Monday, August 29, 2011

Why I am neglecting this blog

Hershel Parker—working Contents, 29 August 1011
00 Contents
00 Preface

§ I.--Biographer and Biography (with short headnote)
01 The Textual Editor as Biographer in Training: The Norton Moby-Dick and the NN The Writings of Herman Melville
02 Entangled by Pierre: Doing Biography Away from the Archives
03 Creating The New Melville Log and Starting the Biography
04 Melville and the Footsteps Theory of Biography
05 Facts Which Do Not Speak for Themselves
06 Desiderata and Discoveries--In Traditional Archives and Databases

§ II.—Critics vs. Biographical Scholarship (with short headnote)
07 Editors and Agenda-Driven Reviewers: Melville in the New York Newspapers and Magazines vs. Hopeful Loomings from Litblogs and “Ragtag Bloggers”
08 Little Jack Horners and Archivophobics
09 Biographical Scholars and Recidivist Critics
10 Presentism in Melville Biography
11 The Late 20th-Century Mini-Melville: New York City Intellectuals
without Information
12 The Early 21st-Century Mini-Melville: New York Intellectuals without Information

§ III.—Demonstrations of Biographical Scholarship and Challenges (with short headnote)
13 Melville as the “Modern Boccaccio”: The Fascinations of Fayaway
14 Melville’s Courtship of Elizabeth Shaw
15 Melville's Short Run of Good Luck (1845-1849): Fool’s Paradise without International Copyright
16 Melville as the Harper “Sacrifice” for the “Public Good”
17 Melville and Hawthorne at the Hotel in Lenox
18 Why Melville Took Hawthorne to the Holy Land: Biography Enhanced by Databases and an Amateur Blogger
19 Melville as a Titan of Literature among High-Minded English Admirers: The Kory-Kory Component
20 Damned by Dollars: Moby-Dick and the Price of Genius

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Richard Brodhead Gets Things Backwards as New Critic Misreading Melville

Some things are so embarrassing you really don't want to talk about them. I waited years to point this out hoping that my copy of Brodhead's THE SCHOOL OF HAWTHORNE would miraculously correct itself. I am tired of waiting. If Brodhead can't be a halfway decent New Critic what hope is there for him?

In the early 1980s Richard Brodhead, like others of his generation, decided to branch out from the new literary history. The result was the 1986 The School of Hawthorne. I did not think Melville had ever been a student of Hawthorne’s and questioned his presence in the book, especially since Brodhead did nothing new to justify his inclusion. He had not been trained in writing literary history. The New Criticism, embodied by Charles Feidelson of Yale, had scorned biographical-historical research for decades. A scholar would have worked his or her way through dozens of nineteenth-century American novels lying neglected in Sterling Memorial Library before thinking of writing a book called The School of Hawthorne. I had a good idea of what the research should have involved, for in 1961, after I had decided to work on Melville with Harrison Hayford at Northwestern, I arranged to take my only graduate independent reading course. I went through all the literary histories of American literature making lists of nineteenth-century American novels pointed out by one critic or another as interesting although neglected. I read or skimmed thoughtfully 200 or so books and made little two or three page reports on them. Among the best surprises for me were Harriet Beecher Stowe's New England novels. Nobody wrote more authoritatively about New England theology of the Young Republic than Stowe. What I learned served me extremely well in classes later on, and came into play when as I looked at The School of Hawthorne.

Brodhead had elected to write a contribution to the history of the novel in the United States without reading very widely in the novels written in the United States. He set out to show just "how pervasive Hawthorne's influence was among American novelists of the second half of the nineteenth century"—without having any idea how pervasive that influence was. When I began looking for novelists other than the dead white men in his book I did not find them. How, I asked, backing away to an earlier decade, can Brodhead have mentioned Harriet Beecher Stowe several times in the notes without knowing that Hawthorne's influence can be traced in her New England novels, very obviously, the title should tell you, in The Pearl of Orr's Island? Then, I found this remarkably invidious comment: "Thomas Bailey Aldrich, a once-admired poet more forgotten now than even the word 'limbo' can suggest, found his poetical vocation while reading Longfellow." As someone who knows first-hand just how much pain Brodhead's snide innuendo can inflict (for I remember my baffled agony at his vicious lie in the New York Times--that I, alone in my “black hole,” had fantasized Melville’s Poems), I wince at the contempt in this sentence as I retype it.

Here, as in his review of my biography, his elitist contempt masks Brodhead's own ignorance. Aldrich is farther out of reach even than "limbo"? What about the nearby shelves of the Sterling Library? Brodhead should have harrowed Hell itself if necessary in reading through novels of the nineteenth and early twentieth century looking for followers of Hawthorne. How can you write a book about The School of Hawthorne and mention Thomas Bailey Aldrich with such disdain as a forgotten poet and not discuss, not mention at all, his popular The Stillwater Tragedy, which opens with an extended passage written in loving homage to Hawthorne's set piece in The House of the Seven Gables on the passage of the night and the morning while a corpse awaits discovery? Brodhead singled out Aldrich because he had seen his name but had not read him. What of all the other nineteenth-century writers he had heard little or nothing about? Brodhead, like Robert Milder, exemplifies the folly of practicing the New Historicism without historical research.

What can be said about Brodhead’s treatment of Melville in this School book? Let me just point out that Brodhead grounds a theory of creativity on his reading of one of the most famous passages in Melville: “What I feel most moved to write, that is banned,--it will not pay. Yet, altogether, write the other way I cannot. So the product is a final hash, and all my books are botches.” This, of course, is from the letter to Hawthorne long dated ?1 June 1851 but which I redated in my first volume to around mid-May, on the basis of a newly discovered letter from Melville’s sister Augusta. Three times, Brodhead cites this passage, first on p. 20: “Hawthorne’s influence on Melville takes the form first of a personal interaction, then of a literary relation. But both of these form part of a larger story too: the story of how (in Melville’s term) an “other way” of authorship got established as an artistic possibility, in America in the 1850s.” On p. 24 Brodhead says: “Melville’s state in the year after Mardi is that of a writer for whom writing has become, quite suddenly and unexpectedly, the focus of powerful new drives and ambitions. . . . He now learned in hard practice what he had airily accepted in theory: that if he was going to write in that self-delighting “other way,” he would jeopardize the income his growing family depended on, and forfeit too the sort of public approval that had emboldened him to experiment in the first place.” Then on p. 33 Brodhead comes back to this letter: “Writing Moby-Dick did indeed take fortitude . . . . And it was his ability to believe that his self-willed, publicly unsupported writing efforts had the exalted value this concept promised, I would claim, that gave him the courage to write ‘the other way.’” (To be clear: Brodhead nowhere follows the text in correctly italicizing “other.”)

Why single out these passages rather than tote up a long list of errors? Because Brodhead’s reading of this passage so damningly gets something so important not just slightly askew but flat out backwards. Melville was lamenting to Hawthorne, as all scholars have known for many years, that what he most wanted to write, what would have given him highest pleasure, was banned because it would not pay. (Argue if you want to that he ought to have taken highest joy in Moby-Dick; perhaps he rightly did, but perhaps he at some profound level wished to have done something else or to have done parts of that book differently. Certainly he wished he had been able to focus on it longer and more consistently!) Melville cannot write what he is most moved to write yet he cannot wholly suppress himself and write the other popular way, say even more popular variants of Typee and Omoo. So the product, specifically Moby-Dick, is a mixed up affair, partly what he is most moved to write, partly what he thinks will sell best. There: that’s a simple explication. How is it possible that Brodhead writes “that if he was going to write in that self-delighting ‘other way,’ he would jeopardize the income his growing family depended on, and forfeit too the sort of public approval that had emboldened him to experiment in the first place”? Intent on his grand fanciful argument about Hawthorne helping Melville “realize himself as a writer,” Brodhead fails the first test of a New Critic, to pay attention to the words of his texts. (He was not alone in his carelessness: look on ix at the names of those some of those who read and approved this ass-backwards reading before the book was published. Harold Bloom reprinted the chapter, uncorrected, in his “Period Studies” series, American Renaissance (New York: Chelsea House, 2004, 201-240.)

Changes in the Kindle ad for James Hime's THREE THOUSAND BRIDGES

Today there is cover art, a revised blurb, and a couple of enthusiastic comments.

Product Description
The mystery writer James Hime made his mark with THE NIGHT OF THE DANCE (an Edgar finalist) and SCARED MONEY, both heralded by other novelists and reviewers for memorable characters, taut prose, and a comedic take on how things and people work. Hime nailed dialects as if no one else had ever listened to Texans talk, and readers settled back await more adventures of Jeremiah Spur and Clyde Thomas. WHERE ARMADILLOS GO TO DIE followed in 2009, and more mysteries with Spur and Thomas are promised, but Three Thousand Bridges is of a different order of achievement, not a mystery novel but a novel with mysteries. Its unlikely and at first unlikable hero, a Viet Nam veteran, is the outrageous and outraging Texas oil supply man, Cole Simms--a belated cousin, we recognize, of Mark Twain's Pap Finn. In sculpted prose, pacing his revelations, Hime traces his bedeviled hero's journey across the South just after 9/11, toward Ground Zero and toward self-insight. Hime, who escaped from the South Tower of the World Trade Center with a printout of The Night of the Dance after witnessing the crash of American Flight 11 into the North Tower, has created a classic narrative of transforming American experiences, personal and national. After its wide initial popularity, I predict, Three Thousand Bridges will endure in college classrooms as a powerful, accessible testimony about an unthinkable time.

Hershel Parker, Melville biographer.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

James Hime's THREE THOUSAND BRIDGES is on Kindle

There will be a revised blurb soon.

I admire this book and also admire Hime's willingness to put it on Kindle.

Will my ORNERY PEOPLE be published this way? We are much freer to express ourselves than we have ever been. I put old speeches on a blog in 2011. If I don't get a conventional publisher for ORNERY PEOPLE, here's a way to get it out.

The mystery writer James Hime made his mark with The Night of the Dance (an Edgar finalist) and Scared Money, both heralded by other novelists and reviewers for memorable characters, taut prose, and a comedic take on how things and people work. Hime nailed dialects as if no one else had ever listened to Texans talk, and readers settled back to await more adventures of Jeremiah Spur and Clyde Thomas. Where Armadillos Go To Die followed in 2009, and more mysteries with Spur and Thomas are promised, but Three Thousand Bridges is of a different order of achievement, not a mystery novel but a novel with mysteries. Its unlikely and at first unlikable hero, a Viet Nam veteran, is the outrageous and outraging Texas oil supply man, Cole Simms--a belated cousin, we recognize, of Mark Twain's Pap Finn. In sculpted prose, pacing his revelations, Hime traces his bedeviled hero's journey across the South just after 9/11, toward Ground Zero and toward self-insight. Hime, who escaped from the South Tower of the World Trade Center with a printout of The Night of the Dance after witnessing the crash of American Flight 11 into the North Tower, has created a classic narrative of transforming American experiences, personal and national. After its wide initial popularity, I predict, Three Thousand Bridges will endure in college classrooms as a powerful, accessible testimony about an unthinkable time.

Hershel Parker, Melville biographer

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Brenda Wineapple Strangles the Lamb of God

Brenda Wineapple's Defilement of the Agnus Dei and Melville JOHN 1:29, SAID OF JOHN THE BAPTIST: "THE NEXT DAY JOHN SEETH JESUS COMING UNTO HIM, AND SAITH, BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD, WHICH TAKETH AWAY THE SIN OF THE WORLD." On the editorial reviews of Brenda Wineapple’s 2003 HAWTHORNE: A LIFE are, as they say now, to die for. Sacvan Bercovitch was ecstatic: “Clearly the best biography of Hawthorne; the Hawthorne for our time. Beautifully conceived and written, it conveys the full poignancy and complexity of Hawthorne’s life; it makes vivid the times and people and places, and what a rich array of people and events! A delight to read from start to end.” Benita Eisler, we know from Wineapple’s acknowledgments, is a buddy of Wineapple’s, but she overcame her familiarity in this objective comment: “Brenda Wineapple’s Hawthorne is, quite literally, an electrifying life. The power and sweep of the writing galvanizes a subject frozen, by earlier biographies, into a series of stills. We understand, finally, a man and artist torn by every conflict of his time, adding a few of his own, a man both strange and strangely familiar. The great achievement of this stunning biography lies in the feat of restoring Hawthorne to the rich and roiling America of his own period, while revealing him, for the first time, as our contemporary.” Robert D. Richardson was awe-struck: “With the possible exception of Herman Melville, no one has ever understood the grand tragic Shakespearian nature of Nathaniel Hawthorne's life and work as well as Brenda Wineapple. Her brilliant, powerful, nervy, unsettling and riveting book is authoritatively researched and beautifully written; it has itself the dark mesmeric power of a Hawthorne story.” And so the quotations go, down to Jamie Spencer’s: “Wineapple is a splendid stylist and a master of concision. She can capture an entire personality and life in a brief paragraph. She can define a complex amatory relationship in a sentence. Her eloquent hands bring Hawthorne vividly alive for us.” I hate it when I disagree with experts, as I frequently do with the idolators of James Wood, and I hate it when I think back to the 1840s when there was in the reviewing coteries of Manhattan something then known as the Mutual Admiration Society, and, having thought back, look askance at modern reviewing in such revered organs as the New York TIMES, the NATION, the NEW YORKER, the NEW REPUBLIC, and THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS. I know something of Hawthorne and more of Melville, and I find only one reviewer who has been honest about Wineapple, Denis Donoghue, and only in an organ far distant from Manhattan, the Los Angeles TIMES. He found that Wineapple’s prose frequently lapsed into “the style of romantic fiction” and quoted examples of vulgarities of language. I stayed away from Wineapple’s biography of Hawthorne for years because I was so shocked by her quite savage dismissal of my biography of Melville as a companion to Edmund Morris’s DUTCH, as dishonest as any review I have ever seen, but I mustered my declining forces and read it, starting with the passages on Herman Melville, where I feel most secure, even if I am secure only in my fantasy, as Wineapple declared. In HAWTHORNE: A LIFE Wineapple is nowhere near as contemptuous of me: it is as if after having knocked me out of contention for a Pulitzer in a popular magazine she had blocked the whole review from her mind and assumed no one would remember it. [It strikes me that Wineapple's behavior is like Andrew Delbanco's saying in 2002 in the NEW REPUBLIC that I could not be trusted anywhere because I made up THE ISLE OF THE CROSS and POEMS then in his 2005 book casually mentioning the existence of THE ISLE OF THE CROSS and POEMS, but not bringing up his having so vehemently challenged their existence in 2002. To savagely review my biography in 2002 was to write for the eyes of the Pulitzer judges, of course. In 1997 the Pulitzer jury reported that the first volume of my biography of Herman Melville contained "great passages of exciting writing." My biography would "be the one that scholars and Melville fans will be reading and referring to for the next fifty years. . . . This biography is a stunning achievement." Wineapple, Richard H. Brodhead, and Delbanco knew that I had been a finalist in 1997 and could not risk the next jury feeling the same way the 1997 jury had felt. What if there were no misery memoir like ANGELA'S ASHES to captivate the jury by its brevity, as one of the judges later confessed?--A misery memoir marketed honestly in the UK and Ireland as fiction, by the way, as Trevor Butterworth reported.] I am horrified, utterly appalled at the casualness of Wineapple's telling about Hawthorne and Melville, for casualness slides quickly into carelessness. One passage I have mentioned in another post and call attention to it here because I simply cannot understand how any of her admirers failed to alert her to a gaff so humiliating that it should send her out of the field of biography forever. I am talking about lambs. Appallingly, all but unbelievably, Wineapple misquoted what Melville wrote Hawthorne three or four days or so after their farewell meeting in Lenox at the Wilson (later Curtis) Hotel in mid November 1851 This was in response to Hawthorne’s letter which, from the evidence, praised MOBY-DICK—praised it very highly, maybe even extravagantly. According to Wineapple, Melville professed in the aftermath of reading Hawthorne’s praise to "feel spotless as a lamb." We are dependent upon Rose Hawthorne Lathrop's transcription, but this daughter of Hawthorne's knew a Biblical reference when she saw one. Melville felt then, after reading Hawthorne's letter, anyone who knows the Bible or falteringly consults a biblical concordance would have recognized, as spotless as Jesus, the Lamb of God. Wineapple apparently visualized Melville as the Pittsfield farmer who milked his own cow and had been around exceptionally clean sheep, if he was going to say that he felt "spotless as a lamb." Well, Melville HAD been around the Melvill farm when there were sheep, and nearby when sheep went astray, as in November 1837, when there was a notice in the Pittsfield SUN, accompanied by a woodcut of a sheep: “STRAYED From the subscriber on or about the first inst. sixteen sheep, consisting of thirteen EWES and three WETHERS marked by a crop of the left ear. Whoever shall return said Sheep, or give information where they may be found, shall be liberally rewarded. / ROBERT MELVILL.” But Melville felt as spotless as Jesus, not as bedraggled as these 13 ewes and three wethers or any other besoiled sheep he had seen in New York or Massachusetts. Think what this means: think what Wineapple missed of Melville’s religious nature and his sometimes reckless application of religious terms to mundate affairs or to his own high theological skepticism and all but instinctive belief. Baa-baa, thinks Wineapple, spotless as a lamb. Can you trust anything she says about Melville, Hawthorne, and religion? Wineapple misquoted the text of Melville’s letter so as to desecrate the Biblical meaning just as she trivialized the whole of the last encounter in the Berkshires of these two momentous men. In another post I will give some embarrassing examples of Wineapple’s casualness with fact sliding fast into carelessness and outright error. I say embarrassing. This sort of thing ought to be embarrassing to Wineapple, but I find that I am embarrassed myself, partly for Hawthorne and Melville, I suppose, and partly for the sake of the ideal of the responsible biographer, who first absorbs all that has previously been garnered reliably and then does no new harm. Not one of Wineapple’s ecstatic friends saved her from her baa-baa blunder. Not one of Wineapple’s ecstatic reviewers mentioned it. You see why I keep thinking of Duyckinck and Mathews or Mathews and Duyckinck and the Mutual Admiration Society of 1840s Manhattan.

Brenda Wineapple: Does Fact Matter?

A continuation of a close reading of Wineapple on Melville and Hawthorne. DOES ACCURACY MATTER IN BIOGRAPHY? AM I BEING PEDANTIC TO CARE ABOUT ACCURACY?

From the conclusion:
Would you give these pages anything above a D+ if you were grading sophomore papers? Yet go to and look at the ecstatic reviews of HAWTHORNE: A LIFE. To explain such mysteries you have to appeal to that Academic sense of Scratch-My-Back-and-I’ll-Scratch-Yours, for in certain moods no man can weigh the writing and reviewing of New York academic biography without throwing in something somehow like “Mutual Admiration Society” to strike the uneven balance.

224: Wineapple: “When Duyckinck returned to New York City, he carried the first installment of Melville’s review of Mosses from an Old Manse.”

No, he carried the full thing, and delayed his departure so he could carry the full thing. Wineapple ignores the detailed (I won’t say meticulous) account in the first volume of my biography of Melville (1996) in which I used the long-known documents along with documents in the 1983 NYPL-GL trove known as the “Augusta Papers.” My account totally superseded the account in the 1987 NN Piazza Tales &c volume. There are further details in my new footnotes to the Mosses essay in the 2nd Norton Critical Edition of MOBY-DICK, out in September 2001, for the sesquicentennial, in plenty of time for Wineapple to use them.

Every responsible teacher of MOBY-DICK knew that new textual information was in the 1967 first Norton edition and every teacher in 2001 and thereafter ought to have known that the newest information would be incorporated in the new edition. Why, by the way, is Wineapple not using the textual information in The Piazza Tales about the MOSSES essay and not using the information and the slightly improved text of the MOSSES essay in the new Norton Critical Edition? She makes no comment on her choice of text.

224: Wineapple: “Though it’s not clear when Melville began the review, whether before or after meeting Hawthorne” . . . .

Well, it certainly is clear, and if Wineapple wants to disagree with the evidence in my biography then she ought to challenge it rather than taking a doubtful position that would have been respectable before the Augusta Papers had been incorporated into the story but not afterwards.

224: Wineapple: “Pretending to be a Virginian on vacation in New England, he says he’s just read Hawthorne’s book while lying on the new-mown clover near the barn.” Well, where to begin? When Melville wrote the words about lying on clover he had not yet disguised himself by sticking Virginian into the title of his essay. He wrote the words in his “own” voice as literary critic. Then (oh, Wineapple’s recurrent failures to visualize) Melville does not say he is lying on clover NEAR the barn. The clover is already inside the barn, and the hill-side breeze is blowing over him through the wide barn door.

224-225. I am going to quote the whole little paragraph.

224-225: Wineapple:
Melville will set the record straight. “For spite of all the Indian-summer sunlight on the hither side of Hawthorne’s soul, the other side—like the dark half of the physical sphere—is shrouded in blackness, ten times black.” Melville understands despondency and vile doubt; they stalk him too, and he knows that what most reviewers term morbidness is the clear-eyed admission that all the tanks have been drained. It’s a perception that “derives its force from its appeals to that Calvinistic sense of Innate Depravity and Original Sin,” he continues, “from whose visitations, in some shape or other, no deeply thinking mind is always and wholly free. For, in certain moods, no man can weigh this world[,] without throwing in something, somehow like Original Sin, to strike the uneven balance.

224-225: In her commentary Wineapple identifies Hawthorne’s blackness as “despondency and vile doubt.” But between the passage about “Indian-summer sunlight” and the passage about “Innate Depravity and Original Sin” Melville does NOT deal with “despondency and vile doubt.” He is focussed, instead, on two possibilities. One is that as a prose artist Hawthorne consciously uses blackness for particular aesthetic effects (“the wondrous effects he makes it [the blackness] to produce in his lights and shades”). The other possibility is that there really lurks in Hawthorne (whether he is aware of it or not) “a touch of Puritanic gloom.”

“Puritanic gloom” is not the equivalent of “despondency and vile doubt,” which are merely obstacles on any pilgrim’s way to the celestial city. Puritanic gloom is the bleak outlook that comes from the conviction that all human beings are born damned to burn in Hell endlessly (unless they are somehow spared). This is not a light thought. Listen to T. Walter Herbert, Jr.: “the intellectual conflict between liberal and Calvinistic points of view was a potent ingredient in Melville’s psychic difficulties, not as a mask for ‘deeper’ problems merely, but as an authentic locus of psychic distress.” Herbert, I think accurately, distinguishes between Melville’s psychic suffering over a Calvinistic view of the world and Hawthorne’s melancholy ennui over such a tiring topic. In this passage this second possibility Melville attributes to Hawthorne is not one that Hawthorne went through life experiencing any great psychic agony about.

Back to Wineapple: She asserts that a particular perception “derives its force” from thoughts that one needs a concept like Original Sin to explain the world. The perception is merely this: “what most reviewers term morbidness is the clear-eyed admission that all the tanks have been drained.” I find this shift to empty tanks not only vulgar but nonsensical. There is nothing in the context about a writer’s writing himself out, exhausting his resources. One would like to survey the reviews of Hawthorne up through the reviews of The Scarlet Letter to see if “morbidness” is a recurrent them among reviewers. I can and have searched the word in Melville’s known reviews which I have in my computer and do not find “morbid” coming up before MOBY-DICK except in the Literary World assurance 17 November 1849 that REDBURN contained NO “morbid feeling” but rather a manly sense of actuality. Melville is not writing about tanks running dry, though you could argue that Hawthorne’s did run dry several years before he died. Wineapple's topic is an irrelevant intrusion here.

Yet the perception that the tanks have run dry derives its force from a Calvinistic sense of Innate Depravity and Original Sin, Wineapple says.

In her little sandwich of a paragraph Wineapple puts down one slice of richly textured Melville-bread (something like my strongest sourdough rye) then smears in a little layer of something she finds on a workbench in a garage, perhaps, a sentence about empty tanks, then asserts a connection between her smear and the next layer of Melville-bread. The little sandwich does not bond together. The Wineapple layer slides off onto the floor when you try to pick up the sandwich because it is totally irrelevant. The particular perception she mentions has nothing to do with what she has just quoted and nothing to do with what she goes on to quote.

225: A short paragraph from Wineapple: “Melville’s Man of Mosses (as he referred to Hawthorne in his review) is a man of brooding unbelief.”

Do not Melville’s queries about Hawthorne point to belief rather than unbelief? Take the paragraph that takes “Earth’s Holocaust” as portraying the sacrifice of all vanities until what remains is only “the all-engendering heart of man” from which new vanities will spring: that is Calvinistic, and it is belief, not unbelief.

Melville brooded about belief but he does not attribute such a brooding to Hawthorne.

225. Wineapple’s next paragraph is even stranger than the one I quoted above, the one beginning “Melville will set the record straight.” This one starts off by saying, infelicitously, that Melville was writing about Hawthorne and himself both. Then comes some of Wineapple’s romantic fiction: “For all his magniloquent prose, Melville pictures Hawthorne as a mate bobbing like him on the trouble seas of publishing, recognition, and posterity.” If there were not other still worse sentences in Wineapple, I would nominate that for one of the worst sentences in American literary criticism. Writing it seems to have upset Wineapple, for without anything intervening she lurches many months ahead: “’What I feel most moved to write, that is banned,--it will not pay,’ he would confide to his new friend. ‘Yet, altogether, write the other [other italicized] way I cannot.’” What? We were talking about Melville’s essay on Hawthorne’s MOSSES.

The next paragraph contains shocking vulgarities: “’Let him write like a man, for then he will be sure to write like an American,’ Melville boomed . . . .” Melville BOOMED?

“As for Hawthorne, he is the flesh and blood of the land.” No, he is “of” Americans’ own flesh and blood. He is not the American Christ, he’s just an authentic American.

Would you give these pages anything above a D+ if you were grading sophomore papers? Yet go to and look at the ecstatic reviews of HAWTHORNE: A LIFE. To explain such mysteries you have to appeal to that Academic sense of Scratch-My-Back-and-I’ll-Scratch-Yours, for in certain moods no man can weigh New York academic biography without throwing in something somehow like “Mutual Admiration Society” to strike the uneven balance.

Brenda Wineapple's Contempt for Fact


I am moving some of the Best of Wineapple up to July for greater accessibility.

I finally looked at Brenda Wineapple’s review of my biography in the NATION and am stunned by the reckless writing. Here are examples:

In 1841 Melville signed on to the whaler Acushnet . . . .


. . . the autobiographical Redburn (1849), followed by a story of seamen, White-Jacket (1850) . . .


. . . . And on the basis of this gossip column . . . .


According to Parker, who expertly excavated information about the lost manuscript, including its title ("The Isle of the Cross"), Melville finished this book, which his publisher, Harper's, was prevented from printing for some unknown reason. (Parker thinks the Harper brothers feared a suit from survivors . . .)


. . . "The Encantadas," sketches that Melville may have purloined from a longer unpublished manuscript of his about tortoises . . . .


Judge Shaw dispatched the ailing Melville to Rome, Egypt and the Levant . . .


[Egypt] . . . hoping to find among the hieroglyphics tidings to quiet his uneasy soul.


His works falling out of print,he solaced himself in long walks around New York City after he and his family moved there in 1863, and eventually landed
a dry-dock job as a Custom House inspector.


A DEFINITION FROM FLICKR.COM: “Dry docks are great chambers below water level used for the repair and construction of ships. A ship can be brought in from the adjoining body of water once the chamber has been filled with water. The chamber is then drained, allowing the ship to rest on wooden blocks so that work may proceed. After work is completed, the chamber is flooded to outside water level, the gate is opened, and the ship can depart.” JUST THE PLACE FOR A CUSTOMS INSPECTOR TO WORK!

. . . allegations about Melville's abuse of his wife, which so upset her brothers they wanted to kidnap her and the children and hustle them back to Boston.


The beleaguered Melville frequently did abandon his wife, whom he seemed to love, though he was clearly drawn to the company of men . . . .


What can you say about this level of sloppiness?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Troth & Consequences: Richard Brodhead


Long-festering resentments may lie behind the reckless rush to the wrong judgments which Richard H. Brodhead displayed toward James Van de Velde, Hershel Parker, and Coach Michael Pressler and the falsely accused lacrosse players at Duke.

In "The Education of Richard Brodhead: Continuity and Change over Dean's 40 years at Yale" (Yale HERALD, 20 February 2004), Matthew Ferraro said farewell to a fixture who would soon become President of Duke University. Behind closed doors, Brodhead reflected confidentially on the years after his arrival as a freshman in 1964. Brodhead had "experienced the uncertainty of the '70s as a young untenured, if popular, professor, but stayed on despite offers from other universities." He had felt constrained by the emphasis on poetry and European writers: "He calls his decision to study and teach mostly novels in his adult life 'my own act of revolt.'" [Brodhead did not, of course, revolt to the point of rethinking how novels were studied in the 1960s and early 1970s, only as perfect New Critical artifacts.] After he completed his PhD, at Yale, Brodhead "won a choice appointment to the Yale junior faculty and began teaching," but "not everything was rosy." There were "disappointments." Brodhead remembered the 1970s "as an 'incredibly dispiriting time.'" Because of inflation, faculty salaries fell 30% in buying power, and "chances at professional advancement at Yale did not look particularly promising in a department that had not tenured anyone in years." To Ferraro, behind those closed doors, Brodhead spoke with unusual candor: "It was not fun. And you might say it was particularly not fun to be an untenured professor in a university where it didn't seem like anyone would ever get promoted."

During the 1970s, Brodhead said, he was offered tenured positions at two other universities but turned both down. His patience, or passivity, ultimately paid off: "In 1980, Brodhead was awarded tenure after an excruciatingly complex process. 'That was, you can say, the beginning of a new phase of my life' he said." Ferraro passes over Brodhead's intriguing comment on the "excruciatingly complex process." It was excruciating to Brodhead, presumably, but we are not told how it was complex. "Brodhead was surprised" at being granted tenure, Ferraro says, without explaining why he was surprised. Even tenure did not make Brodhead comfortable: "Despite being tenured, however, he was not yet a full professor. Unhappy with his department, he seriously considered an offer to 'rebuild a notable English program somewhere else,' he said. He met with then-Dean Howard Lamar . . . who convinced him to stay." Lamar told Ferraro: "Of course he had no reason to worry, but I couldn't tell him that." Lamar, said Brodhead, "led me to understand that I was in a troth, and he led me to see that life might be better sometime, and soon after it was." Brodhead was named a full professor in 1985.

Brodhead had stayed on, despite a humiliatingly slow and “complex” process by which Yale decided to grant him tenure but to leave him for some years "in a troth," living on hints that the lover would take him as a bride in a legitimate public marriage. Meanwhile, the lover, Yale, could make overtures to or entertain overtures from any young, alien, trendy, and disturbingly nubile candidate on the annual marriage market. In the end, patience, passivity, deference, hunkering down and keeping his nose clean, had paid off, and Brodhead soon became chairman of the English Department and then Dean of Yale College. Everything was all right at last?

No, the "excruciatingly complex process" during which, untenured, Brodhead taught alongside his tenured teachers, many of whom were less popular with students than he, had scarred Brodhead. He had kept his mouth shut too often and too long for him to be easy with himself and his colleagues even when tenure was finally granted him without promotion to full professor. Perhaps no one can understand just how he felt. I can understand better than most. At Northwestern I took my MA and PhD in four years, as Brodhead did at Yale (Ferraro marveled at the speed!). After two years at Urbana as an assistant professor I was hired back at Northwestern, still as an assistant professor. Nominally teaching half time while working half time on the new Melville Project at the Newberry Library, I worked full time on the Melville Project, taught passionately, and picked up a few dollars from teaching novels to the Glencoe Literary Ladies. On the Melville Edition I had weighty responsibilities but no authority. That was the mid-1960s, the high triumph of the New Criticism, which stressed final product instead of process. The dominant textual theory, which also stressed final product, was perfect in the cases of simple correction but, I found, could not apply to authorial revision. I began asking questions about the creative process, but had no one to talk to until the Faulkner scholar James B. Meriwether came to Chicago. We had worked our way to similar conclusions. The day after I talked to Meriwether I started looking for a job. The chairman had reneged on a promised raise, confident that I was trapped. To be free to rethink the dominant literary and textual theories I could not stay on where I had been a graduate student. When the chairman offered a raise and tenure, he was too late.

What if Brodhead had taken one of his offers and gone away from Yale in the 1970s? What if he had encountered faculty members who were unlike him, perhaps even some men (or women) from a lower social classe? What if he had been forced to stand his ground on principles and define intellectual turf worth defending? What if he had encountered students who were not male, white, and wealthy, as his first students at Yale were? What if rather than enduring the "excruciatingly complex" process of becoming tenured at Yale he had taken earlier tenure elsewhere and had knocked about a bit, learning to deal with people quite unlike the adolescent buddies from Andover who proved to be his lifelong friends?

Had he left Yale, Brodhead might not have given rein to the demeaning and ultimately damning psychological quirks that are in the process of destroyed his reputation. For his reputation IS being destroyed. He settled with three formerly indicted Duke lacrosse players for a figure cited variously as between $18,000,000 and $30,000,000. He is being sued for his rush to judgment at Yale (James Van de Velde's lawsuit, naming Brodhead, having been reinstated in December 2007). He was sued by Michael Pressler, the Duke lacrosse coach he fired, for violating terms of their agreement, and Duke settled with Pressler. He is being sued by three unindicted lacrosse players. He is being sued by more than thirty lacrosse players and family members for charges involving criminal conspiracies. Damningly, he had exhibited the "extraordinary moral meltdown" described in the Taylor-Johnson book, UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT (p. 122). Brodhead will never regain a high reputation, not after the long delayed DISCOVERY PROCESSES are pushed through—and this is all aside from his strange search for an “intermediate explanation” of Dr. Anil Potti’s false claim to have been a Rhodes Scholar and the faked science with which he was treating real human beings with cancer until late in 2010.

Meanwhile, Brodhead's reputation as a scholar is being examined by a man he defamed in the New York TIMES on 23 June 2002. There he called me a "demon researcher" who showed "a single-mindedness worthy of a Melvillean hero," presumably Ahab, the captain of a doomed ship. After years of archival work I had merely "surmised" the existence of two lost books of Melville's. In fact scholars had known much about one of the books since 1960 and all about the other book since 1922. Brodhead's own academic "work" disintegrates at a skeptical touch, sometimes grotesquely, as when I pointed out that Thomas Bailey Aldrich, a man he jeered at for losing his reputation, ought to have been featured as a star pupil in THE SCHOOL OF HAWTHORNE (along with such women as Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote novels influenced by Hawthorne).

Brodhead had coasted to a high reputation as he had coasted through life. But something bad happened during those years of waiting, of being "in a troth." Brodhead soured. Later, when chances arose, he rushed precipitously to the wrong judgments, as if eager to punish the innocent. Brodhead fired James Van de Velde at Yale when the inept New Haven police let it be known that they had questioned him in the murder of a student. All the evidence pointed away from Van de Velde, but he had been the student's adviser, and police had questioned him. That was enough for Brodhead.

In the 1 April 2001 Hartford COURANT Les Gura described Van de Velde as a top student and athlete who graduated from Yale in 1982, then took his doctorate in international security studies from Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. In Van de Velde's "top secret government security clearance as a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve," he took "government and education positions in the U.S. and abroad for the State Department." After real-life adventures such as Brodhead had never known, Van de Velde went back to Yale in 1993 as dean of Saybrook College. "In the spring of 1997," Gura reported, "he took a leave from Yale on a Navy assignment to help monitor the status of peace in Bosnia from a base in Italy." At the time of his firing, Van de Velde was a lecturer in Yale's political science department. "With his training and combined government and education backgrounds," he was preparing to become "a television commentator on foreign affairs who also could find time to be a college lecturer."

Van de Velde had remained an athlete, a proficient even in martial arts which required the use of face masks or helmets. He was regularly described as a "handsome" man. He was flexible, adaptable, resourceful, variously competent, not a timid, cosseted man trying to believe he was really "in a troth." Was he, to Brodhead, unbearably manly? Wielding his new power, Brodhead recklessly fired him. Van de Velde told Gura,"my life is destroyed yet there is nothing I have ever done that I feel ashamed of."

As for me, I was a "demon researcher" and Brodhead, like most of his New Critical teachers, had no idea what research was. In a 1984 book, FLAWED TEXTS AND VERBAL ICONS, I had challenged both the New Criticism and the dominant textual theory and incidentally had pointed out Brodhead's coldness in closing his eyes to Melville's agony in enlarging PIERRE, cheerful that he was left a New Critical text to toy with. Did he know how unlike him I was, a Depression Okie and Texan, forced to drop out of high school, a railroad telegrapher for seven years until I left Texas on a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship? Was I someone who could be easily sacrificed, kept from a Pulitzer in 2003 after being one of two finalists in 1997? For I was sacrificed by Brodhead, Andrew Delbanco, and Elizabeth Schultz, critics who declared that I was not to be trusted, when the evidence of my statements was right there on the pages of the book they were being paid to review. My health suffered for five years. I did not sleep one night without feeling the pain from the false accusations. In 2007 I began speaking out, and never lost sleep over the lies again. During all the nine years from 2002 until today, the Brodhead-Delbanco-Schultz reviews have been blazoned on the Internet., freshly defaming me every day. Not one of these critics has apologized.

At Duke, we know, Brodhead once again rushed to the wrong judgment, firing the admirable lacrosse coach and prejudicing the public against the falsely accused lacrosse players by saying that whatever they did was "bad enough." As at Yale, his victims were young, healthy, and handsome men, some from families more wealthy even than those of Brodhead and his friends at Andover and Yale. Again, they were athletes in a sport which involved bodily contact and the wearing of helmets. All of them were academic achievers, and some were brilliant. Do Homeric or Shakespearean memories haunt Brodhead, so that he sees himself as Thersites in contrast to Hector or Achilles?

Seeking to understand Brodhead's strange antipathy to brilliant handsome young athletes, I can best compare him to Radney in MOBY-DICK, so irrationally determined to pulverize Steelkilt, his superior in brains and physique, or Claggart, so jealous of the handsome and innocent Billy Budd. Did the "incredibly dispiriting" 1970s enrage Brodhead so that when he gained power he used it arbitrarily against those of whom he was fiercely jealous--usually men younger, brighter, more resourceful, and far more athletic than he was? The man who fired Van de Velde, led a trio of character assassins against me (for a non-scholarly would-be biographer and another Melville critic echoed Brodhead false accusations about merely “surmising” two lost Melville books), and turned his back on the Duke lacrosse coach, the players, and their parents--this man should never have been granted the power to inflict harm. Brodhead was already damaged goods. The lawsuits against Brodhead, Duke, and Durham have been unconscionably delayed. Van de Velde’s suit against Brodhead and Yale is reinstated but unconscionably delayed.

Now in 2011 it is clear that Duke, Potti, and others will be slapped with malpractice suits by the cancer patients who underwent actual treatment based on phony science—the cancer patients or surviving members of their families. Dr. Anil Potti faked his resume and mislead his colleagues into signing papers in which he faked science. He and his colleagues published papers in respected journals which purported to show how to select cancer treatment by analyzing an individual patient's genomic information--boutique analysis and treatment available only at Duke! Biostatisticians at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center tried to warn the Duke administration that Potti's results could not be duplicated, but the administrators sat on the information. Luckily, sciences are still more honest than literary criticism, so the Texans persisted, and in the last months Potti and his colleagues have renounced their own papers, including one in NATURE MEDICINE and one in the NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE. Some weeks ago now, long after evidence was clear that Potti had faked his credentials and was every day treating real cancer patients with faked science, Brodhead wistfully hoped that there could be some “intermediate explanation” for Potti’s difficulties. That phrasing will be remembered by those whose cancers advanced while they were being “treated” by faked science. Where will the culpability end? Where will the human suffering end?

At least, science still (in the end) seems to be held to a high standard. Literary reviewing, literary criticism, is held to no standard at all. Has Brodhead ever thought of renouncing one of his publications, asking, for example, the New York Times to mark one of his reviews as withdrawn because untrue? No, Brodhead learned how to write conventional literary criticism very early but he learned no standards for scholarship at Charles Feidelson's Yale. Does he reflect on the parallels between faked scientific expertise and faked expertise in literary scholarship now that Potti is exposed? Did he see himself at risk when he tried to deflect examination of Potti's bad publicity? There will be some sort of punishment for Potti, and certainly punishment for Duke as a result of the actions of Potti and his associates, but there is no punishment for a reviewer who in the New York Times fakes knowledge of scholarship, who passes himself off as competent to review a book based on archival research and on the whole course of research on Herman Melville.

Sabrina at Oregon Country Fair