Melville's Quarrel with Fiction*
by Nina Baym

HERMAN MELVILLE, as many critics have noted, had one of the briefer and more meteoric literary careers among those of major American authors. He published his first work, Typee, in 1846; the last designed for large sales, The Confidence Man, appeared eleven years later, before he was forty. Although he lived until 1892 and continued to write and publish until his death, he did so with neither the expectation nor the reality of a broad readership. The ten books, including a collection of short stories, that he turned out during the years that he was a professional author show radical changes in his literary ambitions as well as in his conception of the mission and potential of literature. He took up authorship at first as he had taken up a series of other occupations, with no great seriousness or dedication and with no ambition other than to see whether he might make a living at it. "All the evidence," writes William Charvat, "shows that Melville, when he entered the literary life, thought of himself . . . as the kind of practical writer who can be called, without prejudice, a journalist." [1] He had no particular qualifications for the literary life and no intention of joining the immortals. The capital with which he began this enterprise was little more than a store of unique and exotic experiences accumulated in some four years of seafaring and a facility for telling tales about his adventures that led his relatives to think that he might have a moneymaking talent.

The success of his first book suggested that he did have such a talent, but the kind of work Melville perceived Typee to be did not long continue to satisfy his enlarging aspirations. Influenced by his reading and by the ideas of the Young America group, among whom he had found friends and admirers, Melville expanded his goals at some point during the composition of his third book, Mardi.  [2] Perhaps self-conscious about his occupation for the first time, he perceived authorship as combining the roles of prophet and philosopher, as charged with both discovering and articulating significant truths about man's place in the universe. [3] This fundamental change resulted, naturally enough, in a very different type of literary work from that which the public expected from Melville, and Mardi was a failure.

The failure no doubt contributed to the increasing bleakness of Melville's views; although his conception of authorship remained lofty, his faith that his goals could be attained became increasingly shaky. By the time he wrote his seventh book, Pierre, he was convinced that whatever the truth might be, it could not be expressed in works of literature. The Confidence, Man, which Perry Miller once called "a long farewell to national greatness," was also a long farewell to commercial or professional authorship. Although some critics interpret the "long silence" that followed as the psychological result of failure and fatigue, to others it represents a deliberate act of withdrawal dictated by Melville's sense of the absurdity of the universe, the meaninglessness of language, and, hence, the absurdity of writing. [4]

The first of Melville's two transformations, from entertainer to truth teller, occurred during the writing of Mardi. It took the form of a departure, within the text, from the norms and conventions of the fictive mode within which Melville was working, and the departure occurred twice: the sea yarn turned into an allegorical romance, and then the romance was set aside for more direct forms of utterance. The second transformation, from truth teller to truth denier, took place during the writing of Pierre, when a domestic romance and bildungsroman turned into a two-pronged attack on the inadequacies of language for expressing truth and on fiction as a mode of discourse entirely unsuited for conveying language-embodied perceptions and insights. This attack completely undermined the ground on which Pierre had been constructed, and produced a work of fascinating modernity.

These clear shifts in Melville's writings have been described in terms of his darkening view of the universe (the explanation that has dominated Melville criticism over the years) and, more recently, in terms of his increasingly sophisticated awareness of the problematic nature of language. A growing number of critics have begun to interest themselves in Melville's self-conscious queryings about the limits of language. [5] It should be pointed out that doubts about language, a significant thematic concern in both Pierre and The Confidence Man, are not divorced from a developing philosophical skepticism. To anticipate a segment of my argument briefly, I reason that, given Melville's Emerson- derived notion of language as proceeding from a divine Author or Namer, the loss of belief in an Absolute entailed the loss not only of truth in the universe but also of coherence and meaning in language.

It stands to reason that as Melville's conception of literature changed, so would the types of literature he produced. But it has been taken for granted by virtually all Melville critics, including those whose analysis speaks to other possibilities, that he was (and intended to be) from first to last a writer of fiction. Although inquiries into the true nature of a literary work have a habit of fading away into unanswerable questions about being and essence, I think it can be shown that none of Melville's longer works are wholly or even mainly fictive, except in that broadest sense in which everything formulated into words is a fiction. But it is just this sense that everything formulated into words is a fiction that led Melville, in his later works, to despair of literature's being able to tell a truth. Indeed, I believe that Melville had no great respect for fiction, that he equated it with popular literature and his own literary infancy, and that in the works that most aspire to truth he expresses a range of attitudes toward fiction that go from impatience with its demands to a clear sense that fiction and truth telling are opposed activities.

To state that Melville's longer works are not wholly or mainly fictive is not to maintain that they are not fiction in part or to deny that Melville was a great storyteller. If the contemporary critical search for the meaning of Typee's story has exceeded the text's permissions, it still cannot be denied that Typee has a good story; and if, as we teach or write about Moby-Dick, we leave out fully a third of that text to concentrate on the plot of Ahab and Ishmael, we do so because that, too, is a good story. But it should be remembered, much as it goes against the grain of current critical approaches with their understanding of fiction as the quintessential literary mode, that Typee did not aspire to truth telling and that Moby-Dick, which did, contains much more than Ahab and Ishmael's story--embeds the characters, rather, in a structure that is a compendium of fictional and nonfictional modes of writing. Melville may have been an inveterate and inspired storyteller, but he did not respect his gift. All his works from Mardi on testify in various ways to his continuing low estimation of fiction. Typee and Omoo do not, but neither do they aim high; moreover, they were not offered to the public as works of fiction.

Melville's first two books were designed in easily recognizable nonfictional narrative shapes. They have been classified in a wide variety of ways, but Charvat's description of Typee and Omoo as popular (in contrast to scholarly) travel narrative, falling under the rubric of journalism, still remains the most satisfactory characterization of the genre. The term "journalism" catches the two qualities that dominate the presentation of material--factual accuracy and intellectual accessibility. While the popular travel account does not prohibit narrative sequence and continuity, it requires that everything recounted have actually happened to the traveler. All events set down as facts are supposed to be true.

The word "true" here bears little relation to the truth toward which Melville strove in such later works as Mardi and Moby-Dick. Truth in Typee and Omoo refers only to descriptive accuracy, whereas Truth, in Melville's later, serious formulation, refers to the inspired articulation of intuited general laws about ultimate reality. These metaphysical utterances must also be distinguished from the more mundane psychological and social insights that have usually preoccupied the writers of realistic novels, but that to Melville represented transient and trivial concerns. As Hawthorne observed in his famous notebook entry of 20 November 1856, Melville reasoned "of Providence and futurity, and of everything that lies beyond human ken." [6] Melville's transcendentalist contemporaries seldom wrote fiction for their purposes, although they employed a range of nonfictional literary types, and Melville, too, when he became interested in a transcendental sort of enterprise, found himself impatient with the indirections and partialities of fiction's heavily mediated discourse.

Now, although the concept of truth in the popular travel narrative involves no more than the traveler's descriptive accuracy and fidelity to actual experience, and is a pragmatic, unphilosophical notion at best, it does not follow that departure from the truth is a minor offense. On the contrary, the implicit genre contract between writer and reader in this mode depends fundamentally on reader confidence in the writer's veracity. Hence anything in such a work that is made up or invented by the author breaches the contract. Fiction enters the text in that undermining form we can properly call lying. And this is precisely how fiction does enter into the texts of Typee and Omoo. Wadlington has shown the ingenious stylistic strategies by which, more through intuition than plan, Melville attracts and wins reader confidence in Typee (Wadlington, pp. 56, 61, 62). His argument can be extended to point out that Melville is forced to these strategies because he is deceiving his readers; in Typee Melville is in fact a confidence man who is passing off lively falsehoods as truth.

Melville practices two sorts of deception in the two early books. He claims as his own experience events lifted from other accounts. Even more serious from the point of view of a travel narrative whose subject is an "exotic" land, he invents details, events, and characters out of his imagination. His purposes, though certainly not vicious, are not benevolent. He does not aim to improve the reader by his deceptions, as some of his fictional confidence men later argue that they do and indeed as so many apologists for fiction have claimed to do. He adds plot elements that may, from some interpretive points of view, contain inherent, archetypal, psychological significance; but his purposes seem less to convey profound insight than to achieve more suspense, entertainment, and sales.

When Melville began writing Mardi he apparently intended to produce a third in this series of quasi-authentic narratives. But during the composition process his intentions changed. As he wrote to the English publisher John Murray, he began to feel an "incurable distaste" for a "narrative of facts," felt "irked, cramped and fettered by plodding along with dull common places" and "a longing to plume [his] pinions for a flight." What fettered him, of course, were the requirements of truthfulness as they functioned in the popular travel narrative and the limited opportunities for self-expression and intellectual probing offered by the genre. So, he wrote, "I went to work heart and soul on a romance" (Letters, p. 70). This romance begins to show itself in Chapter xxxii of the 195-chapter work and takes over from the narrative of fact in Chapter xxxix. It is clear that in this purely fictional form Melville hoped to find total freedom for the flight that his expanding view of authorship was demanding.

But romance, if it permits certain freedoms, precludes others. The evidence of Mardi and its composition indicates that Melville quickly found this genre as irksome, cramping, and fettering as he had earlier found the narrative of facts, and his intentions underwent a second major change. In the third phase of composition Melville added the sections of contemporary political and geographical allegory (Chs. cxlv-clxix). Indeed, the long philosophical and metaphysical discussions among Babbalanja, Yoomy, and Mohi, which begin to crowd out the story of Taji and his quest for Yillah as early as Chapter lxv, indicate that he was dissatisfied with the romance structure even before he gave it up for political satire and commentary.

In Chapter clxix, the "Sailing On" chapter, Melville either apologizes to the reader for authorial inconsistency or defiantly proclaims it ("Oh, reader, list! I've chartless voyaged" [Northwestern-Newberry, p. 556]). Critics speculate that at this stage he also wrote Chapter clxxx, about the writer Lombardo, whose experience parallels Melville's ("When Lombardo set about his work, he knew not what it would become. He did not build himself in with plans; he wrote right on" [p. 596]). These chapters, placating and provocative at once, are talking, not about Melville's having written a romance, but about his having failed to sustain it. The intentions to which Melville was trying to give form seemed to him incompatible with any existing literary form. "With compass and the lead, we had not found these Mardian Isles. Those who boldly launch, cast off all cables; and turning from the common breeze, that's fair for all, with their own breath, fill their own sails. Hug the shore, naught new is seen; and 'Land ho!' at last was sung, when a new world was sought" (p. 556).

When he failed to sustain the romance in Mardi for which he had abandoned the narrative of facts, Melville for the second time in one book breached the genre contract with his readers. He departed first from the implicit commitment to factual accuracy; second from a commitment to a purely imagined narrative that--however fabulous, fantastic, symbolic, allegorical, or digressive--would retain the shape of narrative throughout. For events and action he substituted talk that had no function with respect to the development of all or parts of a story. And whereas Melville had signaled his switch from factual narrative to romance in Mardi by clear indications that permitted the reader to adjust expectations, he did not provide any like clues to the reader for interpreting the work once it was no longer a romance. He could not, because in his view the work had no form; it was a series of uncharted forays that might or might not eventuate in the discovery of a new world. This new world, if found, could not be equivalent to the form of the book that had led to its discovery, any more than the voyage to America was the same as America itself.

In a sense Melville's use of the new-world metaphor in this fashion is disingenuous, since explorers do use charts and generally have some sense of what they are looking for and where they are likely to find it. Occasionally, however, great discoveries are made by accident, and it is to this appealing concept that Melville refers. Clearly such a concept does away entirely with the idea of a priori form ("with compass and the lead, we had not found these Mardian Isles"). Nor is Melville here substituting a notion of organic for a priori form, because the idea of accidental discovery cannot coexist with organicism's implication of necessity. Yet, formless as it is by design, Mardi does retain one sense of necessity: that is the necessity of the literary voyage, with all its false starts and dead ends, as an imperative of the author's nature ("turning from the common breeze, that's fair for all, with their own breath, fill their own sails"). Hence Lombardo: though he "abandoned all monitors from without, he retained one autocrat within--his crowned and sceptered instinct" (p. 597). The form of Mardi is thus the ex post facto form of Melville's own genius, and genius was well known for its inability to work to rule.

Melville's new-world metaphor shows that the kind of originality he was looking for was not that of returning to origins, as Emerson would have it ("in every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts"), but that of coming up with something entirely new on the face of the earth. Emerson's notion of genius includes provision for its necessary testing by the assent of others to its utterances. If the speaker's utterance of private thoughts does not find confirmation in the thoughts of others, then a claim to genius must be disallowed. Melville's notion of genius in Mardi provides for no possible testing; the very rule-breaking and form-transcending nature of his statements puts them outside the realm of common apprehension.

Yet Melville does admit the possibility of failure. The genius is not mistaken about himself, and does not utter falsehood; but he may not reach the truth. Trying, instead of succeeding, becomes his badge of honor, and in this respect the record of his failed attempt is more valuable than any number of successes precisely as a failed voyage of exploration is of more value than a ride on the Staten Island Ferry. "So, if after all these fearful, fainting trances, the verdict be, the golden haven was not gained;--yet, in bold quest thereof, better to sink in boundless deeps, than float on vulgar shoals; and give me, ye gods, an utter wreck, if wreck I do" (p. 557). Melville's use of the word "vulgar" conveys an incipient hostility toward his audience and an unwillingness to submit himself to their judgment (which he perhaps partly knew would be unfavorable). The author-hero is not looking to enrich his culture, although he wishes to compel its admiration.

Our admiration is to be compelled by the difficulty of the enterprise, and certainly Melville showed writing to be so dangerous and glorious an endeavor partly for reasons of self-aggrandizement. And also because he did fear that Mardi, for all his investment in it, was going nowhere. Unwilling to abandon his commitment to "crowned and sceptered instinct," he could not accept the notion of any interior fault, such as carelessness, impatience, lack of self-discipline, or inadequate preparation for the task he had set himself; he could only conclude that someone or something in the realm of the Absolute was preventing him from attaining his goal. Hence Melville conceived of truth as in the possession of a taunter, a withholder, an opponent. He could not tell the truth because someone, a little bit ahead of him, was keeping it from him; Melville was left then with "telling" the quest for truth. In this very general sense, Mardi does contain a narrative about the chartless search for an elusive truth.

The point to be stressed again, however, is that Melville abandoned narrative principles and did not use normative fictional genres--certainly not the romance or novel--to give Mardi a total shape. On the contrary, he rejected these along with all other already existing categories as insufficient for, and even antithetical to, his purposes. Mardi evidences a rapid disenchantment with fiction both as a mode of truth telling and as a mode of truth seeking. Even when the genre of fiction adopted is romance, a genre unconstrained by criteria of probability, lifelikeness, mimesis, or verisimilitude, it must be left behind as the search continues. In his unwillingness to be guided by anything previously devised, in his insistence on jettisoning the entire literary tradition, the author of Mardi is quite a bit like Ahab in the later stages of his quest for Moby-Dick. And the narrator of Pierre espouses the same position in evaluating the ambitions of the hero: Pierre "did not see, that it was nothing at all to him, what other men had written" (p. 283).

Melville's contemporary reviewers, nothing averse to romance and quite willing to be entertained by so fluent a pen as Melville's, bore down on Mardi because it promised to be a romance but was not one, because it pertained to no genre at all. It was described as wavering confusingly among pleasantry, allegory, romance, and prose poem; as a compound of Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver's Travels "seasoned throughout with German metaphysics of the most transcendental school"; as "a heap of fanciful speculations, vivid descriptions, satirical insinuations, and allegorical typifications"; as "an infinite number of episodes and digressions, descriptions and speculations, theories and commentaries immeasurably fantastical," in which story was the least part; as a "hodgepodge," a "monstrous compound," a "bizarre work, commencing as a novel, turning into a fairy tale, and availing itself of allegory to reach the satirical after passing through the elegy, the drama, and the burlesque novel." One critic warned the reader to expect "first to peruse the life-like incidents of an agreeable sea-romance; and then, just as his interest is fairly enlisted in behalf of its heroes, to be plunged into a cold bath of symbolical ethics, metaphysics and political economy." [8]

The reviewers' gropings to "place" Mardi are not so naive as they might at first appear, and none of the critics were so naive as to place Mardi in either the romance or the novel genre. The reviewers were working, though unconsciously, on the principle that E. D. Hirsch has endeavored to restore to literary criticism: that we are able to interpret a work only if we can approximate it to a genre whose features we recognize. [9] Nor were these critics averse to an author's mixing genres, so long as the nature of the mixture was clear and the sense of a controlling design was communicated. The critics, of course, did not perceive that Melville was trying to transcend all genres, perhaps because they could not conceive of a work written altogether outside the bounds of literature. A person who endeavors to write literature must deal in literary conventions, they assumed, and when he does not will only create a "hodgepodge." This is the discovery that Melville made in Pierre, and it bitterly disillusioned him.

The poor critical reception and bad sales of Mardi, though they might have been anticipated, shocked and hurt Melville profoundly. He attempted to reingratiate himself with an audience on which his livelihood depended by producing, very quickly, two works--Redburn and White-Jacket--in the vein of his early popular successes. Redburn, which he executed in ten weeks, he never referred to except in terms of contempt. Yet Redburn was, and remained until Melville wrote his short stories, the "purest" of his fictions, that is, the work in which to the greatest degree all elements function in a dominating literary situation involving invented characters and a suitable, shapely plot with social and psychological references. The work has a clear genre referent as well, the bildungsroman. Why did Melville have no respect for the technical achievements of Redburn? Why did its success only confirm his growing disenchantment with the reading public? I propose that he thought so little of it because, as a largely fictional work, it represented a digression from the important business of truth telling to which his new conception of himself and of the author's role had committed him. His somewhat more favorable judgment of White-Jacket may be similarly attributed to its greater departure from narrative line and the controls of the fictional situation.

It is surprising how much Melville resembled Emerson in this respect and how little he was like Hawthorne. Reading "Hawthorne And His Mosses" with attention to the question of fiction and its relation to the writer's goal of truth telling, we become aware of how little sensitivity and regard Melville showed for Hawthorne as a maker of fictions, how impatient he actually was with Hawthorne's fabulating talents. Aside from "Young Goodman Brown" (which is casually and naively interpreted) the works in Mosses from an Old Manse that Melville praises are "Buds and Bird-Voices," "Fire-Worship," "The Old Apple Dealer," "The Christmas Banquet," "The Bosom Serpent," "Earth's Holocaust," "M. du Miroir," and "A Select Party"--sketches and allegories all. He does not even mention "Rappaccini's Daughter," "Feathertop," "Drowne's Wooden Image," "Roger Malvin's Burial," or "The Artist of the Beautiful." [10] Melville's preference is clearly for the less fictional, more expository works, where fable is used illustratively instead of organically, to decorate rather than to embody a statement. Fiction as a formal principle, the concept of a work wholly structured by an invented narrative to which all other aspects of the composition refer, finds no place in the literary aesthetic enunciated in "Hawthorne and His Mosses."

Hawthorne is praised not for his fictions but for his ability to interject truth into his fictions, by "insinuation," "cunning glimpses," "covertly and by snatches." [11] The fiction is a pleasant, charming, apparently harmless surface that does not carry meaning but on occasion gives way to it, is disrupted and even violated by it. The narrative is actually opposed to the truth, and the truth must breach the narrative to find expression. As readers, we arrive at the truth in Hawthorne's writing by sifting through and discarding most of the appealing narrative. "Hawthorne and His Mosses" gives the same short shrift to such narrative staples as plot, scene, occasion, setting, and symbolic structure in Shakespeare. "It is those deep faraway things in him; those occasional flashings-forth of the intuitive Truth in him; those short, quick probings at the very axis of reality--those are the things that make Shakespeare, Shakespeare." Such "flashings-forth" are detachable from, and independent of, the context in which they appear; they must be, since these truths are seen as absolutes and since context always has a controlling effect on statement. And in no genres are statements more controlled by context than in the genres of fiction.

The skimmer's approach implied in "Hawthorne and His Mosses" also controls the appraisal of The House of the Seven Gables that Melville sent Hawthorne in a letter tentatively dated April 1851. Likening the work to a fine old chamber displaying rich hangings and rare devices, Melville brushes past these to the heart of the matter, a volume labeled "Hawthorne, A Problem," which he finds in a corner of the fictive room (Letters, p. 124). The movement of the prose allows Melville to include obligatory praise of Hawthorne's skill as a writer without appearing to understand why this skill has been expended in furnishings. The reader's skill (on which Melville prides himself) consists in the rapidity with which he can arrive at the inner core of The House of the Seven Gables and discard the rest of it.

Writing to Hawthorne again in June 1851, Melville complained about his own work, Moby-Dick, now winding down to a conclusion, in words that have been often cited but whose import has not been fully appreciated: "What I feel most moved to write, that is banned,--it will not pay. Yet, write the other way, I cannot. So the product is a final hash, and all my books are botches" (Letters, p. 128). Several things about this statement are wrong if it is assessed as an account of Melville's career to that date. Only one of his books had been a botch according to his criteria--his favorite, Mardi. Only there had he tried to write in the way in which he now claimed to feel most impelled. No such impulse had operated, apparently, at the time he wrote Typee or Omoo, and then he had been able to write "the other way" quite successfully And he was able to do so again when he wrote Redburn and White-Jacket. It is to be suspected that by "all my books" he meant Mardi, which had so clearly identified story, or fiction, as one element of "the other way."

Through his duplicitous mode of storytelling, Hawthorne had succeeded in overcoming the obstacle that apparently overcame Melville. But Melville implicitly attributes his own failures to a sincerity that was evidently essential to the truth-telling authorial role as he had conceived it. Melville makes it clear that the authorial role he aspires to is nothing like Hawthorne's. Apart from noting the lack of tact here, we see that Melville is characterizing Moby-Dick, even in its incomplete state, as a final hash because of its divided nature. Which part of that book was written "the other way"? It is a good guess that the other way, the way most likely to please an audience, was just what continues to please us today--the good story.

Fortunately for Melville and for contemporary criticism, the story articulates many concerns of the larger structure in which it is embedded. Yet the larger structure reflects, not a Hawthornian, but an Emersonian view of fiction and reading; the Byronic romanticism of Mardi has been supplanted by the New England variety. In 1849 Melville became directly acquainted with Emerson's work for the first time (according to the Log and Melville's Reading), and the marginalia in his library show a running involvement with Emerson's thought throughout Melville's later life. The first results of his encounter with Emerson can be clearly discerned in the differences between Mardi and Moby-Dick (1851). I suggest that the contact with Emerson's thought was the single most significant influence on the shape of Moby-Dick. I am not referring only to the well-studied thematic critique (or espousal, from some critical points of view) of transcendental self-reliance as embodied in Ahab's story and character or to the occasional reflective passages ("Heed it well, ye Pantheists!") that clearly attack transcendental optimism. I have in mind the more pervasive and definitive influence evident in the concepts of truth and of the divine authorship of nature and language, concepts that Emerson expressed most concisely in the "Language" section of Nature. Whereas optimism and self-reliance are transcendental notions that Melville can objectify and examine, the notions of truth and language are wrought into the texture and form of Moby-Dick to such an extent that to criticize these ideas would be to put in question the ground from which the work had been constructed. Melville approaches such a criticism from time to time through Ishmael's fears that there may be nothing beyond the whale or that the whale may signify "Nothing"; yet the very acceptance of "Nothing" as a meaningful concept indicates acceptance of the concept of meaning.

The ultimate impression conveyed by Moby-Dick is that the quest for truth is significant and meaningful even if no truth is attained and that a book embodying such a quest is certainly meaningful and significant; in thus persuading the reader Moby-Dick succeeds where Mardi fails. Truth is doubted, but not language. The doubting of language itself is what makes the skepticism of Pierre so much more thoroughgoing and corrosive than the naysaying of Ishmael. Ishmael has many questions, but he does not question his own activity, the activity of verbalizing, of writing a book about a whaling voyage he once took as well as about his own thinking, in the present time, about the meaning of whales and whaling.

In "Language" Emerson takes literally the familiar theological metaphor of the book or language of nature, wherein nature is conceived of as God's speech or writing. [12] When nature is so perceived, natural objects cease to be things in themselves, and are transformed instead to signs that point to something beyond themselves. Natural objects when properly seen are not seen at all, then, because they have become, in Emerson s favorite wording, transparent (so in Nature, among many examples, "the universe becomes transparent, and the light of higher laws than its own shines through it" [p. 34]) . [13]

Rightly seen, then, nature as a whole is not a collection of objects or facts but a language, a means of communication from God to man. God uses nature for signifying purposes. Man has access to this language through his intuition, and his ability to comprehend God's meaning is proof of his likeness to God as well as of God's existence. The point relevant to Melville is that the meaningfulness of nature, its function as language, requires the assumption of a prior Absolute, One who is speaking or writing through it and has decreed its meanings. Remove this speaker or signaler and, in Emerson's words, "the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps" (pp. 73-74).

Because God has decreed nature's meanings, meaning cannot be arbitrary or conventional or fanciful--Emerson insists on this. The disillusioned narrator of Pierre will say, "Say what some poets will, Nature is not so much her own ever-sweet interpreter, as the mere supplier of that cunning alphabet, whereby selecting and combining as he pleases, each man reads his own peculiar lesson according to his own peculiar mind and mood" (p. 342). Surely one of the poets to whom the narrator refers is Emerson, who began Nature by insisting that "nature is already, in its forms and tendencies, describing its own design" (p. 4) and asserted in the "Language" section that "This relation between the mind and matter is not fancied by some poet, but stands in the will of God, and so is free to be known by all men" (pp. 33-34). In "Self-Reliance" and other essays Emerson distinguishes between human utterances or perceptions that are notional, private, mere opinion and those that are necessary, or "fatal." By his criteria, the fault with Mardi would be that it is notional instead of necessary, that it has mistaken private fancies for public truth. The book of nature provides the unchanging standard by which genius can measure itself. Indeed, genius does not discover new truth but rediscovers eternal truths and in its highest moments recovers what has been lost through accretion of the notional and private. Thus in their most original moments human authors are the truest scribes, scriveners, or copyists. [14]

These ideas all figure in Moby,Dick, as do two final points of importance in Emerson's theorizing: his notion of human language as derived directly from the divine language and his devaluation of fable. Human language is essentially God's language, Emerson believes, translated into the medium of speech, both oral and written. Although verbal language is thus specifically human, it rests on a nonverbal and absolute base, to which it ultimately refers. Hence, to Emerson, human language is most literal when it is most figurative or metaphorical; and the most elevated, serious purpose of language, at its most godlike, is to express unmediated, uncontextualized truths about the nature of the real. Emerson's high valuation of metaphor and figurative speech does not extend, however, to esteem for fable. On the contrary: "We make fables to hide the baldness of the fact and conform it, as we say, to the higher law of the mind. But when the fact is seen under the light of an idea, the gaudy fable fades and shrivels. We behold the real higher law" (p. 75). Such a view sees the fable as an impediment to grasping the idea. Fable is an untruth. It is clear that Emerson would do away with fable if he could and that he expects it to shrivel away by itself as the human mind regains its original relation to the Godhead. Fable is an invention of man in his fallen state. [15]

These ideas are used playfully and seriously in Moby-Dick, providing in large degree the conceptual energy that gives the heterogeneous work its coherence and structure. The whimsical classification of whales as books, the introductory extracts and etymology, the memorable reflections on the horrors of the half-known life or the beguilements of pantheism or the dangers of looking too long in the face of the fire, the search for meanings in the dart or the line, the anatomizing of the whale--all these activities rise from the connections Emerson finds among human language, nature, and absolute meaning. Yet ultimately Emerson's ideas are not good soil for the growth of fiction, and although Melville may have adopted some, but not all, of Emerson and although he clearly finds uses for fable in Moby-Dick, the final work is something other than a fiction. Novels and romances have been extracted from Moby-Dick, and such extracts form the subject of virtually all Moby-Dick criticism. But they are arrived at by abridging the total work, by ignoring at least a third of the work if one counts by chapters and considerably more than that if one counts by bulk.

Some thirty-five chapters, those generally referred to as the "cetology" chapters, are plotless meditations on the body of the whale. Their subject is not specifically Moby-Dick. It is sometimes argued that their function is to intensify the meaning of the quest for the white whale, but it is just as clearly evident that the fable of the white whale provides Melville (or Ishmael, his deputy) with the opportunity to expound on whales in general; the fiction of Moby-Dick may thus be the attractive packaging of Melville's deeper intentions. The anatomizing of the whale is conducted in the work's present time; it is presented as Ishmael's reflections as he is now, in the process of working on his book, and not as he was many years before on the Pequod.

Another fifteen or so chapters, including "The Sphynx" and "The Whiteness of the Whale," for example, rise from the fictional context but expand on it, and these chapters are also placed in the present rather than in the past. Even when Ishmael puts himself back on the Pequod and proceeds with the conventional activity of narration, he constantly digresses. His allusive, encyclopedic, whimsical free-associating habits of mind are on display from the very first chapter (consider, for example, his asides in Ch. i on broiled fowls and the pleasures of being paid rather than paying).

Storytelling, then, is only one of the things that Ishmael does in Moby-Dick, and it is because Ishmael's voice, even more than his story, overwhelms us in the work that phenomenological approaches to the book seem so useful. But the voice we hear is not that of the morose Ishmael who went to sea as a substitute for suicide, found escape by submitting himself to the will of a charismatic captain, and confronted annihilation in the shape of a white whale. It is the voice of the returned traveler with a far wider scope who is now writing a book: "If I say, that in any creature breathing is only a function indispensable to vitality, inasmuch as it withdraws from the air a certain element, which being subsequently brought into contact with the blood imparts to the blood its vivifying principle, I do not think I shall err; though I may possibly use some superfluous scientific words" (pp. 310-11). [16] Indeed, even during the conduct of the narrative and in addition to his nonfictional digressions, Ishmael the author is constantly interpolating fictions other than the main one: Father Mapple's sermon, the Town Ho's story, and those of all the other so-called gams. These fictional alternatives to the main fable offer different interpretations of the white whale and suggest the limits of the main fable, which shrinks to one more among many attempts to encompass a fact. So, as Emerson would see it, fable testifies to the human intuition of an idea behind fact but does not succeed in expressing it.

Once again contemporary reviewers were more alert to the mixed nature of Melville's genre achievement than later critics have proved to be. Moby-Dick was inventoried as "high philosophy, liberal feeling, abstruse metaphysics popularly phrased, soaring speculation"; "an ill-compounded mixture of romance and matter-of-fact"; "a singular medley of naval observation, magazine article writing, satiric reflection upon the conventionalism of civilized life, and rhapsody"; "a strange, wild, weird book, full of poetry and full of interest"; "a nautical-historical, philosophical, romantic account"; "a large and interesting web of narrative, information, and sketches of character and scenery" woven around a "cumbrous bulk of romance"; "a romance, a tragedy, and a natural history, not without numerous gratuitous suggestions on psychology, ethics, and theology"; "an odd book, professing to be a novel--wantonly eccentric, outrageously bombastic, in places charmingly and vividly descriptive"; "many-sided"; "a prose epic on whaling"; a "strange conglomeration." One reviewer complained that "we are at a loss to determine in what category of works of amusement to place it. It is certainly neither a novel nor a romance." [17] Although this earnest striving for the right taxonomic label for Moby-Dick may seem misplaced, the early reviews appear more receptive to the book's heterogeneity than does the criticism of the last thirty years.

We have seen that Melville found genre requirements an impediment to his imagination, and that this was so even when the genre elected was, supposedly, the one permitting the greatest freedom, the romance. In Mardi he had tried to ignore genre; in Moby-Dick he embraced it by appearing to include samples of every kind of generic writing. The result is a structure giving Ishmael's voice the freest possible range, picking up each genre in turn and then going beyond it. In addition to the various categories suggested (or invented) by the contemporary reviews cited above, one observes in Moby-Dick such forms as the sermon; short story; occasional, scientific, political, and moral essay; satire; dictionary; encyclopedia; drama; dramatic monologue; manual; travelogue; character; tall tale; and prophecy. Its sections of fiction represent many different subgenres, from ghost story to melodrama to temperance tale to local-color sketch. Moby-Dick is a world where Fedallah and Stubb can exist aboard the same ship, a microcosm not only of the real world, in which no Fedallah has ever existed, but of the world of fiction as well, wherein he is a known type, even a stereotype. Because of its continual references to so many familiar literary genres both fictional and nonfictional, Moby-Dick manages to be interpretable even while submitting itself to no single genre. It seems to contain not only all possible statements that may be made about the whale but also all possible literary and verbal modes in which such statements may be made. [18] Collecting all statements and all modes (or giving the appearance of doing so), Ishmael creates the illusion that he is free of the rules of statement and mode and hence that he has gone through the constraints of medium directly to the truth. His voice, taking up all other voices in turn but resting in none of them, is analog yet opposite to the whale's whiteness: although it is the sum of all voices, as white is the sum of all colors, it leads to fullness rather than to absence. If there is a void at the center of the universe, there is no void at the center of Moby-Dick, where Ishmael's voice creates the illusion of divine plenitude.

But if there really is a void at the center of the universe, then Ishmael's voice is fraudulent and the structures that permit the creation of such a voice are mendacious. In Pierre (1852) Melville is from the first sensitive to the nature of literature as an illusion, and his sensitivity becomes the focus of the work and then the destroyer of it. His thinking may have arrived at this point entirely through its own logical unfolding, but the fact is that in Pierre Melville undertook to do what he had never done before: to create a work entirely within the confines of a single fictional genre. There seems to be no evidence that Melville had read any of the sentimental or domestic romances then coming into vogue, and in all likelihood Pierre is modeled, not on women's fiction, but on the bildungsroman. Its design is clearly visible in the opening chapters of the work. But as might have been predicted, Melville found his commitment distasteful and irksome almost from the first sentence. And with his revulsion from genre came, now, a revulsion from language itself, as it began to seem that every literary statement implied a literary world and that literature was no more than an elaborate game, a repertory of set forms whose rules foreclosed possibilities instead of opening them." [19]

The original design of Pierre involved the testing of a naive hero by loss and misfortune. When introduced, the eighteen-year-old Pierre has had every advantage, has known only happiness and comfort. He is rich, handsome, well-born, heir to a splendid country estate, adored by his widowed mother and engaged to an exquisite and virtuous maiden. Naturally enough, he is brimful of self-esteem, self-confidence, and a youthful certainty that the world is a good place and cannot bring him any experience he will not be able to master. This is a dreamworld, Melville makes clear, from which the awakening can only be rude and painful. The question is how Pierre will in fact deal with suffering, evil, and limitation as they fall to his lot.

His difficulties begin to accumulate rapidly. But the development of the plot, whether toward the end of his chastened reentry into society or his permanent alienation from it, whether caused by the evils in society or the defects in Pierre's own nature, is skewed and distorted by the narrator's inability to keep to the subject. The narrator's attitude toward his young hero is, as many critics have noted, wildly inconsistent (so, for that matter, is Pierre's behavior); but this inconsistency rises as much from a lack of interest in the situation as from profound moral ambivalence on the author's part. As early as Book ii we find the narrator returning from a digression on a note of combined apology and defiance that signals trouble with the genre:

Now, since we began by talking of a certain young lady that went out riding with a certain youth; and yet find ourselves, after leading such a merry dance, fast by a stage-house window;-this may seem rather irregular sort of writing. But whither indeed should Lucy Tartan conduct us, but among mighty Queens, and all other creatures of high degree; and finally set us roaming, to see whether the wide world can match so fine a wonder. By immemorial usage, am I not bound to celebrate this Lucy Tartan? Who shall stay me? Is she not my hero's own affianced? What can be gainsaid? Where underneath the tester of the night sleeps such another? . . . Never shall I get down the vile inventory! How, if with paper and with pencil I went out into the starry night to inventorize the heavens? Who shall tell stars as teaspoons? Who shall put down the charms of Lucy Tartan upon paper?

And for the rest; her parentage, what fortune she would possess, how many dresses in her wardrobe, and how many rings upon her fingers; cheerfully would I let the genealogists, tax-gatherers, and upholsters attend to that. (p. 25)

The mingled embarrassment, overstatement, inappropriateness, ill-concealed anger and impatience, awkwardness ("creatures of high degree," "inventorize"), and contradictions of the prose all testify to the author's sense that he is in a false position. He will celebrate Lucy Tartan because he must, but he will leave the required inventorying to the upholsterers. Lucy is a human angel, the recording of her charms a vile activity. The long digression that has failed to advance the plot is not irregular since convention requires that the author pause to celebrate his heroine--but why, then, should any reader characterize it as irregular in the first place? The final impression made by passages like this early in Pierre is that Melville is not certain about what he ought to be doing but is absolutely certain that he does not want to be doing it. Not only does the narrator convey an acute if unfocused dissatisfaction. The commentary about his writing, his obligations as a storyteller, and the literary quality of his performance has had the effect of turning the subject from the tale to its teller.

When in Book XVII, more than halfway through the novel, Melville all at once makes Pierre an author, the uneasy union of narrator with tale dissolves: "I elect neither of these [modes of narration]; I am careless of either; both are well enough in their way; I write precisely as I please" (p. 244). Although the discipline required to bring the earlier part of the story into line with this new invention was altogether beyond Melville's temperamental capacities and although no plot invention can truly save a narrative whose author writes precisely as he pleases--that is, without attention to literary convention--one can see why the device might have seemed a good idea when Melville thought of it. By discussing the problems of authorship as though they were Pierre's, Melville might bring the hero back to the center of the narrative and make it Pierre's story again. But this did not and could not happen, simply because the context imposed on the discussion of authorship by Pierre's circumstances--his character, background, situation--qualified and limited the universality of the point. The fiction got in the way of the direct statement that Melville was seeking to make.

And hence he came to the discovery that Pierre makes later in the book--that the profundity toward which literature ought to, indeed must, aspire if it is to be serious is an illusion because literature is inherently trivial. By virtue of the intense selectivity of any genre, by virtue of the restrictions any work must accept in order to make sense, the work is condemned to triviality. In the narrator's often quoted comments on Pierre's development as an author, "the more and the more that he wrote, and the deeper and the deeper that he dived, Pierre saw the everlasting elusiveness of Truth; the universal lurking insincerity of even the greatest and purest written thoughts. Like knavish cards, the leaves of all great books were covertly packed. He was but packing one set the more; and that a very poor jaded set and pack indeed" (p. 339).

When we observe that Melville is defining literature as the articulation of Truth, as written thoughts (Pierre is motivated by "the burning desire to deliver what he thought to be new, or at least miserably neglected Truth to the world"; he is an "inquirer after Truth," "bent on producing some thoughtful thing of absolute Truth" [p. 283]), we can see the impossible situation he put himself into in Pierre. For what have written thoughts to do with the clutter of sweethearts, mothers, mistresses, and maidservants that Melville invented for his hero? Precisely as Pierre's circumstances became his impediment, so did Melville's commitment to a plot. But just as there is no life without circumstances, so there is no literature without genre, and the dream of transcending life's limits by escaping into the freedom of language is shown to be an illusion. The discovery of the limits of literature meant that no literature could be serious, because limitation precluded the discovery of truth. No statement had any sense unless it followed the rules for making statements, and hence no statement referred to anything except language. The deck is packed, but, more important, literature is nothing more than a deck of cards anyway, possessing no connection to the great realities and having no capacity to express them. Meaningful statements are meaningful because they are trivial and untrue: trivial because they are ruly, untrue because they are selective.

We pass our existence among banal lies, and Pierre, despite his ambitions, cannot change this situation; Pierre, despite its ambitions, cannot be more than another banal lie. These perceptions, the result of Melville's one try at a long conventional fiction, create a work of excruciating self-consciousness, full of reflexive and undermining rhetorical gestures. Although such gestures might be seen today as evidence of sophisticated awareness, to Melville the breach between language and reality had no redeeming compensations. And Melville's contemporaries could not be other than appalled by a work so fueled by self-destructive energy. Close readings of the reviews of Pierre indicate less moral than literary outrage.

The episode of Pierre demonstrated decisively that Melville could not commit himself to the exigencies of an extended work of fiction. It may seem odd that he should follow this problematic book with a series of short and more purely fictive works than he had written up to this time, some of which are considered classics of their form and among the best of his works. But there are two ways in which the short form suited him as the long form did not. First, the commitment required for short fiction is understood to be provisional: the writer is not forced to express his whole world view in the brief compass. The notions of experiment, tentativeness, and playfulness are compatible with the genre. Moreover, the brevity of form emphasizes limitation rather than freedom, and since Melville now understood literature to be fatally limited, this form suited his views better than long forms, with their mendacious pretense of fullness and freedom. The short works play up their closed nature and present their formal boundaries as metaphors for limitation, the denial of transcendence.

In both "Bartleby the Scrivener" and "Benito Cereno," Melville's short masterpieces, the dominance of enclosure produces a strong sense of claustrophobia. The point-of-view characters--the lawyer-narrator and Captain Delano, respectively--are clearly inadequate to the meanings that appear to flow around them, but no alternative insights are provided into the mysteries they fail to penetrate. Bartleby and Babo could, of course, explain their own acts, but Melville does not permit them to. Nor does he, from an omniscient vantage point, breach their opacity. Boundary and enclosure are the meanings of these works; the unknown is permanently unavailable. In "The Encantadas," too, we are placed only apparently in a boundless ocean; the reality is a set of barren, bounded islands. These works embody the point of view expressed in the later chapters of Pierre, where attempts at transcendence only wrap the hero in layers of his own thoughts and he perceives the universe as a gigantic trick.

The tricks of these stories pale, however, beside the labyrinthine puzzlements of The Confidence Man, a work so paralyzingly self-conscious and so intricately engineered as to be unrecognizable as the product of the same sensibility that had produced Typee only a decade earlier. It is self-reflexive far beyond Pierre and to a greater degree (so far as I know) than any other American work of its period. For while Pierre continues to try to mediate between the worlds of reality and fiction, aspires to truth telling and examines fiction in its incapacity to fill that function, The Confidence Man drops metaphysics altogether. The self-contained world of fiction is its sole subject. Its seriousness resides not in any attempt to reach higher truth but in its systematic exposure of the absurdity of fiction--the banality, futility, circularity, pointlessness, and artificiality of plots, characters, settings, narrations, themes, even such conventions as chapter titles.

Insofar as Christianity figures in the work, it figures only as the most pervasive and powerful of fictions affecting Occidental man. Insofar as human nature is the subject, it is human nature filtered through its use of language to manipulate, beguile, and mislead. Language itself is perceived in its lowest pragmatic function. The tightly crafted and ingenious plot leads the reader on a route consisting of a sequence of episodes whose linear relationship is arbitrary, whose characters are inconsistent (and asserted to be inconsistent by the narrator), whose dialogues are vacuous and improbable. The style is so heavily qualified, indirect, and involuted as to make the work turn back on itself sentence by sentence. Apparently bristling with significance, the work plants clues that lead nowhere. Ultimately we find that we have no questions answered, that we cannot even say what questions have been put. As the subtitle states, the work is a masquerade. In The Confidence Man Melville bitterly expresses the sort of truth that can be asserted in a mendacious medium and illustrates the convulsed ways in which it can be expressed. But the truths he speaks are only about fiction and language. [20]

Although Melville did not subside into a long silence after The Confidence Man, as critical myth would have it (he wrote several volumes of verse), it is true that he ceased to write stories. Freed by other employment from the need to support himself and his family by authorship, he gave up all attempts to succeed in the popular mode and hence, not surprisingly, turned his back on the troublesome genre of fiction. It is only a little more surprising that, in his solitude, he also abandoned the stance of the poet-bard searching out and saying the truth. As we have seen, the foundations of this search had been undermined in his works after Moby-Dick; moreover, the poet-bard requires an audience, for his is a public mission. In the lyric-though critics are agreed almost without exception that his poetry is not major literature-Melville found the mode that permitted him to attend only to his own voice ' without obligation to serve either the eternal verities or the populace.

The return to fiction at the end of his career, in the unfinished Billy Budd, is hence most curious. Stranger still, in composing this work Melville seems, for the only time in his life, to have been lost in the implications of character and story and able to give himself fully to the fiction he was creating. His very struggles to plot and resolve the tale indicate an immersion in the logic of narration and an intention to have his truths, whatever they were, emerge only through the story . What the final import of Billy Budd might have been we cannot know, but we may take it, even in its unfinished state, as the sign of a truce in Melville's quarrel with fiction.


1 Charvat, The Profession of Authorship in America , 1800-1870 (Columbus: Ohio State Univ. Press, 1968), p. 208.

2 The chief sources for facts about Melville's life and the composition of his works in 1979 were Jay Leyda, The Melville Log, 2 vols. (New York: Harcourt, 1951); The Letters of Herman Melville, ed. Merrell R. Davis and William H. Gilman (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1960); Leon Howard, Herman Melville (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1951); and Merton M. Sealts, Jr., Melville's Reading (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1966); the historical notes in the completed volumes of Harrison Hayford, Hershel Parker, and G. Thomas Tanselle, eds., The Writings of Herman Melville, Northwestern-Newberry Edition (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1968- ), and by Hershel Parker's "Evidence for 'Late Insertions' in Melville's Works," Studies in the Novel, 7 (1975), 407-24, and "Why Pierre Went Wrong," Studies in the Novel, 8 (1976), 7-23. Additional material appearrd in William H. Gilman, Melville's Early Life and Redburn (New York: New York Univ. Press, 1951); Merrell R. Davis, Melville's Mardi: A Chartless Voyage (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1952); Howard P. Vincent, The Trying Out of Moby-Dick (Boston: Houghton, 1949). and The Tailoring of Melville's White-Jacket (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern Univ. Press, 1970).

3 Hence in "Hawthorne and His Mosses" Melville refers to the profession as "the great Art of Telling the Truth," and in Pierre the hero enters authorship partly to make money and partly out of a "burning desire to deliver what he thought to be new, or at least miserably neglected Truth to the world" (Northwestern-Newberry Ed., p. 283).

4 The fullest recent exposition of this theory of Melville's later life is to be found in Edgar J. Dryden, Melville's Thematics of Form (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1968).

5 See Dryden; Charles Feidelson, Symbolism and American Literature (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1953); James Guetti, The Limits of Metaphor: A Study of Melville, Conrad, and Faulkner (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1967); and Warwick Wadlington, The Confidence Game in American Literature (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1975). This type of study should not be confused with investigations of Melville's style dealing with his literary techniques, rhetoric, use of imagery and symbolism, and so on. In this sense many studies of the latter sort can be said to be about Melville's language, including F. 0. Matthiessen's chapter in American Renaissance (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1941); Milton R. Stern, The Fine Hammered Steel of Herman Melville (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1957); Werner Berthoff, The Example of Melville (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1962); and Richard H. Fogle, Melville's Shorter Tales (Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press, 1960).

6 Nathaniel Hawthorne, English Notebooks (1941; rpt. New York: Russell and Russell, 1962), p. 432.

7 See Lawrence Buell, Literary Transcendentalism: Style and Vision in the American Renaissance (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1973).

8 G. Watson Branch, ed., Melville: The Critical Heritage (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973), pp. 139, 142, 143, 147, 156, 161, 164-65, 185.

9 Hirsch, Validity in Interpretation (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1967).

10 Despite some superficial praise of the works, Melville may well not have read either Twice-Told Tales or The Scarlet Letter at the time of writing "Hawthorne and His Mosses." The letters indicate that he did, some time later, read Twice-Told Tales, but the absence of references to The Scarlet Letter suggests that he may never have read it.

11 "Hawthorne and His Mosses" is available in numerous anthologies of Melville's work and of American literature. I cite the text provided in Moby-Dick, ed. Harrison Hayford and Hershel Parker (New York: Norton, 1967), pp. 535-51.

12 Two problems in Emerson's formulation are his failure to distinguish between speech and writing, so that nature is sometimes God's book (a completed record) and sometimes God speaking (an ongoing process), and his failure to decide whether nature represents a compendium of all possible utterances or a collection of discrete statements. So far as I can determine, however, these very significant problems, necessary for Emerson's "philosophy" though ultimately destructive of his "theory," do not affect Melville's use of Emerson's ideas.

13 Quotations from Emerson, unless otherwise identified, are from Nature, in Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, Addresses, and Lectures, Vol. I of The Complete Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, ed. Edward W. Emerson (Boston: Houghton, 1903), pp. 7-77.

14 "For poetry was all written before time was, and whenever we are so finely organized that we can penetrate into that region where the air is music, we hear those primal warblings and attempt to write them down, but we lose ever and anon a word or a verse and substitute something of our own, and thus miswrite the poem. The men of more delicate ear write down these cadences more faithfully, and these transcripts, though imperfect, become the songs of the nations" (Emerson, "The Poet"). Compare this idea, and the celebratory tone in which it is expressed, with the disenchanted commentary of the narrator of Pierre: "The world is forever babbling of originality; but there never yet was an original man, in the sense intended by the world; the first man himself--who according to the Rabbins was also the first author--not being an original; the only original author being God" (p. 259).

15 Sampson Reed's Observations on the Growth of the Mind was probably Emerson's chief source for the conception of fiction here articulated, but Emerson was Melville's source.

16 In Ishmael's White World: A Phenomenological Reading of Moby-Dick (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1965), Paul Brodtkorb, Jr., concentrates on the voice of the sailor Ishmael rather than on that of the author Ishmael.

17 All quotations in this paragraph are taken from Branch, pp. 251, 253, 257, 262, 264, 268, 274, 276, 280, 283, 288, 260.

18 The view presented here differs from that in Richard H. Brodhead, Hawthorne, Melville, and the Novel (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1976), which begins with the certainty that Moby-Dick is a novel and then studies how Melville extends the possibilities of "the novel" by transforming it (pp. 1, 134-62).

19 In talking about Pierre, as well as Melville's other fictions, I am not considering the extent to which it may be distorted by the emergence of very private, even unconscious material. Certainly Pierre has proved amenable to various types of depth-psychology approaches, as have Moby-Dick, Typee, and Redburn. Some critics even maintain that Pierre was intended as a psychological study (see, e.g., Brian Higgins and Hershel Parker, "The Flawed Grandeur of Melville's Pierre," New Perspectives on Melville [Edinburgh: University Press, 19781, pp. 162-96). But to Melville, the eruption of private material into a narrative, the possibly inescapable personal implications of a fiction, would be one more reason for devaluing the mode, since the personal dimension could be perceived only as an intolerable contextualizing of what should be universal utterance. And I would argue (taking issue with Higgins and Parker) that lack of interest in psychological portraiture was one reason for Melville's rapid disenchantment with the task he had set himself in writing Pierre.

20 In 1998 I see in this book a devastating cultural critique of the mingled sentimentalism and crafty greed that, to Melville, had disgraced the American dream. But both sentimentalism and scam are, in The Confidence Man, language games, or perhaps the same language game.

*Slightly revised from its original publication in PMLA 34 (1979): 909-23.