proximity to the prominent American scientist of electricity and magnetism Joseph Henry. This account challenges claims that Melville did not have a special relation to science in his youth and opens the way for new readings of Melville in the burgeoning nonhuman and materialist turns of literary criticism.

Zachary Turpin's "The Knickerbocker and 'The Isle of the Cross'" (Leviathan 18, ii: 75–80) uncovers a plausible new source for the proposed title of Melville's lost work, "The Isle of the Cross," in the anonymous poem "Isle Santa Cruz," published in The Knickerbocker in 1837. The poem has many similarities to descriptions of Melville's lost work, actually contains the phrase "Isle of the Cross," and appeared in an issue of the magazine that Melville probably read.

Matthew Knip's "Homosocial Desire and Erotic Communitas in Melville's Imaginary: The Evidence of Van Buskirk" (ESQ 62: 355–414) draws from the unpublished diary of Melville's contemporary Philip C. Van Buskirk to clarify the practices and affect of same-sex sexuality at sea in the 19th century. Knip suggests that Melville's earlier criticism often suffered from 20th-century identitarian assumptions, and even when it did not, as in Robert K. Martin's work, it suggested that Melville's depictions of communal sexual experience were fantasy and failed to distinguish between homosexual desire for a single object and [End Page 34] a broader desire for homosocial sexual practice. On the basis of Van Buskirk's very frank descriptions of shipboard sexual practice, Knip argues compellingly that Melville was describing same-sex sociality, and that he gradually moved from frank, not imaginary, descriptions of "erotic communitas" in his South Seas narratives to mourning for its loss, expressed in the flattening of that earlier social and fluid sexual field into single-term binaries in Billy Budd and John Marr.

A special issue of Leviathan (18, iii) titled "Late Melville" and edited by Cody Marrs brings together...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2125
Print ISSN
0065-9142
Pages
pp. 33-47
Launched on MUSE
2018-10-04
Open Access
No
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