Brenda Wineapple, Hawthorne: A Life

Hawthorne: A Life by Brenda Wineapple My rating: 4 of 5 stars What is the good of literary biography? I am not a great reader of the genre, possibly because every example I've ever read has had a passage like this in it, from Brenda Wineapple's popular and absorbing 2003 life of Nathaniel Hawthorne: Like … Continue reading Brenda Wineapple, Hawthorne: A Life

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun

The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne My rating: 4 of 5 stars The Marble Faun (1860) is Hawthorne's last completed and longest romance—his term for the type of non-realist, symbolic, and psychological fiction he preferred to write. Composed during and after his and his family's travels in Europe following his political patronage appointment as American consul … Continue reading Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun

Herman Melville, Benito Cereno

Melville's Short Novels: Authoritative Texts, Contexts, Criticism by Herman Melville My rating: 5 of 5 stars Benito Cereno is one of the post-Pierre short works of the 1850s by which Melville hoped to right the ship of his literary career. A novella of slavery, based on a true story, it is both an effective work of … Continue reading Herman Melville, Benito Cereno

Herman Melville, Pierre; or, The Ambiguities

Pierre; or, The Ambiguities by Herman Melville My rating: 4 of 5 stars What was left of Melville's early audience was killed off by the dreadful Pierre, a year after Moby-Dick, and despite various modern salvage attempts, Pierre certainly is unreadable, in the old-fashioned sense of that now critically abused word. You just cannot get … Continue reading Herman Melville, Pierre; or, The Ambiguities

Susan Howe, My Emily Dickinson

My Emily Dickinson by Susan Howe My rating: 4 of 5 stars The two greatest American poets are Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson; we have to take them together, like day and night. John Marsh's faith that Walt can save the nation's soul and his own is not exactly misplaced. What Emily can do for us … Continue reading Susan Howe, My Emily Dickinson

John Marsh, In Walt We Trust: How a Queer Socialist Poet Can Save America from Itself

In Walt We Trust: How a Queer Socialist Poet Can Save America from Itself by John Marsh My rating: 4 of 5 stars In Walt We Trust is blessedly less reductive than its overeager title and subtitle make it sound. John Marsh is a professor at Penn State specializing in American poetry and the literature … Continue reading John Marsh, In Walt We Trust: How a Queer Socialist Poet Can Save America from Itself

Henry James, Hawthorne

Hawthorne by Henry James My rating: 5 of 5 stars This short 1879 book is Henry James's critical biography of the man who would at the time have been considered his most distinguished precursor in American fiction, Nathaniel Hawthorne. James was early in his career and was moreover writing Hawthorne as the only entry on … Continue reading Henry James, Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne My rating: 5 of 5 stars Preface What is The Scarlet Letter about? Generations of confused American students want to know! This short 1850 historical novel, written by a middle-aged and modestly successful short story writer and lately deposed customs inspector, tells a tale of crime and punishment in … Continue reading Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

Herman Melville, The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids

The Paradise of Bachelors and The Tartarus of Maids by Herman Melville My rating: 5 of 5 stars After re-reading Moby-Dick, I decided to revisit this remarkable short story (or diptych of sketches) as well. Originally published in Harper's in 1855, it is one of Melville's lesser-known works, not included in his 1856 collection The … Continue reading Herman Melville, The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids

Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville My rating: 5 of 5 stars [Note: all quotations from essays, letters, and reviews below come from documents included in this Norton Critical Edition.] In his 1850 manifesto-essay in praise of Nathaniel Hawthorne, "Hawthorne and His Mosses," Herman Melville scorns the Anglophile polish and traditionalism of Washington Irving, then considered the … Continue reading Herman Melville, Moby-Dick