The Confidence Game in American Literature

The Confidence Game in American Literature

Warwick Wadlington
Copyright Date: 1975
Pages: 344
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    The Confidence Game in American Literature
    Book Description:

    Drawing on modern studies of rhetoric and the concept of the Trickster, the author examines Herman Melville, Mark Twain, and Nathanael West as creators of a fictive experience centered in deceptive or problematic transactions of confidence.

    The model of aconfidence game, suggested by the writers' own thematic preoccupations, permits an analysis of the social motivations inherent in the fiction. The author concentrates on the process by which confidence is established and the ways in which deception leads to regeneration and an altered perception of authority. His approach increases our understanding of the interrelation between the writer, his reader, and the world each envisions.

    Warwick Wadlington examines individual texts, as well as the pattern of each writer's total work. His book distinctively combines an enlarging archetypal frame with rhetorical analysis of the writer-reader imaginative act. Treated as different forms of a coherent mode of fictive experience, the works of these important authors illuminate each other. Professor Wadlington's method results in decisively new readings of each text and contributes to a phenomenology of reading three writers whose works represent crucial "moments" in the artist-audience negotiation of mutual faith.

    Originally published in 1975.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7164-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
  4. 1 Akin to Genesis
    (pp. 3-36)

    Let us start at the beginning of things, with a solicited visionary act: “the original character, essentially such, is like a revolving Drummond light, raying away from itself all round it—everything is lit by it, everything starts up to it (mark how it is with Hamlet), so that, in certain minds, there follows upon the adequate conception of such a character, an effect, in its way, akin to that which in Genesis attends upon the beginning of things.”¹ These words, frequently cited in scholarship of recent years, seem to me inexhaustibly remarkable as a challenge to understand a phenomenon...

    • Introduction
      (pp. 39-41)

      We come to Melville, as a rule, by way of an initiation inMoby-Dick.We meet him, usually, in an academic environment and see him, whatever our individual inclination, from the perspective of a distinctly positivistic century. Each of us is instructed more or less thoroughly by a body of Melville criticism that responds skillfully to our mystification atMoby-Dickand at successive encounters, most typically, with the enigmatic “Bartleby” andBilly Budd.Our initial acquaintance remains with us as a strong imprint while we extend our knowledge of his works and the extent of human experience they command. Melville,...

    • 2 Picaresque and Picturesque: Omoo, Typee, Mardi
      (pp. 42-72)

      TypeeandOmooare minor works. What is more important for my purpose, they are successful, both historically and abstractly considered, as rhetoric, as engagements of a public. They reveal an accomplished tact that seems to rule out our viewing them as providential biographical expressions with little to tell us about Melville’s mature art. Genuine tact, whether literary or social, is the very opposite of egocentricity; but I will propose that in an important sense Melville's work is obsessed with self to an extraordinary degree. This tact, in Melville, is an acute awareness of an audience as a presence to...

    • 3 Godly Gamesomeness: Selftaste in Moby-Dick
      (pp. 73-103)

      The power ofMoby-Dick—what D. H. Lawrence praised as “the sheer naked slidings of the elements”—has long been a subject of critical attention over and above the usual interpretive interest in such notoriously “difficult” novels. Though one may assume that the final secret of that power will always be safe, hermeneutic probings at the mystery over the last several years have shown clearly that Melville’s masterpiece is not justaboutthe world. To an unusual degree the book is an attempt at sharing in the life of the world: the fiction exists not so much to mirror life...

    • 4 Passion in Its Profoundest: Mardi Once More; Pierre and “Bartleby”; “Benito Cereno”
      (pp. 104-136)

      But what does “will” signify in the phrases used earlier—“one’s will to distinctive form”; and “Individuality is a willful fiction”? For Melville’s view of existence comprehends not only hazardous protean process but, in each individual, a certain constancy of driving force that moves his cycle of identity and delimits the kinds of change that can occur. The caterpillar may change into a butterfly; it cannot turn into an eagle. If all men, as Ishmael would say, share “in their degree” in the generalSpieltriebor godly gamesomeness of individuation, what does this amount to specifically in a given individual...

    • 5 Hidden Suns and Phenomenal Men: The Confidence-Man, Billy Budd
      (pp. 137-178)

      We can situateThe Confidence-Manin Melville’s body of work, and particularly with reference toMoby-Dick,by recognizing it as a parody of the regeneration of life. Its ironic comedy at once points to and dryly despairs of the radical transfiguration and rebirth of the world by the apocalyptic power of faith. For transfiguration and rebirth the novel substitutes an April Fools’ Day masquerade. For the reality of faith it substitutes the wordFidele.For fructifying human interchange it offers a “game of charity” and of confidence (p. 11). The book’s hero and its narrative voice ring the changes on...

    • Introduction
      (pp. 181-184)

      On the evidence of the last half-century, the literary fiction known as Mark Twain seems to be amenable only to a body of criticism that is diagnostic and combative. This condign result is a token that he has exerted his authority posthumously as surely as he did during his life; it is less a matter of regret than a sign of Mark Twain’s success. For, finally, Twain presents himself as the American literary problem-child, combining awesome gifts and equally awesome ineptness. Several other major American writers from Cooper through O’Neill readily permit a diagnostic approach; but Twain demands it now...

    • 6 Idolatry Mad and Gentle: The Innocents Abroad, Roughing It
      (pp. 185-216)

      Until recently, Twain has been regarded as a trickster only in the limited generic sense (for instance, in a hoax like the “Empire City Massacre”) or as a hazy, largely biographical commonplace that was a dead end more than it was a starting point for critical thinking. But now, even though the term “trickster” is itself used only incidentally, the precise bearing of trickery on Twain’s works has become a prominent question. For example, the two scholars who have devoted book-length studies to Twain’s humor are agreed in the broadest sense: Pascal Covici(Mark Twain’s Humor)deals with Twain's works...

    • 7 River Courtship: “Old Times on the Mississippi”
      (pp. 217-240)

      InThe Gilded Age,the genius of idolatry gave his period in history its fitting name. This is the book’s social importance. Its literary importance is briefly expressible: Colonel Sellers. As a jointly authored work of the imagination,The Gilded Agewill not bear much scrutiny. It is not, to the extent of Melville’s third book,Mardi,an instructive failure, although it indicates a similar attempt at a more thoroughly Active creation, and a fantastic one, after each author’s first book of picturesque art and a second of picaresque.Roughing Itwas a literary tall tale, which is to say...

    • 8 But I Never Said Nothing: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
      (pp. 241-284)

      In the years that lie between “Old Times” andHuckleberry Finn,most of them spanned by the slow, intermittent composition of the latter work, Twain embellished his courtier’s art in interrelated juvenile books.¹ Behind these was “A Boy’s Manuscript” (c. 1870), an early fragmentary story of infantile romantic courtship investigating the area of venerating attitudes to which Twain could both yield his fancy and yet be automatically superior. InThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer,he developed in the child-hero an especially powerful potential for expressing the hierarchical motive. Tom, because he is both a child and a member of a...

    • 9 Trick or Trash
      (pp. 287-314)

      It is a fantastic, densely suggestive vision Shrike offers the hero in this mocking party invitation, though perhaps at first glance it does not seem remarkable in a book with more obviously fantastic events on every page. Everyman his own Miss Lonelyhearts—the modern priest, as Shrike calls him, the mediator supposed to alleviate individual suffering by refocusing it in the transformational perspectives of a culture’s popular wisdom. If everyman is his own Miss Lonelyhearts, in a triumph of secular and religious Protestantism, then the role of all mediators, all cultural transmutation of suffering, is open to radical interrogation. Yet...

  8. Coda
    (pp. 315-318)

    Every statement pays its price, in a progression of narrowing possibilities and widening exclusions. This is as true for a sentence or a novel as it is for the thickened and extended statement, the total interwoven system of communications, called a culture. Every statement precludes in its duration and form some other thing that might have been said. In the largest sense, only one thing can be said at a time, no matter how polyphonic the utterance; the idea’s specific formulation, sound, and rhythm delimit other possibilities for what comes next. Words move one at a time, in process, in...

  9. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 319-322)
  10. Index
    (pp. 323-331)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 332-332)