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Melville's Mirrors

Melville's Mirrors: Literary Criticism and America's Most Elusive Author

Brain Yothers
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Melville's Mirrors
    Book Description:

    Herman Melville is among the most thoroughly canonized authors in American literature, and the body of criticism dealing with his writing is immense. Until now, however, there has been no standard volume on the history of Melville criticism. That a volume on this subject is timely and important is shown by the number of introductions and companions to Melville's work that have been published during the last few years (none of which focuses on the critical reception of Melville's works), as well as the steady stream of critical monographs and scholarly biographies that have been published on Melville since the 1920s. ‘Melville's Mirrors’ provides Melville scholars and graduate and undergraduate students with an accessible guide to the story of Melville criticism as it has developed over the years. It is a valuable reference for research libraries and for the personal libraries of scholars of Melville and of nineteenth-century American literature in general, and it is also a potential textbook for major author courses on Melville, which are offered at many universities. Brian Yothers is Associate Professor of English at the University of Texas at El Paso. He is author of ‘The Romance of the Holy Land in American Travel Writing, 1790-1876’ and co-editor of ‘Journeys: The International Journal of Travel and Travel Writing.’

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-784-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. References to Herman Melville’s Works
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction: Seeking Melville
    (pp. 1-6)

    The summer and fall of 2010 and the early months of 2011 saw unlikely portents of the persistent allure of America’s most thoroughly canonized novel and the elusive author behind it. Television viewers and web surfers contemplating the purchase of a smartphone were assured that a major cell-phone provider’s latest offering could take the place of Captain Ahab’s charts in tracking Moby Dick around the world. Readers of Nature learned that a particularly fearsome fossil whale, similar to a sperm whale but with teeth on its upper jaw, had been discovered in Peru, and given a name that reflected the...

  6. 1: Defining Melville: The Melville Revival and Biographical and Textual Criticism
    (pp. 7-28)

    Herman Melvill was born on August 1, 1819. Herman Melville, having acquired a first bright and then gradually tarnished literary reputation, a final “e” at the end of his surname, and varied life experiences as a son, brother, schoolmaster, sailor, deserter, novelist, husband, father, lecturer, poet, grandfather, and customs official, died in semi-obscurity on September 28, 1891. It seems fair to assert that Herman Melville, the towering and alternately worshipped and reviled figure at the center of the American literary canon, was born (or re-born, as the case may be) sometime in the second half of the second decade of...

  7. 2: Literary Aesthetics and the Visual Arts
    (pp. 29-58)

    The thread of experience that runs through biographical and textual studies of Melville serves also to connect these studies with criticism and scholarship that are more explicitly aesthetic in their orientation. If the biographical critics emphasized the importance of comprehending the experiences and reading out of which Melville developed his literary art, more formally oriented critics wrestled with the methods by which Melville transmuted experience, both personal and vicarious, into enduring works of literary art. It has become a commonplace in Melville studies to bemoan the insufficient attention paid to aesthetics in discussions of Melville’s work, but the direness of...

  8. 3: Melville’s Beard I: Religion, Ethics, and Epistemology
    (pp. 59-95)

    Neither biographical examinations of Melville the artist nor aesthetic inspections of his portraits have been able to dispense with the category of criticism that deals with Melville as a thinker. Indeed, this has been a source of anxiety for both biographical and aesthetically oriented critics: in 1938, Charles R. Anderson, one of Melville’s most influential biographical critics, complained humorously about Melville’s beard and the wisdom it was taken to imply, suggesting that reading Melville for evidence of his philosophical or religious thought was squeezing out considerations of his life and experiences. Warner Berthoff, one of Melville’s most insightful aesthetically oriented...

  9. 4: Melville’s Beard II: Gender, Sexuality, and the Body
    (pp. 96-118)

    If Melville’s beard has been a sign for some critics of Melville’s sometimes problematic association with wisdom in popular and critical writing alike, for many other critics, the beard portends something else entirely. To some, the stern aspect of Melville’s bearded portraits from the 1850s and 1860s associate him not so much with prophecy as with patriarchy, and the resulting body of criticism has delved into Melville’s personal life, asking painful questions about misogyny, alcoholism, and physical and emotional abuse. A second approach, which forms a kind of riposte to the first, has looked at Melville’s position within a world...

  10. 5: Aspects of America: Democracy, Nationalism, and War
    (pp. 119-149)

    One question that has been inescapable for nearly all Melville scholars is that of Melville’s relation to his country. Is Melville the ultimate American author, the writer of the “great American novel” in Moby-Dick and the American Shakespeare that he himself prophesied in “Hawthorne and his Mosses”? Or is Melville a fundamentally oppositional figure, standing outside his culture and alternately pouring scorn on its materialism and philistinism and being wounded by its indifference? Or is Melville a symptom of a sicknesses at the heart of American culture — a sign and symbol of American exceptionalism, imperialism, and arrogance? Melville the...

  11. 6: “An Anacharsis Clootz Deputation”: Race, Ethnicity, Empire, and Cosmopolitanism
    (pp. 150-173)

    Melville belongs to the world. If this seems like a potentially controversial statement regarding a figure who so often has been examined within the context of American nationalism, it is not because of any lack of transnationalism in Melville’s own works. Melville began his career with representations of travel at the crossroads of European and Euro-American imperialism and indigenous cultures in the South Pacific. His first two books not focused on the islands of the South Pacific, Redburn and White-Jacket, both dealt with the cosmopolitan world of the sea, with characters appearing from all over Europe, the Americas, Asia, and...

  12. Epilogue: Encountering Melville
    (pp. 174-180)

    To paraphrase Ishmael: What Melville was to his critics from 1920 to 2010 has been seen. What, at times, he is to me, and what he promises to be to new readers in the new century remains to be hinted at.

    Each semester that I teach Moby-Dick, I have a ritual to which I am drawn before the first day on which we discuss it in class. Setting aside my teaching copies of the book, I turn to myself and pick up a copy of the Riverside edition from 1956, with an introduction by the redoubtable Melvillean and Americanist Alfred...

  13. Works Cited
    (pp. 181-204)
  14. Index
    (pp. 205-210)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 211-211)