Abstract

Abstract:

Herman Melville’s first published story, “Fragments from a Writing Desk” (1839; released in two parts in the Democratic Press, and Lansingburgh Advertiser), reimagines nineteenth-century American narratives of disabled female figures. In the first installment, Melville’s amorous narrator, L.A.V., quotes extensively from British romantic books of beauty, anthologies that gathered the best works from famous authors. In the second, Melville critiques L.A.V.’s exuberant citations, cultivating an alternative aesthetic we term “silent eloquence.” This essay argues that Melville’s early diptych reimagines deformed texts and disabled bodies by means of a deaf woman called “Inamorata.” Inspired by emergent deaf American communities, institutions, and forms of expression, and literary works by an array of deaf and hearing writers from James Nack and John R. Burnet to Washington Irving and Sarah Josepha Hale, Melville’s first fiction presents an early account of the communicative power of difference. Inamorata’s various, artful modes of expression— handwriting, signing, gestures, and expressions—put literary beauties and disabled bodies in conversation. Presenting nineteenth-century American readers with a new aesthetic vocabulary, “Fragments” simultaneously anticipates aspects of Melville’s major works and develops a concept of beauty capable of encompassing multiple senses, modes of address, experiences, and ways of knowing.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-1849
Print ISSN
1525-6995
Pages
pp. 7-23
Launched on MUSE
2021-03-24
Open Access
No
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