Sunday, April 3, 2016

Herman Melville Austenized! It's been creeping up on us and now it's here! Michael Shelden!

I care about this because I know something about Melville and am blood kin to Jane Austen through the Leighs--8th cousin 7 times removed or something like that my Cousin Ben Tindall calculated. But enough blood kin to care as she is being stolen, sold, violated, abused, hacked, and profiteered from. Poor Herman! Poor Melville descendants!

Melville in Love: The Secret Life of Herman Melville and the Muse of ‘Moby-Dick’

Michael Shelden. Ecco, $25.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-06-241898-2
Shelden (Pulitzer finalist for Orwell: The Authorized Biography) theorizes, skillfully but unconvincingly, that Herman Melville had an affair with his next-door neighbor, Sarah Morewood, in Pittsfield, Mass. Morewood, who like Melville was married, was well known for her wit and beauty. Focusing on the years from 1850 to 1852, Shelden posits her as Melville’s great love, and describes their relationship as a guiding force in the creation of Moby-Dick and even a factor in its tepid original reception from critics. Written with novelistic period detail and peopled with convincingly reanimated historical characters, this short book nonetheless feels overextended. The middle portion departs from the central relationship as Morewood goes off to England and Melville hunkers down to finish Moby-Dick, published in 1851. Shelden uses this interlude to explore painter J.M.W. Turner‘s influence on Moby-Dick and Melville’s friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne. Although Shelden claims to have found a “long trail of clues” about Melville and Morewood’s connection, his argument relies too heavily on inference, interpretation, and literary exegesis. A costume party, a Christmas dinner laurel ceremony, and a scandalous mixed-sex camping excursion are all scoured for any telling details. The book is an engaging and creative recreation, but the accuracy of Shelden’s conclusions remains suspect. (June)
Something I posted on Greg Lennes's site:
I scoffed at Don Yannella in 1991 for talking about Sarah's infatuation with George. I was wrong, and have apologized and apologized. Sarah was wildly madly hysterically infatuated with the nerd in 1851 and thereafter for years. Now, she had pursued Alexander Gardiner in 1848, as Maria knew. The women knew about her obsessions. She was NOT obsessed with Herman Melville. Now, Geo was terrified of her attentions, and Alexander had better things in view, but Sarah kept up with the invitations to Geo for a decade--imagine, two tuberculars and Rev Todd off camping in the wilderness. What is happening is that Herman Melville is being Austenized. Rather than looking at the documents people are writing fiction in which HM is a character or in which Melville's characters are characters. You know that in the works is a continuation of "Benito Cereno" in which Babo survives and goes to Massachusetts and fails in a U S Senate Campaign but becomes a notable advocate for women's suffrage. Quaff, oh quaff, some kind nepenthe! 

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