Friday, April 27, 2012


Northwestern University Press will soon publish Hershel Parker's Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative wherein Parker reflects on the writing of his two-volume Melville biography and the theoretical and practical importance of doing original archival research, whether using the film and paper resources of established brick-and-mortar institutions, or the growing number of digitized resources offered by these same institutions in their online databases.

As for the book's cover designed by Marianne Jankowski: this is one of the most visually appealing and effective cover designs I have ever come across in my decades of following Melville scholarship. Its suggestive design bespeaks the multiplicity of biographical details, interpersonal dynamics, historical events, and literary influences that a biographer has to incorporate into a faithful account of the life, times, and writings of Herman Melville. The breadth and depth of Parker's two-volume Herman Melville: A Biography (Johns Hopkins University Press) have earned it a monumental reputation and might well be considered the chef d'oevre of Parker's long career.

I believe the case could be made that Hershel Parker has accomplished in his biographical and critical writings on Melville what Richard Ellmann accomplished in his biographical studies of the lives, works, and times of James Joyce, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, and Samuel Beckett. Not only all future Melville biographers, but all present and future readers, scholars, and critics of Melville's life and writings owe a debt of gratitude to Parker for his decades of research and writing.

As to the significance and value of Parker's forthcoming book: imagine if we had a volume by Ellmann in which he had taken the opportunity to expatiate on the theory, art, and craft of writing biography (fortunately we do have Ellmann's lecture, "Literary Biography," delivered at the University of Oxford on 4 May 1971). With Parker's forthcoming Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative, we have such a book; I can't wait to get my copy.

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