Herman Melville discussion

What ELSE Happened to Herman?

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message 1: by Frederick (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:13PM) (new)

Frederick To start our discussions off, I'll list a couple of things which happened to Herman Melville which shouldn't have happened to any decent writer:

1) His publisher had a fire, so most of the copies of Melville's novel THE CONFIDENCE-MAN were destroyed almost immediately after publication. The plates used to print the books were lost in the fire as well.

2) The author Melville idolized, Nathaniel Hawthorne, distanced himself from Melville rather quickly after the publication of MOBY-DICK. (The book is dedicated to him.) There has always been speculation that Melville had a sexual interest in Hawthorne. I won't weigh in there. The point I'm making is that Melville worshipped Hawthorne (crediting him, in a letter, with triggering the rather sudden intellectual leap Melville made when he wrote MOBY-DICK) and Hawthorne pulled back. Melville referred to him in a late poem as "the shyest grape."
The theme of this discussion and this group, really, is that an absolutely devoted literary artist seems to have been thwarted at every turn. Often, as with point one, simple bad luck met the man. But the public seems to have rejected him

message 2: by Robert (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:13PM) (new)

Robert | 2 comments I've only read a few of the briefer biographies of Melville, but he certainly had a tragic life. I'd add to your list the way his own family seemed to distance themselves from him in his later years and even considered him to be mad.
I don't entirely agree with attempts to find homosexual instincts in every 19th century author, though there are certainly a few traces in much of HM;s work. It is obvious, however, that he had an intense passionate streak that was somewhat repressed by his times.
(Hawthorne's life was equally complicated, and almost as sad, by the way...)

message 3: by Frederick (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:14PM) (new)

Frederick George Orwell calls Melville "almost superhumanly chaste." (It's in one of Orwell's letters or essays. I may dig up the quotation at some point. I want to put it in context.)
What I find quite interesting is that the usual Victorian prudery is NOT responsible for the public's rejection of Melville. The rejection began when he ceased to trade on the novelty of his South Seas adventures and began writing about the unknowable.
I'm thinking Hawthorne might have felt Melville was "networking" him. On the face of it, Melville was cottoning to a successful author who could help his career. Hawthorne probably considered Melville a little bit of a user. I find this tragic in itself.

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