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The Cambridge Introduction to Herman Melville
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  • Page extent: 154 pages
  • Size: 228 x 152 mm
  • Weight: 0.38 kg

Library of Congress

  • Dewey number: 813/.3 B
  • Dewey version: 22
  • LC Classification: PS2386 .H35 2007
  • LC Subject headings:
    • Melville, Herman,--1819-1891--Handbooks, manuals, etc
    • Authors, American--19th century--Biography--Handbooks, manuals, etc

Library of Congress Record

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 (ISBN-13: 9780521854801)

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The Cambridge Introduction to
Herman Melville

Despite its indifferent reception when it was first published in 1851, Moby-Dick is now a central work in the American literary canon. This introduction offers readings of Melville’s masterpiece, but it also sets out the key themes, contexts, and critical reception of his entire oeuvre. The first chapters cover Melville’s life and the historical and cultural contexts. Melville’s individual works each receive full attention in the third chapter, including Typee, Moby-Dick, Billy Budd and the short stories. Elsewhere in the chapter different themes in Melville are explained with reference to several works: Melville’s writing process, Melville as letter writer, Melville and the past, Melville and modernity, Melville’s late writings. The final chapter analyzes Melville scholarship from his day to ours. Kevin J. Hayes provides comprehensive information about Melville’s life and works in an accessible and engaging book that will be essential for students beginning to read this important author.

Kevin J. Hayes is Professor of English at the University of Central Oklahoma. He is the author of many books on Melville and American literature, including Melville’s Folk Roots (1999) and the Checklist of Melville Reviews (with Hershel Parker, 1991).

Cambridge Introductions to Literature

This series is designed to introduce students to key topics and authors. Accessible and lively, these introductions will also appeal to readers who want to broaden their understanding of the books and authors they enjoy.

• Ideal for students, teachers, and lecturers

• Concise, yet packed with essential information

• Key suggestions for further reading

Titles in this series:

Eric Bulson The Cambridge Introduction to James Joyce

John Xiros Cooper The Cambridge Introduction to T. S. Eliot

Kirk Curnutt The Cambridge Introduction to F. Scott Fitzgerald

Janette Dillon The Cambridge Introduction to Early English Theatre

Jane Goldman The Cambridge Introduction to Virginia Woolf

Kevin J. Hayes The Cambridge Introduction to Herman Melville

David Holdeman The Cambridge Introduction to W. B. Yeats

M. Jimmie Killingsworth The Cambridge Introduction to Walt Whitman

Ronan McDonald The Cambridge Introduction to Samuel Beckett

Wendy Martin The Cambridge Introduction to Emily Dickinson

Peter Messent The Cambridge Introduction to Mark Twain

John Peters The Cambridge Introduction to Joseph Conrad

Sarah Robbins The Cambridge Introduction to Harriet Beecher Stowe

Martin Scofield The Cambridge Introduction to the American Short Story

Peter Thomson The Cambridge Introduction to English Theatre, 1660–1900

Janet Todd The Cambridge Introduction to Jane Austen

The Cambridge Introduction to

Herman Melville


Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 2RU, UK

Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title:

© Kevin J. Hayes 2007

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception
and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,
no reproduction of any part may take place without
the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2007

Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge

A catalogue record for this publication is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloguing in Publication data
Hayes, Kevin J.
The Cambridge introduction to Herman Melville / by Kevin J. Haye.
p. cm. -- (Cambridge introductions to literature)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN-13: 978-0-521-85480-1 (hardback)
ISBN-10: 0-521-85480-6 (hardback)
ISBN-13: 978-0-521-67104-0 (pbk.)
ISBN-10: 0-521-67104-3 (pbk.)
1. Melville, Herman, 1819–1891 – Handbooks, manuals, etc. 2. Authors, American – 19th
century – Biography – Handbooks, manuals, etc. I. Title. II. Title: Herman Melville. III. Series.
PS2386.H35 2007
813′.3 – dc22

ISBN-13-978-0-521-85480-1 hardback
ISBN-13-978-0-521-67104-0 paperback

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of URLs
for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not
guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.

For Myung-Ran


Preface Page ix
List of abbreviations xi
Chapter 1 Life 1
Chapter 2 Contexts 12
The existential context 12
The historical context 13
The urban context 14
The visual context 16
The psychological context 19
The American context 20
The context of labor 21
The context of slavery 22
The world context 23
The imaginative context 23
Chapter 3 Writings 25
The faces of Typee 27
Omoo: the rover as flaneur 33
Becoming a great writer: Mardi, Redburn, White-Jacket 39
Confronting Moby-Dick 46
Pierre: the making of a tragic hero 60
Private letters 67
Rewriting history: Israel Potter and “Benito Cereno” 74
Modern man: “The Lightning-Rod Man,” The Confidence-Man, “Bartleby, the Scrivener” 81
Battle-Pieces: the voices of war 87
Clarel, an American epic 92
The return to prose: Burgundy Club sketches, John Marr 99
Billy Budd: visions and revisions 105
Chapter 4 Reception 112
Notes 124
Guide to further reading 130
Index 135


Everybody who has ever read Moby-Dick remembers when they first read it. For me, it was the winter of my sophomore year at the University of Toledo. Having yet to declare a major, I enrolled in Professor Hoch’s Poe-Hawthorne-Melville seminar with thoughts of majoring in English. Previously, I had read only one Melville work, “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” which Mrs Stutz had assigned us in high school English. For the remainder of that school year, Bartleby’s catch phrase – “I would prefer not to” – became a part of our classroom banter, but the story itself did not inspire me or exert a lasting influence on my life.

Moby-Dick did.

I still have the books I bought for Professor Hoch’s class, which I took – can it be? – almost thirty years ago. We read Moby-Dick in the Norton critical edition prepared by Harrison Hayford and Hershel Parker. I have since added many other editions of Moby-Dick to my library, but I still cannot bring myself to let go of the first copy I ever owned. Its back is broken, and several pages flutter out every time I open it, but my Norton Moby-Dick continues to occupy an important place in my personal library. This is the book that inspired me to devote my life to the study of literature.

It contains underlined passages and marginal comments in three different colors of ink. Each color dates from a different reading. The lengthy comments in red are the most recent: they come from the first time I taught Moby-Dick in a Poe-Hawthorne-Melville seminar of my own. The comments in black ink are class notes from a graduate seminar Professor Parker taught at the University of Delaware. (The fact that I was attending graduate school at Delaware further reflects the influence of the Norton Moby-Dick: I had decided to study with one of its editors.) The brief marginal comments and the passages underlined in blue ink date from Professor Hoch’s undergraduate seminar.

There are noticeable differences in the quality of my marginalia. The red and the black are marks made by a literary professional learning his craft at the start of his career. The marginalia in blue seem amateurish in comparison. They make no notice of plot or narrative technique or characterization or imagery or symbolism. But these early marks do something the later ones do not: they reflect the thrill of discovery. Passages in my copy of Moby-Dick underlined in blue represent points of contact, places in the text where Melville had crystallized into words ideas that I had formed only in the vaguest and most inchoate way.

The Cambridge Introduction to Herman Melville gives me the chance to share with others the kind of opportunity I had as an undergraduate, to help readers experience the thrill of discovery that comes from reading Melville for the first time. The four chapters that comprise this book survey Melville’s literary career from different perspectives. Chapter 1 tells the story of his life. Using the opening chapter of Moby-Dick as a starting point, Chapter 2 introduces the philosophical, historical, and cultural contexts through which to view Melville’s writings. This chapter supplies in miniature many ideas that are more fully developed in Chapter 3, which presents a series of critical discussions of his work. And Chapter 4 tells the story of Melville’s critical reception, from the contemporary enthusiasm that greeted Typee through the near-total neglect he experienced through the Melville revival in the early twentieth century, a time when the world discovered Melville.



Hayford, Harrison, and Merton M. Sealts, Jr., eds., Billy Budd, Sailor (An Inside Narrative): Reading Text and Genetic Text, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.


Higgins, Brian, and Hershel Parker, eds., Herman Melville: The Contemporary Reviews, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995.


Parker, Hershel, and Harrison Hayford, eds., Moby-Dick as Doubloon: Essays and Extracts (1851–1970), New York: Norton, 1970.


Leyda, Jay, The Melville Log: A Documentary Life of Herman Melville, 1819–1891, 1951; reprinted, New York: Gordian Press, 1969.


Hayford, Harrison, G. Thomas Tanselle, and Hershel Parker, eds., The Writings of Herman Melville, Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and The Newberry Library, 1968–, 13 vols. to date (1–10, 12, 14–15).


Sadleir, Michael, ed., The Works of Herman Melville. London: Constable and Co., 1922–1924, 16 vols.

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