Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade

The Confidence-Man by Herman Melville My rating: 4 of 5 stars This 1857 novel, Melville's last, aside from the unfinished and posthumously published Billy Budd, takes place in a single setting—a Mississippi steamboat called the Fidèle—over the course of one day, April 1, All Fools' Day. It begins most mysteriously— At sunrise on a first of … Continue reading Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade

Jean Giono, Melville

Melville: A Novel by Jean Giono My rating: 4 of 5 stars Twentieth-century French novelist Jean Giono is currently being introduced (or re-introduced by NYRB Classics) to American readers, and what better introduction than Giono's bio-fantasia about Herman Melville, now translated by Paul Eprile? Melville was published in 1941 in France, and written in the … Continue reading Jean Giono, Melville

Elizabeth Hardwick, Herman Melville

Herman Melville by Elizabeth Hardwick My rating: 4 of 5 stars A review with, or in, digressions: Elizabeth Hardwick, who died a decade ago at 91, is having a literary revival. Her collected essays are due later this year; articles abound, and will abound. Sentences are offered for our delectation. Sarah Nicole Prickett gives us … Continue reading Elizabeth Hardwick, Herman Melville

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

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

Charles Johnson, Middle Passage

Middle Passage by Charles Johnson My rating: 4 of 5 stars Middle Passage begins with an audacious sentence, "Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I've come to learn, is women," which announces its audacious conceit: published just four years after Beloved's solemn Freudian-Faulknerian modernism arrogated slavery to the … Continue reading Charles Johnson, Middle Passage

William Shakespeare, Timon of Athens

The Life of Timon of Athens by William Shakespeare My rating: 4 of 5 stars [For Shakespeare's birth/death day. Also a good day to revisit my essay on Shakespeare's detractors and what they miss about the meaning and worth of his nihilism.] When I was reading this—a late quasi-tragedy of about the same period as … Continue reading William Shakespeare, Timon of Athens

Sublimity Listed: Bloom’s 12 American Writers

Harold Bloom has a new book coming out—rather like my grandmother, he's been falsely prophesying his imminent demise for almost my entire lifetime. Since the end will come for us all eventually, I'm always glad to see old Bloom fighting the good fight.* Now he lists his 12 authors who best exemplify "the American Sublime" (see the … Continue reading Sublimity Listed: Bloom’s 12 American Writers