The years 1850-1851 are pivotal for Herman Melville, as his newborn relationship with Nathaniel Hawthorne has a crucial influence on Moby-Dick, according to this historical novel.
Set in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, where Oliver Wendell Holmes and other 19th-century literary figures reside, this first novel begins with a hike and a picnic during which Melville meets and becomes smitten with Hawthorne. The author of A Scarlet Letter is somewhat restrained from reciprocating by his deep feelings for his wife and his morality. Within a plot whose action is confined largely to trips between and visits at the writers’ homes, Beauregard sustains a fine tension with the turbulent friendship, Melville’s troubled marriage, his lack of money, and an amusing bluestocking who plants rumors of another affair. In what is otherwise a well-written debut, however, Melville’s passion and frustration produce some unfortunately overheated language: “the soft ravishments of his beauty”; “a maelstrom of joy and confusion”; “the most beautiful creature that had ever existed.” Fortunately, Hawthorne, amid the most productive period of his writing career, also inspires rich conversation and offers crucial suggestions for transmuting what had been a "grand farce" about whaling into one of the greatest American novels. The real tension and treat here is watching how a distraught, impecunious romantic finds a way to set aside all distractions in pursuit of his artistic grail. An afterword confirms the extensive research behind the people, events, dialogue, and letters depicted while noting that the letter in which Hawthorne advises on Moby-Dick is fictional. Whether Beauregard’s research supports the inference of a near affair is almost beside the point. As an element in the present novel, it is decidedly for better and only a bit for worse.
Rich in historical detail, this novel explores its themes of creativity and friendship with an unusual intensity that kindles some excesses but goes far to overshadowing them.