MELVILLE: A Biography by Edwin Haviland Miller

MELVILLE: A Biography

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A major scholarly work on Melville. Miller, a Whitman authority who teaches at New York University, makes a convincing case for a psychological portrait of the artist seen through rather a tiny aperture. On August 5, 1850, Herman Melville was introduced to Nathaniel Hawthorne. This meeting is the starting point and the focus of Miller's biography. It seems that young Herman was rejected by his weak-kneed, perennially bankrupt father who had placed his hopes on an elder son. Herman developed the ugly duckling syndrome and sought all his life, in and out of fiction, the love of an older man. The meeting with Hawthorne must have been love at first sight, since Melville immediately relocated his family (to whom he was indifferent or worse--one son committed suicide) to the Berkshires in order to pursue the writer he lionized as ""the American Shakespeare."" After a ""strangely intense"" friendship of fifteen months' duration, Hawthorne suddenly departed. Miller constructs a confrontation from literary evidence and quotes the line from Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance: ""There is not the man in this wide world whom I can love as I could you."" Melville, of course, was deemed a failure in his lifetime, recognized only as the author of adventures like Typee and Omoo, which he ridiculed as ""Pee-dee, Hullaballoo & Pog-Dog."" Mardi and Moby Dick, dedicated to Hawthorne, received especially bad reviews. Which makes it all the more easy to understand his need for the approval from the famous Hawthorne and the crushing disappointment at his desertion. Miller traces Melville's oedipal problems in a novel-by-novel format. Perhaps he milks the Freudian symbolism for more than it's worth but that's a small nit to pick considering the great merit of this most thorough, thoughtful and engaging biography.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1975
Publisher: Braziller