Sunday, May 1, 2011



In writing my biography of Melville I tried to visualizing every scene, even to the point of making rough seating charts at big family dinners. This may sound silly, but it helped me with the interrelationships of the characters. Perhaps because I understood 19th century modes of transportation so well (better than anyone else of my academic time, I am sure!--see the "Footsteps" article) I always visualized ways in which characters got to a given place, the time it took, how dirty and exhausted they would have been, and so on. There were moments when this paid off, as in my understanding the triumphant journey of Cousin Priscilla to Illinois by rail in the early 1850s after she had made the journey the old ways [I do mean "ways"] in the late 30s, or when people who had crossed Massachusetts by stagecoach crossed it by rail.

Now that I have been looking at Wineapple on Melville for several days I am struck again, this morning, by her debilitating failure to visualize her characters in motion. Well, her Gothic Imagination kicks in so that she has Melville, bushy beard blowing in the wind, galloping, galloping up to Love Grove. I mean visualizing responsibly.

Take, for instance, this on 243:"Early in November, Hawthorne met Melville for dinner at the Lenox hotel, and that night Melville presumably gave Hawthorne his inscribed copy of Moby-Dick" . . .

Leave aside the outright errors (it was not early November,and it was not night but afternoon).

"Hawthorne met Melville." Visualize. Melville texted Hawthorne asking if he could start walking to the Hotel and he would leave after a while and meet him there. No, Melville TELEPHONED Hawthorne and asked him . . . No, Melville got his copies of MOBY-DICK and even though he knew from the real meeting he had had at the Sedgwicks' EARLY in November that the Hawthornes were leaving any day he was confident enough in the speed of the postal service and PATIENT enough to drop Hawthorne a note saying he would like to get together and PATIENT enough to wait for Hawthorne's reply and . . . . No, that's not like Melville.

No, Melville had to go to the Little Red Cottage AND GET HAWTHORNE AND GO WITH HIM TO THE HOTEL and maybe even accompany him home before making the long trek back to Arrowhead.

Think about it.

I am thinking about it before I start my new and dismayingly long series about Wineapple's errors of fact about Hawthorne.

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