Herman Melville Biography and Themes “Bartleby, the Scrivener” “Tartarus of Maids”
Melville Biography Timeline • 1819 b. New York • 1830 family bankrupt • 1832-3 family falls apart; H.M. drops out of school • 1839 1st voyage at sea
Timeline cont. • 1841-1848 experiences at sea=37 books about it • At first popular reading & commercial success • 1841-1844 on ships Acushnet and Lucy Ann • 1844 Typee • 1847 Marries Elizabeth Shaw; Omoo • But wants to change writing, wants meaning; wants to rebel, write banned books • 1849 Mardi and Redburn—failures critically and financially
Timeline cont. • 1850 White Jacket; develops relationship with Nathaniel Hawthorne • Returns to “popular fiction” but hates it • Melville to Hawthorne (while working on Moby Dick): “Dollars damn me. [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, all my books are botches.”
Timeline cont. • 1851 Moby Dick • Topic: 800 pages about guy trying to find whale and get back at it • Not as much of failure as Mardi, but not successful; received little notice • Wants to write novels written at two different levels • Said to Hawthorne: “secret motto that few would discern” • Said about Hawthorne’s books: “are superficially calculated to deceive—egregiously deceived, the superficial skimmer of books”
Timeline cont. • 1852-1867 Pierre, Israel Potter, trip to Europe, edits Hawthorne’s works, The Confidence Man • 1867 abandons fiction • Magazine writing to make $ • Publishes short stories in Europe (including “Bartleby”) • Emotionally wrung out from failures, careful of issues of offensiveness, still trying out technique of writing for two audiences at once
Timeline cont. • 1866-1886 Job in Custom House; sons die • 1886 Inheritance • 1891 H.M. dies • 1920 H.M. rediscovered as an author
Themes in Hawthorne and Melville • Romantic concern with good and evil • Hawthorne: Puritan ancestry • Melville: ships • Responded differently • Hawthorne: positive • Melville: negative
The Chart: Darker Romantics **D.R. shares characteristics with other Romantics but more pessimistic view • Authors: (Hawthorne), Melville, Edgar Allan Poe • View of Man: moral struggle with evil; feelings and intuition; dark interior • View of God: good v. evil; sin and its psychological effects on people • View of Nature: evil found in setting and symbol; often the supernatural • View of Society: must be reformed
Allegory • Objects and persons equated with meanings outside of the narrative • Characters personify abstract qualities • Evokes dual interest • Religious, moral, political, personal, satiric
Themes • Power of presence of evil • No logic in society or nature; man depend on self • No dogma can teach; man learn it on own • Man must fight society and nature • Life is mask of appearance • Battles of conscience • Redemption in human love for fellow man
Themes cont. • Man=maker of own identity • must accept inability to fully know power of universe • must know own mortality • must know need for fellow man and capacity for love of humankind
Themes cont. • Man is not equal to God • Love=only element of innocence that endures • Can result in isolation or “hell” • Responsible for other human beings
“Bartleby” • Dickens quality • Some readers: about Melville’s own struggles as writer • Bartleby paid as copier (scrivener) to write what everyone else is writing—Melville’s own feelings?
Mythological Allusions in “Tartarus of Maids” • Tartarus • Greek version of hell/underworld • Bacchus (Old Bach) • God of wine; often had a harem of women called Bacchantes: “[Bacchus] was accompanied, as was his custom, by a train of women dancing and singing exultant songs, wearing fawn skins over their robes, waving ivy-wreathed wands. They seemed mad with joy.” (Edith Hamilton’s Mythology 68-9). • Cupid • “[Venus’s] son, that beautiful winged youth whom some call Cupid and others call Love, against whose arrows there is no defense” (Hamilton 122). • Actaeon • the hunter who accidentally witnessed the goddess Artemis bathing and “was changed into a stag…His dogs saw him running and chased him…They fell upon him, his own faithful hounds, and killed him” (Hamilton 374).