Herman Melville discussion

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"The Paradise of Bachelors and The Tartarus of Maids"

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message 1: by Frederick (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:18PM) (new)

Frederick Melville compares men and women here and seems to lean toward feminism. Or was he just a gentleman?


message 2: by Frederick (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:18PM) (new)

Frederick Abigail:

I am chagrined to realize Melville's point about owners versus workers. I read TPOBATTOM twenty years ago and, besides being enthralled with its language (in particular a description of the snowy, descending road into the Tartarus) I came away only with the idea that Melville was comparing UNMARRIED men and UNMARRIED women. I took his larger point to be that, even when women are separated from men, life is harsh for them in a way it is not for men.
It is obvious, of course, that the templars of the Paradise are comfortable, and that the women of the Tartarus are what would today be called sweat shop workers, but I never thought of the bachelors as being the employers of the maids.
Of course, in ISRAEL POTTER, Potter goes to work in a bricklaying factory and Melville makes a great point of showing that the sheer repetition of laying brick after brick is killing Potter's spirit. And, of course, tyrants such as Ahab do occupy Melville's world.
He pointed out naval abuses in REDBURN (I believe. It might have been WHITE JACKET.) He hated abuse of authority. But I don't think he had even a seed of Marxism in him. (Therefore, feminism, as such, wouldn't have appealed to him. But he is ever aware of injustices in every sphere.)
MOBY-DICK does have a female in it, very protective of her children. She's a dolphin! And I think Melville describes the abject poverty of a woman and her children in, I think, Liverpool. (Again, this is from WHITE JACKET or PIERRE.)


message 3: by Frederick (new)

Frederick PIERRE is pretty good in the depiction of Pierre's haughty mother, but "Delly," whose name I'm probably mis-spelling, is, in my view, perhaps a mere symbol of womanhood. (Pierre himself seems somewhat impossible, but the first quarter of the book is a masterful description of the homelife of someone more or less of Melville's background. I don't think Melville was ever much of a dramatist, if you will -- the way many novelist's, such as Trollope, are dramatists in disguise -- until he wrote BILLY BUDD, and, even in that, the faux-Shakespearian tone takes a bit away from what is really a very tense story.)
PIERRE is operatic. Melville's humor is evident in the chapters he inserted (the ones which Parker has removed), and it is strongly evident in ISRAEL POTTER, with its caricatures of John Paul Jones and Ben Franklin. But PIERRE is, truly, Melville's attempt to write a Hawthorne novel. It is definitely about family.
I have not read any of the pre-MOBY-DICK novels straight through. I've read bits and pieces and I sense he practiced satire and philosophy a little bit in each of those books. I've read MOBY-DICK, PIERRE, ISRAEL POTTER, THE CONFIDENCE-MAN and a number of the stories: 'Benito Cereno," "Bartleby the Scrivener," "The Bell-tower," "Jimmy Rose," "Billy Budd" (is it a novella or a long story?), and, another sadly neglected piece, "The Encantadas." (Throw in "The Lightning-rod Man," "The Happy Failure" and "I and My Chimney." In all of these I detect a plea for justice, but I never get the sense that Melville is an activist.
Saying that, I see Melville's anti-slavery position, which is made obvious in "The Whiteness of the Whale" (it being a pointed effort to show people that white is not necessarily a saintly color) is not such that Melville would ever become an abolitionist. He, like a lot of his contemporaries, was probably thinking that, sooner or later, a struggle over slavery would rip through the country. His Civil War poems show him as a staunch Unionist. But such sentences as this, from his diary entry about the New York Draft Riots, "The rats are taking the streets", show me he had a patrician outlook.
Had he lived into the era of the Womens Suffrage movement, I have no difficulty believing he'd have favored women's right to vote. But, given that the inserted chapters of PIERRE mock Greenwich Village pamphleteers, I sense Melville would have mistrusted the leaders of the movement. The women's rights movement of the Woodrow Wilson era, of course, was not Marxist, but, certainly by the 60s and 70s, a certain relativism had begun to inform ALL liberation movements in the United States. (The spelling of "women" as "womyn," for example, would have been alien to Susan B. Anthony, whose goal was to obtain the franchise for the half of the population automatically denied it. She wasn't in the business of semantics.)
Was Melville a liberal? Certainly. Was he what would now be called a progressive? Perhaps. But I think the revolution he wanted had taken place starting in 1776. Melville is that extinct creature, the Yankee.



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