Sunday, May 1, 2011

BRENDA WINEAPPLE--The Substance as well as the Style of Romantic Fiction.

BRENDA WINEAPPLE--The Substance as well as the Style of Romantic Fiction.

Denis Donoghue accurately observed that “a lot” of Brenda Wineapple’s HAWTHORNE: A LIFE “is in the style of romantic fiction.” But romantic fiction is in the substance as well as the style of her book. After putting up my posts on the dismaying thicket of outright errors in her few pages on Hawthorne and Melville in 1850-1851, including the worst error ever made in a discussion of Melville, her failure to realize that he felt as spotless as the Lamb of God, not a Berkshire sheep, I want to make a point about how Wineapple envisions her scenes. In the previous blogs I have criticized her for not envisioning, for example, just what members of the Monument Mountain party Sophia Hawthorne saw on 5 August 1850 and for not envisioning Melville (in his voice as literary critic, before he decided to make the speaker of the MOSSES essay retroactively a Virginian vacationing in Vermont) as reclining inside the barn, not NEAR it. This is a failure to read documents skillfully, but it is also a failure to SEE the characters in action.

Intermixed with this lack of attention to documents is the wild imagination of a devotee of romantic fiction. Melville “is the daredevil who sprints from rock to jutting rock.” This is a movie version of Heathcliff? Melville strides “off the gangplank into a garret where he could dip his pen into the inkpot.” Did he, to start with, stride off a gangplank of lower himself on a rope ladder or go off the ship in another fashion? He certainly did not go into a dark garret. Here you have both the substance and the style of the most pathetic romantic fiction. In Wineapple you see the failure to employ a responsible , attentive imagination coupled with the reckless indulgence of an irresponsible imagination.

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