Friday, December 16, 2011
Brenda Wineapple's Repudiation of the Responsibility to do her Homework
Jay Leyda had taken the Virginian of the Mosses essay as speaking for Melville when he declared he had never met Hawthorne. When I worked through the 1850 Augusta Papers for 1850 for the 1988 Northwestern-Newberry Moby-Dick Historical Note I constructed, mainly from Maria Melville's letters, a day-by-day account of the first two weeks of August 1850. I had then far more evidence than anyone else had worked with and felt no joy at all in discovering that Jay Leyda had been wrong. Once a detailed narrative of early August 1850 was in print in the 1988 NN Moby-Dick, in my 1996 biography, and in the 2001 Norton Moby-Dick, I assumed that critics would take note of these latest findings. In my view, to take one example, Brenda Wineapple in her 2003 biography of Hawthorne had an obligation to work through the evidence and clarify or supplement it. Instead, she declared: "Though it's not clear when Melville began the review, whether before or after meeting Hawthorne, it's obvious that Melville was smitten with Hawthorne and his work" (224). The Harlequin Romance vulgarity of "smitten" aside, it's worth pointing out that accuracy here makes a difference for Hawthorne biography as well as Melville biography, and any biographer writing about the meeting of the two men and the composition of the essay has a duty to acknowledge the facts. It is perfectly clear that Melville met Hawthorne before starting to write the Mosses essay. Wineapple simply did not do her homework about Melville's writing of the Mosses essay. She thwarts the goal of all real scholars, which is to make an advance in knowledge that others will build on.