chapter  8
61 Pages

Pierre, or the Ambiguities of American Literary History

Pierre is a major text not only in but about American literary history. The difference in Melville's Dedication is that the conflict turns inward, splinters into ambiguities about the self, and these inner civil wars reveal, among other things, that this creative sun draws its light, un-Romantically, from many other sources. There were several routes to the spirit available to the American Romantic at midcentury. One of these Melville outlines in his review of Hawthorne's Mosses: spite of all the Indian-summer sunlight on the hither side of Hawthorne's soul, the other side is shrouded in blackness. Antebellum Americans placed enormous value on the Romantic correspondence between the object and its reflection. Pierre registers the shock of modernism. That shock is itself not distinctive to Melville (we find it in other writers of the time, on both sides of the Atlantic); nor is modernism, in its literary sense, distinctive to the modern era.