Group Title: multi-genre analysis of Melville's Pierre
Title: A multi-genre analysis of Melville's Pierre:
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Title: A multi-genre analysis of Melville's Pierre: the patterns almost followed
Physical Description: vi, 212 leaves : ; 28cm.
Language: English
Creator: Hauser, Helen Ann, 1948-
Publication Date: 1975
Copyright Date: 1975
Subject: English thesis Ph. D
Dissertations, Academic -- English -- UF
Genre: bibliography   ( marcgt )
non-fiction   ( marcgt )
Thesis: Thesis--University of Florida.
Bibliography: Bibliography: leaves 201-211.
Additional Physical Form: Also available on World Wide Web
General Note: Typescript.
General Note: Vita.
Statement of Responsibility: by Helen Ann Hauser.
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Bibliographic ID: UF00097528
Volume ID: VID00001
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier: alephbibnum - 000165423
oclc - 02801119
notis - AAT1801


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Helen Ann Hauser




I wish to thank Dr. Gordon Bigelow and the other

members of my advisory committee for their advice and

assistance. I am grateful for the use of library facil-

ities at the University of Miami and Florida International

University. Most of all, I thank the members of my family

for their help and their patience.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS . . . . . . . . ii

ABSTRACT . . . . . . . . ... . . iv

INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . 1

Notes . . . . . . . . ... . . 13

Notes . . . . . .. . . 37

2. PIERRE AS GOTHIC NOVEL . . . . .. 38
Notes . . . . . . . . .. 69

3. PIERRE AS SATIRE . . . . . ... 72
Notes . . . . . . . . .. 112

Notes . . . . . . . . .. 143

Notes . . . . . . . . . 168

6. PIERRE AS SYMBOLIST NOVEL . . . . .. .170
Notes . . . . ... . . . . 194

CONCLUSION . . . . . ... . . . . 196

BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . . .. . . . . 201

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH . . . . ... . . 212

Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate Council
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements
for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy



Helen Ann Hauser

June, 1975

Chairman: Gordon E. Bigelow
Major Department: English

Most studies of Pierre have approached the work with

the assumption that it is basically autobiographical. It

has been studied for what it reveals about Melville and

criticized for the author's apparent lack of aesthetic

distance. If, however, the work is not primarily an

autobiography, it has been unfairly criticized. This

study investigates the other genres to which Pierre may

belong. Possible sources, definitions, and examples of

each genre are presented and compared with Pierre. The

genres examined include the novel of manners, gothic

novel, satire, Elizabethan tragedy, psychological novel,

and symbolist novel. Conventions and techniques belonging

to each of them are adopted but modified by Melville to

increase the ambiguity of his own work.

Melville's detailed portrait of an American aris-

tocracy and its morality suggests the novel of manners.

Persons of various social classes are contrasted in the

city as well as in the feudal society of Saddle Meadows.

Belief in his caste's rigorous code of conduct creates

problems for the aristocrat, who becomes either an outcast

like Pierre or a hypocrite like Glen Stanly. Another con-

temporary type of fiction available to Melville was the

gothic novel. Pierre adapts from the gothic cast of char-

acters the dark and light heroines, the ineffective hero,

and the Byronic central figure who is both hero and villain.

It depicts the gothic struggle between a rational, ordered

mentality and a chaotic primitivism. Multiple selves,

entrapment, and inherited doom are other gothic charac-

teristics shared by Pierre. A third contemporary type,

the sentimental novel, is parodied in Melville's narrative

effusions. The narrator uses Chaucerian irony toward

Pierre and other characters. As a satirical prose narra-

tive illustrating a philosophical proposition (the Plin-

limmon pamphlet), Pierre is in many respects similar to a

work like Candide. Considering the work as satire clarifies

the position of the narrator and gives a reason for the

sometimes offensive prose style.

Melville's enthusiasm for Renaissance drama is evident

in Pierre as well as in Moby-Dick. Pierre is modeled on

the Shakespearean heroes Hamlet and Romeo, the book's

structure is similar to the five-act drama, and much of

the dialogue is in archaic language. In its total outlook

and its handling of moral questions, however, Pierre is

closer to other dramatists than to Shakespeare. The revenge

tragedy and the villain play are the types which provide

the closest analogues to Pierre.

Two twentieth-century forms, the psychological novel

and the symbolist novel, are also examined. A great deal

of the interest in Pierre is centered on the gradual disin-

tegration of the main character's psyche. Melville's use

of Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy and Dante's Inferno as

textbook and metaphor, respectively, is explored. The

final chapter deals with the symbolic significance of

characters, setting, and action. Symbolist techniques

such as indirection, vagueness of reference, synechdoche,

dependence of meaning on context, and plurisignation are

demonstrated in Pierre. Symbolism is an important tool for

expressing the deliberate ambiguities of the book. Even

more effective is Melville's eclectic juggling of genres,

keeping the reader constantly puzzled about the nature of

the book. Modifications of each form act to increase am-

biguity, as well. The method of multi-genre analysis

reveals complexities and subtleties in Pierre that might

otherwise be missed. It is an appropriate technique for

a writer like Melville, who experiments in form.



The nineteenth century saw the rise of a great

native literature in America; America was coming of age

intellectually. Old-World forms fit Old-World ideas, but

Americans needed something else. Thus, it was a time of

experimentation in literary form. Emerson's theories of

poetry and Whitman's practice, Thoreau's poetic prose,

Hawthorne's romances and his and Poe's short tales, to

cite a few, were attempts to find appropriate forms.

Melville's search for usable forms led him from travel

books to the Bible, from Elizabethan drama to the con-

temporary Gothic novel, and finally into poetry. No two

of his books are of the same pattern except, possibly, the

two he considered as pot-boilers, White-Jacket and Redburn.

Each time he took up a project, the continuous development

of his mind and art made it different from previous works.

Often development took place during composition, so that

the end differed from the beginning.

Melville was passionately fond of Shakespeare, but

his career in literature is far more like that of another

Renaissance Englishman, John Milton. Milton took up form

after form, and seldom went back to one he had previously

handled. Even the chronological outlines of their careers

are often parallel. Melville broke into print with Typee

and Omoo, youthful works like Milton's "L'Allegro" and

"Il Penseroso." Mardi is his Comus, Moby-Dick his

Paradise Lost, Pierre his Samson Agonistes with similar

autobiographical overtones, and Billy Budd his Paradise

Regained. This final affirmative statement, though

acknowledged to be a fine work, lacks the thunder of

Moby-Dick and stands in relation to the earlier work as

Paradise Regained stands to the more compelling Paradise

Lost. "Bartleby" and "Benito Cereno," along with the

other magazine stories, are his sonnets, a smaller form

fully controlled and sometimes mastered so entirely as

to define the limits of the form. Milton always began

with the intention of writing something in an established

mold--epic, sonnet, drama, etc.--and so produced splendid

examples of each. Melville, however, began with story

and idea, not form, and produced hybrid works fused of

numerous established forms. As he expressed it, con-

flicting objectives created "a final hash, and all my

books are botches." The narrator of Pierre is speaking

of form as well as content when he decrees

. that no one great book must ever be separately
regarded, and permitted to domineer with its own
uniqueness upon the creative mind; but that all
existing great works must be federated in the fancy;
and so regarded as a miscellaneous and Pantheistic

Separating the elements of Melville's fusions is

more than an idle academic exercise; it is an approach to

Melville that is both new and revealing. When an author

chooses to write in a particular genre, he makes a tacit

promise to his readers. Each type of literature is aimed

at a reader with a given degree of intellectual training,

is expected to carry the proper amount of serious feeling

on the spectrum between farce and high tragedy, demands a

certain degree of concentration on the part of the reader,

and presents an authorial persona of the proper type. When

an author arouses these expectations but only partially

fulfills them, tension is created. This is the case with

Melville's generically variant fiction. The author then has

a new instrument for his manipulations, that gap between

conventional expectations and the book as he intends to

deliver it.

Genre criticism is based on the assumption that we

must ask, "What is it?" before we ask, "How good is it?"

Attempts to circumvent the former question while attending

to the latter end in a preference for a particular type of

fiction which is used as the standard, to the detriment of

works in variant forms. Such has been the result of the

highly influential criticism of Henry James and, more

recently, of Wayne C. Booth (The Rhetoric of Fiction);

they preferred, nonetheless, very different standards.

Northrop Frye's discussion of modes and genres in The

Anatomy of Criticism is primarily theoretical, as it is

intended to be. A complete genre study for general

purposes should include an historical study of the type,

as well. The work in question should be compared to a

theoretical or ideal example of a particular genre and

to particular works in that pattern. Such is the method

of the present study. Deviations from the norm must be

carefully noted, as they reveal the creativity of the

artist at work. By examining Melville's use of genres

and his departures from conventional expectations, we

may get a glimpse of the phantom known as authorial

intention, and we will be able to trace the process of

creative work in a way impossible to mere source study,

important as that is to literary scholarship. Indeed,

it would be very difficult to do a genre study without

previous responsible source study, which fortunately

has been done on Pierre.

Pierre has been chosen for this study because it

offers fruitful grounds for multi-genre analysis, being

obviously composed of several distinct types of literature,

but also because, despite much study, it is one of the

most maligned of Melville's works. Newton Arvin, one of

our best Melville commentators, calls Pierre:

S. one of the most painfully ill-conditioned books
ever to be produced by a first-rate mind. . And
it must be said at once that Pierre's badness is an

active and positive, not a merely negative one;
it is the badness of misdirected and even perverted
powers, but not of deficiency or deadness.

In his excellent scholarly edition of Pierre, Henry A.

Murray calls the book "a literary monster."3 Even while

providing notes on a multitude of sources for Pierre,

Murray insists that the book is primarily autobiographical

and confessional in nature, that the characters are members

of Melville's family and circle of friends, and that the

buildings, scenery, paintings, and even the very streets

are drawn from life. Murray, who calls himself a "pro-

fessing psychologist," naturally takes a psychologist's

view of the work and treats it as one would treat a draw-

ing by a schizophrenic. That is, he does not regard it

primarily as art but as a document capable of providing

much information about the patient's problems.

The depletion of writing Moby-Dick and the religious

and philosophical struggle he was continually engaged in

left Melville, in Murray's view, in a kind of paralysis.

Pierre is in a "frantic, schizoid state"4 while writing,

and one suspects that Murray would use the identical phrase

to describe Pierre's creator if he were not, like any good

editor, careful to avoid extreme positions. Following

Lewis Mumford's view in his biography of Melville, Murray

sees the author as a "depleted puppeteer" at this juncture.

Be considers Pierre to be important only for what it can

tell us about Melville, and that is a considerable amount.

The action of writing avoids and postpones more direct

action, claims Murray:

By wrestling with these "meaningless" bi-horned
enigmas of thought and persuading himself and others
that his happiness depends on his finding the
talismanic secret (which he knows is impossible), he
dresses his mental preoccupations in robes of historic
dignity, covers the naked facts of his personal
distress, and indefinitely postpones the dreaded
curative decision.6

Alan Holder7 notices that there is a comic and

satiric tone when Pierre is mocked for his innocence, but

that the narrator is sympathetic to the mature hero. There

is, therefore, "tonal uncertainty" in the book, a major

flaw. Some recent dissertations place higher values on

Pierre, partly because they seem to approach the book with

fewer preconceived expectations. Mildred Travis8 stresses

the dense texture of meaning in the novel, with so many

levels that the explicator requires vast resources. Raj

Kumar Gupta9 boldly, if over-enthusiastically, proclaims

that "the novel is not a failure, as it is generally taken

to be, but a successful literary performance and one of

Melville's greatest literary achievements." This spirited

defense, however, has not visibly affected the scholarly

world, and critical estimates of Pierre remain uniformly

low. Let us consider some of the reasons for this judgment.

One of Murray's reasons for considering Pierre as

confessional is the speed with which it was written and its

inception so soon after the completion of Moby-Dick. This

suddenness is considered as evidence of the compulsion

which drove Melville at this time and impelled him to pour

out his personal problems on paper. It may, however, be

evidence that the book was planned well in advance and

needed only to be given flesh. Melville had jokingly

asked for "fifty fast-writing youths" to help him with

the numerous works he was planning even while writing

Moby-Dick. Pierre may well have been planned in its

entirety as early as Evert Duyckinck's letter of August 4,

1850, written from Broadhall:

The house where we live, Melville's is a rare
place--an old family mansion, wainscoted and stately,
with large halls & chimneys--quite a piece of
mouldering rural grandeur--The family has gone down
& this is their last season. The farm has been sold.
Herman Melville knows every stone & tree & will
probably make a book of its features.10

It is worth remarking that Melville's earlier

work, Mardi, is always considered an unsuccessful attempt

but that none of these psychological excuses are ever given

for Mardi. It is, instead, agreed to be an insufficient

fusion of conflicting modes and objectives. Pierre receives

the treatment it does because some of its subject matter

appears morbid and unhealthy,not typical of the outgoing

sailor we get to know in Melville's other books. However,

in its use of incest and insanity, Pierre is far less

morbid than certain novels (most notably The Monk) in the

gothic mode of which Pierre is partially built, and its

sentimentality is far more restrained than that of

popular sentimental novelists. Why argue a loss of

control when Melville dips into these other territories?

If Murray can trace the mansion at Saddle Meadows

to Broadhall, we can also trace the Pequod to the Acushnet.

Why treat Pierre as confessional when every one of

Melville's books, even Israel Potter, is more or less auto-

biographical? The differences from life are at least as

significant as the correspondences. The city boy, born

into a family struggling with debts and surrounded by sib-

lings and cousins, is hardly the wealthy and solitary

Pierre. Nor is it adequate to account for the differences

as wish fulfillment. Furthermore, the character Pierre

really loses control, whereas Melville survived to old age

and apparently achieved some kind of peace. Surely he

caught a glimpse of Pierre's gulf from his own experiences,

but the fact remains that he did not fall into it as

Pierre does.

Perhaps it is because Melville here speaks of an

author and his struggle to write that we associate Pierre

with Melville himself, in New York to finish writing Moby-

Dick as the first portion is already running through the

press. In Arvin's phrase, "The stuff of Pierre was the

stuff of Melville's daily sufferings as he wrote it."11

But Melville was also the adventurer and beachcomber

depicted in Typee and Omoo, the innocent boy in Redburn,

the metaphysically inclined Ishmael in Moby-Dick, as well

as other men he painted. It is unfair to the book to

decide that Pierre is Melville's true avatar, when he has

presented us with so many others.

Rather than trying to explain Pierre (and also

The Confidence Man, whose perplexities are often

attributed to a confused mental state) in terms of

psychological strains upon the author, an unlikely hypo-

thesis when one considers that the magnificently controlled

stories "Bartleby" and "Benito Cereno" belong to this period,

it is more useful to examine Pierre as just another of

Melville's books, another experiment in his attempt to

find the literary form which could serve as a vehicle

for his ideas. The following study will examine the types

of literature which were combined to form the mold for

Pierre. As they prove to be such mutually incompatible

forms, on the surface at least, any critic who wishes to

dislike Pierre may find ample grounds for the flaws he

sees in the cracks that are liable to penetrate such a


Criticism contemporary with the publication of

Pierre took issue with its moral premises. Now that time

has removed the insistence on a certain kind of morality

in fiction, critics find Pierre objectionable because,

having an intimate knowledge of Melville's personal life,

the modern critic thinks he sees Melville revealing what

he would prefer not to know. For a critic who knows and

likes Melville, Pierre has rather the same effect as a

perusal of Keats' love letters has upon an admirer of

that poet. This, however, is our problem and is external

to the work itself. It has to be overcome if we are to

be fair to the book. Melville certainly never expected

his readers to know enough about him to receive this

impression. One of his minor annoyances was that so

many of them refused to believe that "Herman Melville"

was an actual name and not a pseudonym. As for serious

critical study, the man who expected to "die in a gutter"

could hardly have foreseen that he would become the object

of so much scholarly industry. Had he suspected his

future fame and the amount of attention his works would

receive, he might well have been more careful to disguise

his borrowings from life.12

The only legitimate objection to Pierre from the

standpoint of "New Criticism" would be an artistic one.

"New Criticism" as a dogma has many problems, but in this

case it is justifiable as a corrective to the bulk of

criticism about this novel, tending as it does to con-

centrate on autobiographical elements. Artistic objections

to Pierre legitimately exist. It has been alleged that

the language of the book is artificial and inappropriate,

and that the narrator fails to keep a proper artistic

distance from his hero. Murray makes the latter

charge, Mumford the former. These positions can be and
have been contested. Some of the "distancing" elements

are the pamphlet, the "Young America in Literature" chapters,

and the occasional appearances of Shakespearean and

Dickensian comedy. Some of the stylistic excesses may

well be parody. Both "faults" are best understood and

explained when we have examined the components that make up


Previous critics, usually without explicitly

stating so, have generally considered Pierre as an auto-

biographical novel. Goethe's Wilhelm Meister books,

Thomas Wolfe's novels, and preeminently Joyce's Portrait

of the Artist as a Young Man are among the works that

serve as implicit standards for that genre. Lacking their

aesthetic distance, Pierre suffers by comparison with works

like these. Thus a genre classification lies behind the

value judgment of Melville's novel. Reexamining the genre

can lead to a fairer value judgment, or at least to a

judgment solidly based on comparison with works of

comparable type. In the following pages we will consider

Pierre as a novel of manners, psychological novel, gothic


novel, Menippean satire, Shakespearean tragedy, and

symbolist novel. Besides freeing Pierre from considera-

tion solely as a thinly disguised autobiography, the

method of multi-genre analysis can be useful in studying

other works, especially The Confidence Man, yielding

further insights into the structure of the works them-

selves and eliminating some of the standing misconcep-

tions about Melville as a craftsman.


Herman Melville, Pierre: or, The Ambiguities,
ed. Henry A. Murray (New York: Hendricks House, 1962),
p. 334. All subsequent citations from Pierre will be
from this edition.

Newton Arvin, Herman Melville (New York:
William Sloan Associates, Inc., 1950), p. 219.

"Introduction" to Pierre, p. xciii.

Ibid., p. xvi.

Ibid., p. xiv. The phrase is Murray's, not

Ibid., p. xvii.

Alan Holder, "Style and Tone in Melville's Pierre,"
Emerson Society Quarterly, 60 (Summer, 1970), 76-86.

Mildred Klein Travis, "Toward the Explication of
Pierre: New Perspectives in Technique and Meaning,"
Dissertation Arizona State University, 1971.
Raj Kumar Gupta, "Form and Style in Herman
Melville's Pierre: or, The Ambiguities," Dissertation
University of Pittsburgh, 1964. Quoted from Dissertation
Abstracts, 26 (1965), 1632.

10In Jay Leyda, The Melville Log: A Documentary
Life of Herman Melville (New York: Gordian Press, 1969),
p. 383.

1Arvin, Herman Melville, p. 227.

If, indeed, the correspondences are so exact,
it is strange that Melville allowed the novel to be
published while so many of the persons he allegedly
depicted were still living. Certainly his mother would
not be flattered by the portrait of Mary Glendinning, if
she is indeed the original.

13See Gupta (note 9) and also Lawrance Thompson's
"Foreword" to the Signet edition of Pierre (New York:
New American Library, 1964).



When Richard Chase stated in The American Novel

and Its Tradition that the romance, not the novel, is the

dominant form of American prose narrative, he became the

spokesman for a view that has held center stage for a

considerable time. It is quite rare, therefore, to find

a discussion of the American novel of manners, since this

is a form almost exactly opposed to the romance. American

writers themselves have made statements which support the

view that true "novelistic" material is lacking in their

country. Hawthorne's well-known complaint about the

problems of gathering material in America is found in the

preface to The Marble Faun. In his biography of Hawthorne,

Henry James paraphrased and extended this lament to include

the grievances of the novelist as well as those of the


No state, in the European sense of the word, and indeed
barely a specific national name. No sovereign, no
court, no personal loyalty, no aristocracy, no church,
no clergy, no army, no diplomatic service, no country
gentlemen, no palaces, no castles, nor manors, nor
old country houses, nor parsonages, nor thatched cot-
tages, nor ivied ruins; no cathedrals, nor abbeys, nor
little Norman churches; no great Universities nor
public schools--no Oxford, nor Eton, nor Harrow; no

literature, no novels, no museums, no pictures, no
political society, no sporting class--no Epsom
nor Ascot! Some such list as that might be drawn
up of the absent things in American life--
especially in the American life of forty years ago,
the effect of which, upon an English or a French
imagination, would probably, as a general thing, be

Even James Fenimore Cooper, exalter of the American

pioneer spirit, made a similar complaint about the absence

of interesting manners in his native land. "I have never

seen a nation so much alike in my life, as the people of

these United States." Nevertheless, points out James

Tuttleton in his new study, The Novel of Manners in

America, these same writers did succeed in producing

something we can call a novel of manners. Since the class

differences in America are not so great as those in Europe,

the groups depicted in American novels are closer together

in status and their actual differences are more subtle

than those in European novels. The contrast between

basically similar sets of manners is not always obvious,

especially to the critic who believes that the novel does

not deal with this subject. By assuming that American

novelists do treat manners, however, Tuttleton arrives at

a rather impressive list of works that, either in toto or

in substantial part, meet the following criteria:

By a novel of manners I mean a novel in which the
manners, social customs, folkways, conventions,
traditions, and mores of a given social group at a
given time and place play a dominant role in the

lives of fictional characters, exert control over
their thought and behavior, and constitute a
determinant upon the actions in which they are
engaged, and in which these manners and customs
are detailed realistically--with, in fact, a premium
upon the exactness of their representation.3

Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables, for

example, deals with at least two distinct social groups.

There are the ancient, though decayed, Pyncheon aristoc-

racy and the thoroughly modern Holgrave, descendant of

the peasant Maules. By economic standards, all of the

characters except the Judge could be called lower middle

class. But the tragedy of Hepzibah's keeping a shop is

founded on her aristocratic ideal of conduct, while

Holgrave's radical politics emanate naturally from a

descendant of the dispossessed. In his Blithedale

Romance, Hawthorne chooses his groups by occupation

rather than by heredity. The manners of the dilettante

writer, the professional reformer, the hired farmer, the

liberated and unliberated woman are all drawn to a nicety.

Henry James, author of the most outspoken complaints

against America as inspiration for a novelist, is commonly

recognized as the American who comes closest to writing a

true novel of manners. His broadest contrast is between

American and European manners, a study which occupies the

whole of The American and plays a very important part in

novels such as The Portrait of a Lady and Roderick Hudson.

He also deals with subtler contrasts, however, such as the

difference between Hudson and his benefactor, both

Americans. In The Princess Casamassima he deals with

the extremes of European society, from an Italian prince

to a group of radical working men.

Among the works of Cooper are several that con-

cern themselves with the manners of social groups.

Cooper's first novel, Precaution, is an imitation English

novel of the Jane Austen ilk. After this, as he hit his

stride in the romance and had much success, his early

interests did not disappear. The Pioneers, for example,

highlights the various stages of civilization represented

by the Indians, Natty Bumppo, the common settlers, and

the Templeton family. The love story in The Pathfinder

is predicated upon certain differences in culture between

Natty and a well-educated girl from the city. The Prairie

deals with a lower class of whites, an upper class, and

two varieties of Indian society. Natty Bumppo is accepted

by all but belongs to none, having his own particular ideas

about his caste and conduct. Each character acts accord-

ing to the ideas of his own group, his "redskin natur',"

his hunter's code, his patriarchal clan norms, or his truly

cultured sense of honor. Homeward Bound and Home as Found

are Cooper novels which deal explicitly with American


The work of Cooper which comes closest to the novel

of manners is, however, the trilogy known as the

Littlepage Manuscripts. These three books--Satanstoe,

The Chainbearer and The Redskins--are written as a family

saga which traces the history of a wealthy American family

from pre-Revolutionary times down to Cooper's contempor-

aneous present. In the introduction to Satanstoe, the

narrator, Cornelius Littlepage, specifically states that

his purpose is to delineate the manners and mode of life

of his own class, for the edification of future generations.

He considers this step necessary because of the absence of

a native literature capable of performing that function.

Of course that statement is certainly true of the America

in which the story is set, but one suspects that Cooper

intended it as a comment upon his own time, as well. Corny

Littlepage's son and great-grandson narrate, respectively,

The Chainbearer and The Redskins.

Satanstoe, although it contains plenty of wilderness

adventure and takes in the battle of Ticonderoga for good

measure, nevertheless keeps love interest in the foreground.

Corny Littlepage's courtship of Anneke Mordaunt begins in

the small city of New York amid the rivalry of British

soldiers, some of them members of the high nobility; it

continues in the quaint Dutch town of Albany, where Dutch

and English cultures are contrasted; and it is finally

rewarded in a wilderness outpost during an Indian siege.

Another level is added by the presence of Jason Newcombe,

a New Englander by birth, whose provincial and Puritanical

mores are a foil to Corny's York Colony ideas and customs.

The Chainbearer is also unified by a courtship, and

one which touches upon class lines. Mordaunt Littlepage is

in love with a girl who, although of good family and well

educated, is so poor that she has "carried chain" in a

surveying party directed by her uncle. The question is

whether this labor has demeaned her below marriageable

status in the eyes of Mordaunt's family. Although she is

finally accepted, it is quite clear that there is a vast

gulf between her honest, hard-working uncle (after whom

the book is named) and the moneyed class represented by

the Littlepages. A third group is represented by the

family of squatters who occasion the complications of

the plot. Like the family of Ishmael Bush in The Prairie

whom they so much resemble, the Thousandacres family has

a definite code of honor about everything except the right

to real property.

Satanstoe and The Chainbearer provide a background

for the antirent issue discussed in the third book, The

Redskins. In the earlier two books, the Littlepage family

fights first Indians and then squatters to retain possession

of large wilderness tracts, which finally become settlements.

These estates are then threatened by a strong popular

movement to compel the sale of huge manors to the individual

tenants. To Cooper, this was really a moral issue. If

democracy is to survive, says wise old Hugh Roger Little-

page (Mordaunt's son) to his nephew of the same name, it

must have regard for the rights of a few great landlords

as well as those of numerous tenants and voters. The

Littlepages have undeniably clear title to the land, as

established in their earlier history. Thus they are

morally in the best position of anyone in the book except

for the single virtuous clergyman. The common people and

the descendants of Jason Newcombe, who oppose the Little-

page title, are depicted as inferior in social poise as

well as in morals. The question of what makes a true

gentleman is discussed also in terms of the ancient

Indian, Susquesus, who receives homage from everyone.

"Sus" has in common with the Littlepages two traits that

seem to epitomize aristocracy for Cooper: his moral

rectitude is outstanding, and he refuses to do manual


Other nineteenth-century American novelists of

manners cited in Tuttleton's study include Howells (The

Rise of Silas Lapham and Their Wedding Journey, in

particular) and Twain (parts of Huckleberry Finn and The

Gilded Age). But although Melville anticipates,

occasionally, things found in Howells, Twain, and James,

as he anticipates a great deal of still more modern

thought, his models in the American novel of manners

are limited chronologically to Cooper and Hawthorne.

With those two, however, he could have found a variety

of examples of the mode, as the preceding pages have


Melville's connection with Cooper is clearly

established by his own statements; and though he never

knew Cooper as a friend, he seems to have been quite

familiar with his work. He reviewed Cooper's The Sea

Lions and The Red Rover for Duyckinck. When asked to

attend a memorial dinner in honor of Cooper, who had

recently died, Melville sent the following letter of


I never had the honor of knowing, or even
seeing, Mr. Cooper personally; so that, through
my past ignorance of his person, the man, though
dead, is still as living to me as ever. And this
is very /much/; for his works are among the
earliest I remember, as in my boyhood producing a
vivid, and awakning /sic/ power upon my mind....
It is certain, that he possessed no slightest weak-
nesses, but those, which are only noticeable as the
almost infallible indices of pervading greatness.
He was a great, robust-souled man, all of whose
merits are not even yet fully appreciated.... 4

The contrast between this last statement and the famous

prescription he made for Hawthorne ("needsroast beef,

done rare") is striking. Among the Cooper stories which

enthralled young Melville may well have been the Littlepage

books, which ought to have interested his Dutch-English

relatives. It is interesting that this tribute to

Cooper was penned the year before the publication of

Pierre, which has many similarities to Cooper's antirent


Pierre is the only one of Melville's novels which

is set in Cooper country, New York. The history of the

Glendinning family is very similar to the Littlepage saga,

and both families hold enormous tracts of land under the

manorial system. Both title deeds go back to an original

purchase from the Indians, though in Cooper there is also

a grant from the King of England. Pierre's great-grand-

father defended the estate from Indian assaults. The

American founder of the Littlepage family held "the King's

Commission"; but it was his son, Corny Littlepage, who

did most of the Indian fighting. Corny Littlepage won

his bride during such an assault; old Glendinning, wounded

and unhorsed but still directing his troops from his

stationary saddle, met his death in another. This incident

gave the name Saddle Meadows to Pierre's ancestral home.

Pierre's grandfather, again like Corny Littlepage,

was a major-general in the Revolutionary War. Pierre

himself is comparable to the youngest Hugh Roger Little-

page, narrator of The Redskins, in being the sole male heir

of an illustrious and wealthy family. Pierre is younger,

however, and lacks the sophistication which foreign travel

has given to young Littlepage. Lucy Tartan, like Anneke

Mordaunt of Satanstoe, has both city and country residences.

The love for the country always brings Lucy to Saddle

Meadows at about the same time every year. Anneke always

tries to be at Lilacsbush, her rural seat, in time to see

the lilacs bloom. Otherwise, however, there is little

similarity between Anneke, probably the most believable

of Cooper's female characters, and Lucy, probably the least

so of Melville's.

The Littlepage family is of mixed Dutch and English

ancestry, combining the good qualities of both. Melville

does not specifically state that the Glendinnings have

Dutch blood. However, if they do not, the passage which

begins, "These far-descended Dutch meadows lie steeped in

a Hindooish haze . ." and his explanation of the existence

of vast manors under the Dutch system of colonization would

have no logical place in the book. Pierre's French name

probably indicates English ancestry with Norman influence

rather than direct contact with France in the past few

generations. This surmise is based on the paucity of

French settlers in York Colony when the family was founded

there, the clearly English sound of the Glendinning surname,

and the symbolic use of France as represented by Isabel

and her mother in contradistinction to the New-World open-

ness of Pierre.

In Satanstoe, Cooper explains the Dutch suspicion

of formal education, especially as imparted by colleges,

which were instruments of the English-speaking majority.

The true Dutch family decides against sending their son,

Dirck Follock, to college. The hybrid Littlepages do send

Dirck's boyhood companion, Corny. The pure New Englander,

Jason Newcombe, is not only a college graduate but is him-

self a pedagogue. With respect to schooling, Mary Glen-

dinning is apparently on the Dutch end of the spectrum;

she exults, "I thank heaven I sent him not to college."6

What she and the Follocks oppose is not the acquisition

of knowledge, but exposure to institutions whose spirit

is foreign to the family's.

Much discussion in The Redskins is devoted to the

comparison of Europe and America, and most of the talking

is done by a very Jamesian character, the elder Hugh Roger

Littlepage. The spokesman's sentiments are strongly in

favor of his native America, though he prefers to reside

in Europe because there are more amusements there for a

bachelor like himself. He believes guardedly in democracy,

but says that America needs a class of gentlemen residing

among the other folk in order to improve the morals and

manners of the nation. The superiority of the Littlepage

family in both respects is strongly emphasized by the

disreputable activities of their tenants. There is no

doubt that the landholding family improves the moral

tone of their neighborhood.

The question of the desirability of an American

aristocracy and the problem of defining such a class

are subjects often found in the American novel of manners.

One thinks of The Great Gatsby,with its contrast between

old and new money, or of Bromfield Corey's complaint

(in The Rise of Silas Lapham) that we can never have an

American aristocracy if sons persist in the vulgar habit

of working for a living. Melville, like Cooper, places

great emphasis on the moral duties of the upper class.

More accurately, he separates the merely moneyed from

the truly moral in the contrast between Mrs. Glendinning

and Lucy, or Glen Stanly and Pierre. The unfortunate

Isabel seems to be a kind of test; Pierre and Lucy can

accept her, Pierre's mother and Glen cannot. Both Pierre

and his mother purport to believe in "a maxim of the father

of Pierre" that no one can be a gentleman who is not also a

true Christian. But the Christianity of Mary Glendinning

is that of the Falsgraves of the world, who reject both the

sinner and the bastard child, contrary to the example of

the founder of their faith.

Melville obviously gave much thought to the defini-

tion of aristocracy, as we can see from the long argument

in Book I claiming that certain American families are at

least as old as the English nobility. But instead of

doing reverence to all aristocrats, as Cooper tends

to do, he subjects the Glendinning family to an unmerciful

probing which destroys their moral pretensions. Pierre,

the only one who passes the moral test, is not economically

capable. He cannot support himself by his own means.

Cooper's brief portrait of the gentleman in Susquesus,

the ancient Indian, calls for two things: moral rectitude

and the lack of demeaning labor (therefore, either property

or a military profession). Melville's characters have

either moral or economic competence, but not both. With

his lifelong tendency to polarize things, Melville shows

the two elements of aristocracy as apparently incompatible.

Melville was himself a descendant of the aristoc-

racy he writes about, and probably the germ of Pierre is

revealed by Evert Duyckinck's letter to his wife in

August of 1850 describing a wainscoted Melville family

mansion where he was vacationing with the author.7

Consider, however, that Melville's method in all his works

was to supplement his personal experience by using other

books about his subject. Cooper's Littlepage Manuscripts

are the most obvious source he could have found. The

generation-by-generation parallels between the Glendinning

and Littlepage families, as well as the atypical, for

Melville, amount of space devoted to the problems of

defining aristocracy and comparing America with Europe,

suggest at least an early reading of Cooper's three

novels by Melville, and possibly even their use as a

direct source.

Cooper wrote something like a novel of manners,

and Melville wrote a book somewhat like Cooper's; but

as the rule of transitivity is insufficient, let us

examine Pierre according to Tuttleton's criteria to

determine how much it actually resembles the novel of

manners. Tuttleton's definition requires (1) that

the ideas and customs of a distinct social class determine

the actions of its members, and (2) that these manners

and beliefs are detailed realistically. Melville begins

by very carefully defining the social class of his

protagonist, including a discussion of his ancestry

and a favorable comparison of his family with the English

nobility. The ideas and customs of this class prevented

the marriage of Pierre's father with the highborn French-

woman whom he loved. Her background being too mysterious,

she was not respectable enough to be a good match. Here

we have the reverse of the situation Henry James would

set up in The American, where the Frenchwoman's family

refuses the American because he, too, comes without known


Marriage denied, Glendinning's love affair resulted

in the Frenchwoman's disappearance and the subsequent

birth of Isabel. Again, social considerations kept her

father from acknowledging the girl or even putting her

into his will. Thus, she was left unprovided for when he

died. Such extreme reluctance can be explained by the

fact that the Glendinnings, like Cooper's Littlepages,

sincerely believe that they ought to be patterns of

morality. Failure to live up to the highest of ideals

would be a betrayal of the class, and exposure of such

an offense would eclipse the family's pretensions to

belong to the superior classes. The standard justifica-

tion for the existence of an aristocracy is that its

combination of moral and mental superiority, coupled

with extensive means, permits it to do more for the

commoners than they would be able to do for themselves.

If, however, aristocrats become debased in character,

they lose most of this justification. That, of course,

is what happened to the English aristocracy very early

in its history, and what turned political theorists away

from hierarchical organization and toward legal equality.

An American aristocracy, lacking the support of tradition,

can exist solely by actually deserving its elevated

station. Its members are therefore in a rather perilous


Pierre's complete belief in Christian ideals as

espoused by his own class is the direct cause of his

downfall. Had he been the son of a tenant farmer, there

would have been other ways to provide for Isabel than the

one he was obliged to select. The family code of ethics

would not be so rigid that he would be forced to choose

between her and his inheritance. Should such an unlikely

choice arise, he might well have felt free to spurn Isabel

in favor of himself. But because he has been taught that

a Glendinning must be a pattern of perfect Christian con-

duct, he unhesitatingly chooses self-sacrifice. The ethic

has been so strongly impressed on him that even the

shattering of his paternal idol only makes him cling to

it more strongly.

Mary Glendinning's actions are also motivated by

her social position, though she is concerned with the

appearance of virtue more than with the substance. Pierre

can tell that she will never accept Isabel because she

cannot bear to have the fallen Delly Ulver even residing

in her vicinity. The surface must be pure. She believes

firmly that her late husband was a marvel of rectitude.

This belief is essential to her self-esteem (and to her

family status), so Pierre rightly guesses that she would

resist with all her force any attempt to change it.

Glendinning Stanly is a more extreme version of

the superficially upright aristocrat. He will have

nothing to do with Pierre once the younger man has

compromised himself; thereby Glen upholds the social

code, which is violently opposed to extramarital sex.

(Pierre is commonly supposed to have become involved

illicitly with Isabel even while engaged to Lucy, which

compounds his original offense by adding desertion.)

Glen is totally lacking in charity toward Pierre, a more

basic Christian value. He is really quite a Jamesian

character. He is the American who has become Europeanized

through extensive travel, and exhibits all "the evils of

enlarged foreign travel . in young and unsolid minds."8

He not only despises American manufactures, but has turned

his back on homegrown morality as well. His sophistication

puts "cool Tuscan policy"9 in place of his boyish impulsive

generosity, as a chronological review of his letters to

Pierre reveals. The contrast between Glen and Pierre

is in part that of European and American manners and mores,

following the standard assignment of innocence to the

Americans and craft to the Europeans. Like Henry James'

expatriate Americans, Glen is highly sensitive to the

opinion of his peers and would view a scandal as the worst

sort of calamity. Pierre and his questionable wife would

constitute a scandal which would place Glen's immaculate

reputation under a strain. Reputations are easily ruined;

Daisy Miller loses hers without doing anything unethical,

simply by the strength of innuendo. Glen's associates

never look beneath his apparently moral surface, of

course, to see the appalling selfishness that maintains


A very different type of young nobleman is

represented by Frederic Tartan, Lucy's brother, who

twice invites Pierre to duel. His extreme sensitivity

about Lucy's honor and his own bespeak a kind of thinking

that is already archaic, like the duel itself, by

Melville's time. Not even Pierre accepts the code of

the duel--he fires first, without warning. Melville's

better aristocrats do tend to be based on earlier literary

models, especially Shakespearean ones. Frederic is

scarcely more modern than Laertes. Pierre and Lucy, in

their courtship scenes, speak and act as if they have no

place in the nineteenth century. Their relationship is

that of knight and lady, not modern boy and girl. In part

this tendency can be explained by the paucity of actual

models available to Melville for his aristocrats. In part

it is probably due to a sense that an aristocracy preserves

the essence of the past, the best of the past, as no other

institution can. That is so only for the true aristocrats,

however, and that means those whose moral natures are

superior. Those who are only superficially noble are quite

modern and adaptable, and, incidentally, rich.

If, then, the actions of several characters are

motivated by their membership in a certain social class,

the first stipulation of the definition is met. The

second is that the manners must be realistically presented.

Certainly it can be said that Melville takes great pains

to show Pierre and his mother in their natural surround-

ings. We see them at breakfast, visiting the local

sewing circle, and in their private quarters. We even

know what they eat. We see Pierre at his wooing and in

his misery. We know what he wears, how he amuses himself,

how his room is furnished, both in Saddle Meadows and in

his urban tenement, where the niggardly domestic arrange-

ments are presented in great detail. These things are

realism in the most basic sense.

Melville is also able to present social inter-

actions in a realistic manner. Two of the most skillfully

drawn scenes in the novel depict Pierre's and Lucy's

engagement. Mrs. Tartan is presented as an inveterate

matchmaker. This occupation is the major interest in

her life. She invites Pierre to breakfast and then

leaves the room on a pretext, hoping that propinquity will

reinforce the attraction between Pierre and Lucy. When

Pierre notices that the apparently casual arrangement of

music on the piano exposes "Love Was Once a Little Boy,"

he recognizes that he has been maneuvered into a trap.

Nevertheless, he is "entirely willing to be caught,

when the bait is set in Paradise, and the bait is such

an angel."10 One factor in his willingness is probably

that the match is socially appropriate. Lucy's family

is "of the best" and her wealth is large. Both mothers--

mothers are the authorities on appropriate marriages--

approve of this one. The formal engagement occurs after

another realistic vignette, the arrival of Lucy's outraged

brothers to interrupt a "hugging-match" on the sofa. These

scenes give the reader insight into the actual conduct of

people in Pierre's social class. They are also handled

with a gentle irony characteristic of the novelist of

manners in his drawing-room dramas.

Outside the homes of his own class, Pierre plays

the role of young aristocrat among the families of his

tenants. The girls in the sewing circle scene drop their

eyes and grow silent in the presence of the Glendinnings.

Accustomed to such deference from his social inferiors,

Pierre is rather surprised when Charlie Millthorpe, now

urbanized, treats him as an equal. Millthorpe is a pivotal

figure who begins life as the son of a poor tenant farmer

and later sets up as an independent bourgeois. Although

he is materially little better off, Millthorpe thinks he

has improved his social status by his move. What he has

actually done is to join a circle where a different social

organization prevails. All of the Apostles are equal,

though on a fairly low level. But even this democratic

order has its Mohammed, Plinlimmon, who rules it with-

out partaking of its hardships. The semi-feudal order

of Saddle Meadows has at least the merit of producing

some superior characters. Melville sets up not only

a contrast between social classes but also a contrast

between two modes of social organization, the strati-

fied and the democratic, the Old World and the New.

This complex presentation of social relationships

requires an acute perception of American life and

manners, and reveals a thoughtful weighing of the

merits of democracy. Cooper dealt extensively with

this subject in the long dialogues of The Redskins.

The problem with Pierre as novel of manners

is that despite many skillfultouches, Melville's

upperclass characters and their actions do not present

a picture that rings entirely true. They speak in

archaic language, filled with metaphysical conceits.

The plot is, as most contemporary reviews complained,

quite fantastic. These judgments are made according to

one's innate idea of how human beings speak and act, an

external standard really. If the people presented in

Pierre did really exist, having the beliefs and envir-

onment given them, their actions and the sentiments

they utter would be wholly consonant with their portraits

as painted by Melville. The book is internally consistent.

One may complain that Melville has an insufficient concep-

tion of the group he writes about and therefore is unable

to present them well. If so, however, he has Cooper's

aristocrats with their moral passion for his precedents.

Cooper may perhaps take the blame for some of the departures

from our externally determined reality. Melville's lower-

class characters are less fully drawn but they do come

across better. Millthorpe and Delly Ulver have more

understandable motivations, as they lack the aristocrats'

obsession with moral rectitude.

To the extent that it reports the intimate details

of the daily life of an American upper class and shows

characters performing actions which are attributable to

the beliefs and manners of that class, Pierre can be called

a novel of manners; it is certainly the closest thing to

such a novel that Melville ever wrote. The entire first

portion of the book, up to the flight from Saddle Meadows,

fits the genre fairly well, both by meeting our definition

and by resembling other works which fit this definition.

After this, Pierre more closely resembles other types of


This situation suggests a question of intention.

Did Melville intend to write a novel of high society which

would be inoffensive and quite marketable, but found

himself unable to resist making the book deeper? Or did

he use the novelistic trappings only to clothe an allegori-

cal tale which he had in mind from the outset? The former

hypothesis seems more likely, considering some of Melville's

own statements. When he promised Mrs. Hawthorne a "rural

bowl of milk" he probably intended to deliver one. Had

the destruction of the Christian idealist been the initial

plot, he would probably have called this, as well as

Moby-Dick, a "wicked book." Melville's chronic conflict

between what would sell and what he could not help writing

is nowhere more clearly seen than in Pierre; and tracing

the elements of the novel of manners in this book helps

to demonstrate that conflict.


Henry James, Hawthorne (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell
Univ. Press, 1956), pp. 34-5.

James Fenimore Cooper, Notions of the Americans
Picked Up by A Travelling Bachelor, ed. Robert E. Spiller
(New York: 1958), pp. 108-9 as quoted in James W. Tuttle-
ton, The Novel of Manners in America (Chapel Hill, N.C.:
Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1972).

Tuttleton, p. 10.

Letter to Rufus W. Griswold, December 10, 1851.
In Jay Leyda, ed., The Melville Log (New York: Gordian
Press, 1969), p. 440.

Glendinning is the name of a family in two of
Walter Scott's novels, The Monastery and The Abbot.

Pierre, p. 21.

"The house where we live, Melville's is a rare
place--an old family mansion, wainscoted and stately, with
large halls & chimneys--quite a piece of mouldering rural
grandeur--The family has gone down & this is their last
season. The farm has been sold. Herman Melville knows
every stone & tree & will probably make a book of its
features." The Melville Log, p. 383.

Pierre, p. 256.

Ibid., p. 261.

1Ibid., p. 31.



The term gothic in its most specific literary

sense describes a type of novel which flourished between

1764, the date of The Castle of Otranto, and 1820, the

date of Melmoth the Wanderer, and which, by means of

stereotyped settings and characters, appealed to the

primal human fears, especially the fear of the unknown.

In the earliest gothic novels there are often blatantly

supernatural occurrences, but always accompanying and

emblematic of human evil. Later, the supernatural some-

times disappears entirely and the human subconscious

itself furnishes the unknown elements. In the two centuries

before Freud, the gothic story was practically the only

constructive discussion of the subconscious.

The problem of definition is complicated by the

facts that gothic stories continued to be written after

this period, and that from its inception to our own times,

this type of story has experienced continual development.

In the thirty or forty years following Walpole's original

novel, the genre received certain infusions from German

writings, most notably the motifs of the heroic robber,

the doppelganger, and the secret tribunal. There was a


gothic drama produced from the novels, which in turn

influenced other novels. Romantic writers dealt with

irrational elements as well, so that it is impossible to

separate the legitimately gothic from the Romantic movement.

Some of the most intriguing works of the gothic school,

such as Wuthering Heights and The Woman in White, date

from Victorian times, and the gothic is represented today

by such popular novels as Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist,

and the romances of Daphne DuMaurier, Victoria Holt, and

Anne Maybury, among others.

We also have a school of modern Southern novelists

in the United States who are often called gothic because

they deal with bizarre characters, old families, decay

and degeneration. If the term gothic is to have any

meaning as applied to Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers,

Truman Capote, and (sometimes) William Faulkner, one would

have to show that although the "trap" for the protagonist

is internal, a result of environmental and hereditary

influences, his situation is calculated to arouse approx-

imately the same fears as a more obvious source of terror.

Indeed, an excellent case can be made for the Southern

gothic school as the legitimate heir of Poe's psychological

gothicism and the Byronic hero's self-made trap.2

In his pioneering studies of the gothic mode,

Montague Summers lists the elements which mark the gothic

and which, in the place of corresponding elements in the

sentimental novel, transform that novel to gothic. Such

elements include the haunted castle, the subterranean

passage, the danger-infested forest, and the old manuscript.

Other props include thunderstorms, lights which always

blow out, trapdoors, and a host of others made familiar

to us through generations of storytelling. The cast of

characters includes a villain who, as Evans notes, is the

personification of the gothic castle--barbarous, irrational,

self-willed, and, in a word, medieval. The heroine, who

is menaced by the villain, is "modern," genteel, virtuous,

and rational. The hero is an undeveloped character who is

powerless to help the heroine but who is noble enough to

be a suitable match for her. There is usually another

female who is under the villain's control and who often

meets the terrible fate which only menaces the heroine.

Because the hero spends most of his time in

dungeons while the villain holds the stage, Evans claims

that actors in the dramatized versions of gothic tales

preferred the villain's part, and he became the sympa-

thetic character that we now call the Byronic hero.

Gothic romance became characterized by this ambiguous

hero-villain, whose problems are internal and psychological

and whose stature is practically superhuman. One can see

this transformation clearly by comparing the fully Byronic

character of Melmoth the Wanderer with the more obviously

villainous Manfred, Duke of Otranto. Evans' argument that

the transformation occurred in the drama is reinforced

when we recall that Romantic treatments of Shakespeare's

Shylock often turned this evil-doer into a defiant hero,

by exactly the same process-- the actor's preference for

the villain's part. By Melville's time the gothic

villain had become more hero than villain. Another devel-

opment in the cast of characters is the rising importance

of the second heroine, who is usually dark while the

original girl is fair. In many novels the two girls carry

opposite symbolic meanings. (This is especially clear

in the Victorian examples, Wuthering Heights and The

Woman in White.) Melville, as we shall see, was fully

alert to this possibility.

Given the characters and machinery, what is to

distinguish the truly gothic novel from the book which,

like many of Sir Walter Scott's, uses gothic elements in

some other kind of novel? It must be a matter of total

effect, a judgment as to the degree of threat, terror,

horror, or awe which the reader derives from the work as

a whole. Thus, while the witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth

are themselves frightening, the effect of the whole work

is tragic rather than gothic. Such a judgment is, of course,

subjective. Although Shakespeare and his fellows used

many gothic elements,6 a fully gothic work is not to be

found in Elizabethan or Jacobean canons; the totality of

terror is not possible in a divinely ordered universe,

where the right is upheld in the afterlife if not on

earth. A possible exception to this statement is Marlowe's

Doctor Faustus, which I am inclined to call gothic for its

heroic villain, its emphasis on terror, and its lack of

an important "good" character to detract from the powerful

figure of the protagonist. The playwright, according to

his roommate, held unorthodox religious beliefs which

might well make this "different" vision possible.

The titillation of vicarious danger is vital to

the early gothic novel, so the victim is usually a young

female because of her attractiveness for the villain and

her physical inability to defend herself effectively.

There is, as Leslie Fiedler points out, an important

sexual component in the relationship between villain and

victim. But in later stories, where the villain is not

entirely villain, the struggle takes place within him,

and the female victim becomes far less important. In

that kind of novel, the two forces at war are the same

as those represented by the struggle between "modern"

heroine and "medieval" villain. Evans calls these opposites

eighteenth-century rationalism (essentially still in force

today) and the eighteenth century's idea of medievalism,

which amounted to total barbarity. Essentially, he sees

the gothic novel as depicting the struggle between

civilization and the barbarity in human nature which is

always opposed to culture. In a recent dissertation,

D.T. Reilly calls these opposites "natural" and "unnatur-

al"; the former encompasses benevolence, selflessness,

and other social norms, the latter is selfish and callous.

The "modern" or "natural" force is trapped, imperilled;

the outcome is a metaphysical statement.

Perhaps a better way of describing the opposition

is by a fusion of these two discussions and the terms

control and chaos. The rise of the gothic novel parallels

the rise of Romanticism in Europe and the collapse of a

consensus on the world order. People were and still are

in doubt about all of the really important religious and

metaphysical questions; therefore, the threat to order

became total and terrifying. One response to this absence

of consensus is the creation of new myths, attempted

consciously by such writers as Shelley and Keats. As

James Baird explains, Melville lived in a time when

cultural symbols were becoming meaningless and the artist

had to fuse new ones. Gothicism is another response to

this threat. Whether chaos is represented by the medieval

castle (historical gothic), by one's own irrational impulses

(psychological gothic) or by a symbol like the white whale,

man must try to gain control over it and over his own

fate. Freud explained that neurotics differ from normal

people in the intensity of their ideas and behavior, not

in kind. The gothic struggle may be somewhat facetiously

described as a milder version of the obsessive-compulsive

neurosis--the desire to control one's own life. Increasing-

ly, in later novels, man loses the struggle and chaos stoves

his boat.

An interesting subclass of the gothic novel is the

"explained supernatural" story as practiced by Radcliffe

and by America's Charles Brockden Brown. In this type

of novel, the phenomena are all explained at the end by

various natural means, and the apparent sway of chaos is

replaced by the rule of clear reason. Poe's stories of

ratiocination are descended from this type of story. It

is significant that the technique of final explanation

disappears as we progress in time and in Romanticism;

Ann Radcliffe herself eventually introduced a ghost which

she did not explain or excuse.

America's earliest major novelist, Charles Brockden

Brown, was purely gothic and was a favorite of Shelley's.1

R.W.B. Lewis calls attention to the similarities between

Brown's Arthur Mervyn and Pierre. He does not, however,

claim direct influence, but explains the resemblances as

resulting from both authors' use of the Adamic ideal placed

against the corrupt city. Brown's plague-ridden Phila-

delphia is as garishly real as Melville's New York on the

night Pierre arrives.

But America's real gothic period came later, in

the nineteenth century, just as Britain was turning away

from gothicism. Several of Washington Irving's sketches

contain folk-tale elements of terror. Hawthorne is gothic

in many of his tales, and both The House of the Seven

Gables and The Marble Faun make extensive use of gothic

machinery. Even the anti-Catholic bias which is expressed

in so many British gothic novels is preserved in The Marble

Faun. Melville was living and writing in the middle of

America's own gothic revival--a revival not of an archi-

tectural style, but of the literary mode associated with

that architectural style. It would be truly remarkable if

Melville were not influenced by the current flowing in

his country.

We know that Melville was familiar at least with

Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, Beckford's Vathek,

Godwin's Caleb Williams, Bulwer-Lytton's Zanoni, Mary

Shelley's Frankenstein, and two volumes of Carlyle's
translation, German Romance --all, apparently, before the
composition of Pierre. A recent dissertation cites

Frankenstein, Caleb Williams, and especially Zanoni as

sources for the language, ideas, and incidents of Pierre.

In addition, Clarel and Billy Budd contain references to

the work of Ann Radcliffe, and Melville's journal recalls

Schiller's Ghost-Seers.14 From Byron himself, and from

Moore's Life of Byron, he had direct contact with the

Byronic hero. Murray considers Byron the most important

single influence on Pierre. Furthermore, Melville was

an admirer of Hawthorne and can be presumed to know at

least some of the works of Poe and Irving. Of his famil-

iarity with Cooper, who also uses several standard gothic

conventions, we have spoken in a previous chapter. Melville

clearly had a rich store of gothic literature to use as

a partial model.

Newton Arvin5 claims that Melville's landscape

scenes tend to be rather savage, like those of Radcliffe

and of the Salvator Rosa school of painting which she

admired. His use of painting and portraiture in Pierre

recalls the alarmingly vigorous portrait in The Castle of

Otranto, the miniatures and portraits in numerous Rad-

cliffe novels, Poe's "Oval Portrait," and possibly the

mysterious picture of Melmoth the Wanderer. Another simil-

arity is the importance of the Faun of Praxiteles and the

portrait of Beatrice Cenci in Hawthorne's Marble Faun.

A portrait of Beatrice Cenci, though not Guido's, is

presented at a significant moment in Pierre. Perhaps

Melville and Hawthorne discussed the thematic use of

paintings and statues in their Berkshire days. Isabel's

musical skill is also a commonplace attribute of a gothic

heroine, but the instrument is usually a lute. The trans-

formation of lute into guitar may owe something to Roderick

Usher's "wild improvisations of his speaking guitar"16

which he plays to alleviate his mental distress, just as

Isabel does.

Melville never drew a haunted castle, but there is

the "castellated forecastle" of the San Dominick and the

references, in that same opening passage of "Benito

Cereno," to cloisters and friars. Billy Budd is the

victim first of a villain and then of a cruel system

(the tribunal), and he is described in rather feminine

terms. Jackson in Redburn is as much gothic villain as

Billy Budd is gothic victim. Ahab is, as many critics

have remarked, the Byronic hero par excellence. But it is

in Pierre that Melville makes his greatest incursions into

the gothic property-room, adopting many of its techniques

and using them in original ways.

In Pierre, we approximate the effect of the gothic

castle in the forest "shaggy with pines and hemlocks"--

despite the echo of Evanqeline, it is Cooper's use of the

forest as a setting for the villain's machinations which

should be recalled here--which emits a "moaning, muttering,

roaring, intermitted, changeful sound: rain-shakings of the

palsied trees, sliding of rocks undermined, final crashing

of long-riven boughs, and devilish gibberish of the forest-

ghosts."17 This is in Pierre's own sunshine world. Isabel

recalls a house which is certainly ruinous and gloomy; later

she says that its architecture resembles that of a French


Some of the windows were rudely boarded up, with
boards nailed straight up and down; and those rooms

were utterly empty, and never were entered,
though they were doorless. But often, from the
echoing corridor, I gazed into them with fear;
for the great fire-places were all in ruins;
the lower tier of back-stones were burnt into
one white, common crumbling; and the black
bricks above had fallen upon the hearth, heaped
here and there with the still falling soot of
long-extinguished fires. Every hearth-stone
in that house had one long crack through it;
every floor drooped at the corners; and outside,
the whole base of the house, where it rested
on the low foundation of greenish stones, was
strewn with dull, yellow molderings of the
rotting sills....

The long cracks and the uniform decay of the house suggest

Poe's "House of Usher." The conceit of a doorlesss and

windowless house" is later applied to Pierre himself, and

the echo of the word doorlesss" from this passage carries

definite gothic connotations.

Melville tells us at once that Pierre is the last

of his race. "A powerful and populous family had by

degrees run off into the female branches; so that Pierre

found himself surrounded by numerous kinsmen and kinswomen,

yet companioned by no surnamed male Glendinning, but the

duplicate one reflected to him in the mirror."19 The sole

surviving male heir of a house generally meets with calamity,

and the decay of a "house" or family is commonly depicted

in the gothic novel. One has only to recall Otranto's

single heir, crushed by a gigantic helmet; the singular

fate of Roderick Usher; the younger Melmoth, who inherits

the family wealth and has a nearly fatal accident; crazed

Wieland who, though he has children, murders them and tries

to kill his only sister; the ill-fated Master of Ravenswood,

who loses wife and life; gentle Donatello of The Marble

Faun, who becomes a murderer; childlike Clifford Pyncheon

of The House of the Seven Gables, jailed for murder; and a

host of others who inherit their family dooms and, succumb-

ing, end their lives.

Sometimes no reason is given for this doom, but

often it is the result of an ancestor's sin, such as Manfred's

ancestor's usurpation of the throne of Otranto. Pierre's

father, like many evil-doers, sinned successfully in his

time, but retribution comes upon his children. "The sins

of the father shall be visited upon the children to the

third generation," quotes Rev. Falsgrave. In his preface

to The Castle of Otranto, a book which Melville owned,

Walpole uses that same quotation to describe the apparent

moral of his own tale. Falsgrave is pleading for a generous

interpretation of the Biblical injunction in the case of

Delly Ulver's child, but the morality which is upheld in

the novel is that of vengeance and retribution.

Several critics have noted that Glen Stanly is

Pierre's double. The inversion of the surname "Glendinning"

and the etymology of "Pierre" and"Stanly," both derived

from "stone," contribute to this likelihood. Glen takes

Pierre's place in Saddle Meadows and tries to marry Lucy,

an attempt which Pierre fears will succeed. "Indeed,

situated as he now was, Glen would seem all the finest

part of Pierre, without any of Pierre's shame; would almost

seem Pierre himself--what Pierre had once been to Lucy."20

Pierre's destructive career culminates in his murder of

Glen. After his progressive renunciations, this murder

is representative of the violence Pierre has done to himself.

The double is important in romantic literature and

was one of the gothic elements England borrowed from Germany.

Some famous doubles are found in Conrad's The Secret Sharer,

Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, and Poe's "William

Wilson." Poe's story is a brilliant variation on the theme.

The story is narrated by the "evil" double who has killed

his "good" side. Significantly, a man named Lord Glen-

dinning is deprived of a wealthy estate by the machinations

of the evil double, until the good Wilson intervenes.21

This story may well have influenced Pierre, in which the

darker, more mysterious character kills his visible and

open self. But the "ambiguity" of the novel makes it

impossible to call one good and the other evil. Glen is

selfish indeed, but Pierre does more real harm.

The double in literature closely resembles what

Jung called the "shadow", a figure who appears in dreams

and is of the same sex as the dreamer, but who represents

the hidden and suppressed aspects of his nature. In

Pierre, as elsewhere, Melville seems to anticipate the

Jungian insight when he shows that both aspects are nec-

essary for an integrated personality.

Another frequent motif in gothic literature is

incest, usually taking place within the doomed family.

Both The Castle of Otranto and Walpole's drama The Myster-

ious Mother deal with incest, the play to an extent that

rendered it impossible to present. Emily in The Mysteries

of Udolpho is pursued by a relative, an uncle by marriage.

The protagonist of The Monk rapes his sister, without knowing

her relationship to him. Among other Romantic examples,

there are Shelley's The Cenci and Byron's Manfred. Several

critics22 stress the influence of Byron's works and life upon

Melville, and Melville must have been aware of the rumors

about the poet and his half-sister that circulated in lit-

erary society. The relationship between Roderick and Made-

leine as delineated by Poe in "The Fall of the House of

Usher" is not openly incestuous, but their "mysterious

sympathies" are certainly unhealthy. With these possible

models, we need not be surprised at the strong, though

veiled, hints of incest between Pierre and Isabel. The

first of these occurs when Pierre proposes the pseudo-


The girl moved not; was done with all her
tremblings; leaned closer to him, with an inex-
pressible strangeness of an intense love, new
and inexplicable. Over the face of Pierre there
shot a terrible self-revelation; he imprinted
repeated burning kisses upon her; pressed hard
her hand; would not let go her sweet and awful
Then they changed; they coiled together,
and entangledly stood mute.23

Another, still more obvious, is the scene in their New

York apartment when Isabel attempts to comfort the discour-

aged adventurer. "She blew out the light, and made Pierre

sit down by her; and their hands were placed in each other's.

'Say, are not thy torments now gone, my brother?'

'But replaced by--by--Oh God, Isabel, unhand me!'"24

Isabel displays what is obviously sexual jealousy

of Lucy, and even opens the door so that Lucy can see her

and Pierre kissing. Although they inflame one another,

Pierre and Isabel are generally credited with resisting

temptation. Instead of following their sexual impulses,

they make what Leslie Fiedler25 calls the typically American

choice of death over sex in literature. Frederic Carpenter,

also, sees incest in Pierre as symbolic and dramatic rather

than literal and sensationalistic. "This machinery of

incest is a dramatic symbol for the sense of sin which the

worshippers of purity have always associated with the

sexual experience."26

The sister-lover, like the double, resembles a figure

described by Jung. He called it the anima or animus, whose

sex is opposite to the dreamer's and who embodies the qual-

ities which either sex stereotypes or other factors have
caused the dreamer to repress. An anima is sometimes a

femme fatale like Keats' "Belle Dame Sans Merci," sometimes

a creative and uplifting force like Dante's Beatrice,

sometimes merely an alter ego like the shadow. It is perhaps

inevitable that the anima should sometimes be represented

by a sister, since the sibling relationship is a reasonable

facsimile of the spiritual kinship between dreamer and

anima. Being actually of the same flesh and blood, similar

in education and often in appearance (the Usher twins,

Manfred's "She was like me in lineaments.../ But softened

all, and temper'd into beauty."), siblings are far closer

in many ways than spouses. Charles Brockden Brown's Wieland,

in his delusional state, calmly butchered his wife and

children but hesitated to harm his sister. In the gothic

mode, especially, where we find a strong emphasis on heredity

and on the hero's inability to merge his single identity

with the rest of humanity, the motif of incest is logically

found. The only companion for one who, by his very blood,

is set apart ("From my youth upwards/ My spirit walk'd not

with the souls of men"--Manfred) can only be another person

in the same plight. The motif of incest follows logically

from the creation of the Byronic hero.

The sister-anima functions on more than one level

in Manfred, as she does in Pierre. On a realistic level

the union has tragic consequences which lead to Manfred's

final misery. On a psycho-symbolic level, the woman rep-

resents a gentler and better self which complements the

"masculine" nature of Manfred himself. Their broken union

has left Manfred fragmented; unable to act positively, he

can only attempt suicide.

Matthew Lewis' The Monk is interesting in that it

has two female characters who are potential animals and

with whom the protagonist has sexual relations. At first

he is tempted by Matilda, who awakens all the passions

that have remained buried throughout Ambrosio's ascetic

life. He always assents to her suggestions, after some

struggle with his conscience, because she proposes the

things which his own passions urge. She embodies all of

the animalistic and especially sexual desires that the monk

has repressed.

Antonia, who is secretly Ambrosio's sister, has a

lesser role in the story. She is innocent, generous, pious,

and pure, but quite susceptible to love. This latter quality

saves her from being a saintly nonentity. She resembles

Pierre's fiancee, Lucy, even in this one deviation from

the simpering stereotype; Lucy's stubbornness in joining

Pierre is the only action she makes which surprises us. In

this story, however, the "light" heroine is the one who is

the protagonist's sister; Melville reverses that pattern.

Antonia becomes the object of Ambrosio's lust and is finally

raped by him. This act brings about his ruin on the factual

level, since her desperate escape brings the officers of

the Inquisition to Ambrosio's hiding place. On a spiritual

level, his violation of one who is a part of himself, and

a higher and still innocent part, is the final step in

his corruption. Henceforth he, like Poe's William Wilson,

is dead to the world. His formal pledge to the Devil and

his subsequent seizure by that gentleman only confirm the

ruin that takes place in his soul when he rapes his sister

and violates his better self.

Both Matilda and Antonia function as animals, and

their symbolic significance as evil and good is, by the

end of the novel, unmistakable. Melville blurs the distinc-

tion at the end of his novel, just as he confuses the good

and bad aspects of Pierre and Glen. The terms "angel" and

"angelic" are several times used to describe Lucy, and yet

she has no monopoly on virtue. Isabel's conduct is blame-

less throughout the novel, and both she and Pierre are also

tagged with the word "angel."28 Isabel's effect on Pierre

is in some respects highly salutary--certainly she gets

him out of the intellectual torpor of his Saddle Meadows

life, and with her he begins his career as a thinker and an

independent man. Was the direction wrong in itself, or was

Pierre merely unequal to the challenge? When Pierre cries

out in agony, at the end, "Away! Good Angel and Bad Angel

both!" we must wonder which girl is meant by which epithet.

The stronger the anti-Christian bias and rantitraditionalism

one attributes to Melville, the greater is the likelihood

that Isabel represents the "good."

Something of this moral ambiguity is already to be

seen in The Monk. Matilda is, at the end of the novel,

clearly demonic. But at the beginning, she is so pure that

she sits as a model for a wonderful portrait of the Virgin,

representing every female virtue. The interaction between

her and Ambrosio, prompted by an unseen Devil, corrupts them

both. But Lewis is careful to depict their temptations so

strongly that a reader could easily see them as nearly

blameless, simply unfortunate enough to be the objects of

Satanic machinations. Ambrosio's love of virtue as depicted

in his portrait of the Virgin (Matilda's portrait) is the

point of entry for his weakness. He already loves Matilda,

in the form of the Virgin, before he meets her. Similarly,

Pierre's love of virtue, mistaken at times, causes him to

expose himself to all the temptations which exist in the

world, and which have been excluded from his sheltered


Besides the obvious unity of the twin heirs of the

House of Usher, Melville's contemporary Poe also explored

the anima in another story, "Ligeia." As in the case of

Madeleine Usher, we have the dead woman reanimating a corpse

in order to rejoin a man with whom she shares "incredible

mutual sympathies." In this story, however, she uses another

woman's body, not her own. Again, there are two possible

anima figures. The artist-narrator rejects the "light"

heroine Rowena and the culture she represents in order to

bring back Ligeia with all her mystery. The narrator has

nearly attained the irrational dream-state which Poe consid-

ered to be the essence of truth when Ligeia, who has been

his preceptress, is taken from him. There is a hint that

he is himself the cause of this separation when he tries to

define the "expression" in her eyes, applying rational

criteria to a phenomenon outside rationalism. Without

Ligeia, he is lost. He turns to another woman, whose name

bears reverberations of the heroine of Ivanhoe, and who

represents the rational and orderly life which England seems

to suggest in Poe. Soon he rejects Rowena, and Ligeia,

who is associated with Germany and with Greece, returns to

him--rather horribly, however.

The relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy in

Wuthering Heights and that between Quentin and Caddy in The

Sound and the Fury are two further examples of the sibling

serving as another self. The Monk and "Ligeia," are, however,

closer to Melville in time and similar to Pierre in their

use of the double anima. Again, we have the same configura-

tion between Melville and his predecessors as we have with

the use of the shadow. The "traditional" type of story

clearly separates good and evil figures. Poe plays with a

reversal of the two; Melville blurs them.

Isabel clearly resembles a dark heroine like Ligeia

in her foreign ancestry, her dark coloring, and her espousal

of values opposite to those of the dominant culture, the

everyday world. To Pierre, raised in an atmosphere of social

propriety, rationalism, and placid Christianity, she is at
first a supreme mystery. Murray, followed by Pops calls

Isabel Pierre's anima. The dream in which she is first

presented to Pierre and their shock of mutual recognition

also indicate that she is so.

All these aspects of the anima...can be
projected so that they appear to the man to
be the qualities of some particular woman.
It is the presence of the anima that causes
a man to fall suddenly in love when he sees
a woman for the first time and knows at once
that this is "she."30

Isabel's association with what was probably a mad-

house and the childlike, "primitive" character she bears

serve to indicate some of the values she represents. The

description Isabel gives of the "unspeakable" house is, inci-

dentally, very similar to the madhouse scene in Charles

Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer, a novel with an interestingly

Byronic hero. (The claustrophobic imprisonment of Israel

Potter in Melville's later novel also recalls an underground

entrapment in Melmoth.) The things we call primitive--

openness, freedom, a religion which is instinctive rather

than intellectual--are what Pierre has lacked, residing in

such a refined atmosphere. He has longed for a sister; he

has recognized a psychological incompleteness, and turned,

as Baird's Ishmael claims Melville turned, to "primitive"

systems of meaning. There is little doubt that Isabel's

is a primitive nature. She is richly passionate, and her

comprehension of divinity is rather like the Polynesian's

intuition of mana. The power which speaks from her guitar

is hardly the Calvinist god. We must recall Mardi and

Yillah here. Yillah is a nearly albino blonde; however, she

goes to Hautia's island, indicating a special identity

between the dark and light ladies. The female primitive

also appears in Melmoth the Wanderer, in which the Faustian

hero is nearly redeemed by the childlike innocence of his

Indian maid.

Jung said, and Melville again seems to anticipate

him, that the self which embraces and compromises with the

anima can forge a new, more integrated personality. But

Pierre is an absolutist. When he accepts Isabel, he abandons

his world and sinks deeper and deeper into hers. He

throws away his previous self and becomes so like his

"dark" side that he generates a second anima. Lucy, whom

he has abandoned, reappears to champion the virtues admired

by Western culture. Pierre is never able to integrate the

two girls. His inability to compromise is his real problem.

When he first receives Isabel's letter, he dimly perceives

two angels giving him opposing advice.31 Finally, when he

cries, "Away! Good Angel and Bad Angel both!--For Pierre

is neuter now!" he seems to have made little progress in

his search for truth. Jung saw embracing the anima as part

of the process of healthy individuation; but in gothic

fiction at least, the compromise is not successful and the

sinister aspect takes over, as it does in The Monk. Pro-

tagonists like Ambrosio and Roderick Usher ruin themselves

in the physical as well as the psychological action of their

stories. That way, as Melville well knew, lies madness.

In nonsymbolic terms, Lucy and Isabel again resemble

heroines of romance, especially gothic romance. Lucy is

blonde, passive, fragile. She is a retracing of the

portrait of Ivanhoe's Rowena and "Ligeia"'s Rowena, of

Alice in The Last of The Mohicans and Ellen in The Prairie;

of Hilda in The Marble Faun and Priscilla in The Blithedale

Romance; and especially, according to Murray, of Lucy Ashton

in Scott's interestingly gothic novel, The Bride of Lammer-

moor. If Bride is indeed a source, Lucy's mother, Lady

Ashton, is a probable model for Mary Glendinning; this may

remove some of the imputation that Maria Melville was the

original of that highly unflattering portrait. Though

fragile, the blonde heroine somehow manages to survive the

worst Radcliffean horrors. Lucy, too, exhibits surprising

strength when she resolves to join Pierre. Her mother,

like Lucy Ashton's, has always dominated Lucy, and is there-

fore thoroughly infuriated by this sudden resistance.

Isabel, dark and mysterious, is Lucy's complement;

she is Rebecca, Ligeia, Cora, Inez, Miriam, or Zenobia.

This character is more explicitly sexual than the light

heroine, and except in Poe, who preferred darkness, she does

not get the hero at the end. She is often racially mixed,

recognizably foreign. Miriam and Rebecca are Jewish, Cora

part Negro, Isabel part French, Ligeia a compendium of ancient

racial characteristics. Apparently the Anglo-Saxon imagin-

ation prefers to project its sexual component onto other

races. That Melville was aware of the stereotypes he used

is indicated in Isabel's outcry, "Heard ye ever yet of a

good angel with dark eyes, Pierre?--no,no,no--all

blue,blue,blue--heaven's own blue--"32 as well as in his

description of the portrait of Beatrice Cenci by Guido,


that jcontrastj ...sometimes visible in the
maidens of tropical nations--namely, soft
and light blue eyes, with an extremely fair
complexion, veiled by funereally jetty hair.
But with blue eyes and fair complexion, the
Cenci's hair is golden--physically, therefore,
all is in strict, natural keeping; which,
nevertheless, still the more intensifies the
suggested fanciful anomaly of so sweetly and
seraphically blonde a being, being double-
hooded, as it were, by the black crape of
the two most horrible crimes (of one of which
she is the object, and of the other the
agent) possible to civilized humanity--incest
and parricide.33

Again Melville modifies the usual, or expected, pattern of

rewarding the light heroine for her fortitude by marriage

to the hero. The dark heroine, if she survives uncorrupted,

is usually obliged to find another mate. But in Pierre

our expectations are defeated and our perplexity thereby

increased. Neither heroine is rewarded, but both suffer

equally. Ambiguity alone survives, since the values repre-

sented by neither heroine are upheld.

Pierre's claim to the title of gothic hero is clear

and uncontested. Like every defiant Faustian figure from

Walpole's Manfred to Byron's Manfred, he has defied social

opinion to pursue a personal goal, ruining others and destroy-

ing himself. By Melville's time, as we have shown, this

figure is more hero than villain; his destructive actions

result from some noble flaw which impels him to act as he

does, or from his hereditary fate, that "loathed identity"

which at one time so disgusts Pierre.

The goal for which he aims is not a sordid one.

Even the Duke of Otranto pursued his victim out of a des-

perate need to preserve his paternal line, not out of lust.

Like Faust, who is the ancestor of all gothic heroes and

whose -reanimation by Goethe proclaimed the Romantic period,

Pierre defies both man and God in order to champion human

power. Battling as he does against the limits of the human

condition, Pierre is doomed to failure. But whereas Mar-

lowe's Doctor Faustus goes off after a terrific struggle,

Manfred of Otranto retires from the stage with his castle's

collapse, Ambrosio the Monk and Melmoth the Wanderer are

pushed off cliffs by demons, and Ahab's ship goes down with

all hands, Pierre is not allowed even a decently dramatic

exit. He dies unnoticed in a sordid prison. Again, Mel-

ville juggles the convention so that the indications of

Pierre's value are removed. We do not know whether he is

any better than the man he murdered, Glen Stanly. Glen

fills the role of weak hero in that he loves Lucy and is

powerless to rescue her. He would be, socially, a proper

match for her. But he does not survive to marry the heroine,

for Pierre kills him. In the magic world of story, villains

are not supposed to have any real power over heroes. Mel-

ville steps beyond this polite convention to the possibility

of complete jeopardy. This was the sort of thing which

outraged his public.

We have gothic motifs and characters in Pierre; do

we, then, also have gothic machinery? In a classical sense,

no, except possibly for Pierre's dungeon (the subterranean

passage, the castle vaults), and the brief mention of the

pine forest and Isabel's chateau (castle-substitutes).

There are no true castles, no trapdoors, not much time spent

in the forest (lacking robbers, anyway), and the adverse

weather is simply cold, not spectacularly stormy. There

are, instead of castles, drab and narrow rooms to which the

characters are self-confined. The only journey in the

novel is the brief passage from Saddle Meadows to New

York; the true journey in the novel is inward and psycho-

logical rather than a passage through a danger-infested

forest. These are precisely the characteristics remarked

by Irving Malin in his study New American Gothic as belonging

to the Southern gothic school in America today. Malin

also explains that in place of "old" gothic's image of the

reflection--the mirror, the portrait--one frequently finds

multiple selves represented by distinct characters. Mel-

ville's inclusion of two figures which can be seen as

animals and one which we discussed as a shadow in this work

is apparently a step in this direction. Again, Melville

anticipates the twentieth century.

We have established that Melville was familiar with

the gothic mode, that he borrowed some of its motifs and

adapted its most essential characters--villian/Byronic

hero, light and dark heroines, and ineffective hero.

There are, as Higgins34 has shown, faint verbal echoes from

some of the gothic stories Melville knew, and especially

fromBulwer-Lytton's Zanoni. Some scenes and characters may

have been adapted from Melmoth the Wanderer and The Bride

of Lammermoor, though the absence of hard evidence that

Melville had read those two books makes this hypothesis

difficult to prove. Unlike the trappings of the novel of

manners, the gothic elements are distributed throughout the

novel from beginning to end; they begin with the explication

of Pierre's lineage, and intensify with the appearance of

Isabel. But in order to be fully gothic, the novel must

pass the test of total effect, appealing to man's deepest

irrational fears such as the fears of entrapment, darkness,

sexuality, death, and the unknown. Pierre is trapped, first

in his own existential position and finally in a material

dungeon. Cold, violence, and insanity pervade the latter

part of the novel. Pierre verges on violating the incest

taboo both with his mother and his sister. He murders a

close relative, not only a murder but a violation of the

family. The unknown is represented by his philosophical

delvings, which remove him from the safety of the philo-

sophical base he has always known.

Pierre is a rational modern man who abdicates his

rational control and becomes a creature of chaos, a "door-

less and shutterless house for the four loosened winds of

heaven to howl through."35 This situation is the logical

descendant of the "modern" heroine's entrapment by a

"medieval" villain. Chaos rules not only Pierre's life

but, if he is correct, the entire universe. He has had

a glimpse of the "nil. 36 Later novelists would come to

accept this void and even make a positive virtue of it.

But Melville, having glimpsed the subconscious before Freud

and the anima before Jung, and writing in a convention which

shows encounters with the irrational as terminating in

disaster, saw and presented the most terrifying implications

of the absence of rational control. This is the threat which

menaces not only Pierre but the reader as well.

We have shown that Melville modified certain tradi-

tional aspects of the gothic novel to increase the ambi-

guity of Pierre. In the earliest gothic novels, vice and

virtue are almost totally distinct, although the two some-

times occur in the same character. Walpole chose incest

as the theme of The Mysterious Mother, his gothic drama,

because " was capable of furnishing not only a contrast

of characters, but a contrast of virtue and vice in the

same character."37 There was, however, no doubt about which

was which; indeed, the gothic form often degenerated into

moralistic novels. In Pierre, at one point, both concepts,

virtue and vice, are derogated as equally meaningless by

the bewildered protagonist. Even the Byronic hero, whose

representations sometimes go far towards hinting at psycho-

logical determinism, has recognizably evil traits. Pierre

has no such clearly marked characteristics.

Poe, a heretic, inverted the two heroines and extolled

the dark over the traditional light one. Melville balanced

the two so that neither is rewarded, and neither symbolic

value is upheld. Pierre's end is ignoble, so that it is

far from certain whether he is hero or fool. The moral

black and white becomes totally grey, a problem Melville

explored further in The Confidence Man. His use of machinery

is more subtle than that of his gothic predecessors, and he

anticipates the Southern gothic writers in his use of con-

stricted space, the inward journey, and multiple selves.

He was able to make these modifications because he had

absorbed the gothic ethos but did not, apparently, feel

restricted by the previous forms of its written expression.

This fact is clearly demonstrated by the gothicism

of Moby-Dick, to which we have referred in passing. Ahab

is obviously a Byronic hero; there are supernatural events

such as the flaming corposants and the magnetized compass;

the struggle is between humanity (the "Anacharsis Clootz

deputation" aboard the Pequod) with its machinery, tools,

and brains, and the primeval powers of the Leviathan. And

yet Moby-Dick is not a gothic novel, for Melville embodied

the same struggle which we find in the gothic mode in a

new situation. Instead of being pursued, humanity is the

pursuer. The hunt and the voyage of discovery are the

bones of Moby-Dick, not the chase and imprisonment of the

heroine. The stereotyped cast of characters and the motifs

which we have discussed in relation to Pierre are entirely

absent from Moby-Dick; there are no women, even. Pierre

and Moby-Dick both deal with the struggle between human

control and chaos; the former uses the form of expression

we call gothic, though with imaginative modifications,

while the latter novel invents its own situations. It is

possible, therefore, that Pierre was actually planned


first, since it is likely that the greater departure from

precedence would come after the lesser.


1Bertrand Evans, Gothic Drama from Walpole to Shelley
(Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1947), pp. 116-131.
A study of this sort is Irving Malin's New American
Gothic (Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1962).

3The Gothic Quest: A History of the Gothic Novel
(London: Fortune Press, 1938).

Evans, Gothic Drama.

5Bernard Grebanier, The Truth about Shylock (New
York: Random House, 1960).

See the introduction to Edith Birkhead's The Tale
of Terror: A Study of the Gothic Romance (New York: Russel
and Russel, 1963).

Love and Death in the American Novel (New York:
Stein and Day, 1966).

Donald T. Reilly, "The Interplay of the Natural
and Unnatural: A Definition of Gothic Romance," Disser-
tation University of Pittsburgh, 1970.

Ishmael (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1956).

1See Summers, The Gothic Quest, Chapter 1.

11The American Adam: Innocence, Tragedy, and Tra-
dition in the Nineteenth Century (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago
Press, 1971).

12Sealts, Melville's Reading (listed alphabetically).

13Brian Higgins, "The English Background of Melville's
Pierre," Dissertation Univ. of Southern California, 1972.

14Newton Arvin, "Melville and the Gothic Novel,"
New England Quarterly, 22 (1949), 33-48.


16Edgar A. Poe,"The Fall of the House of Usher" in
Edward H. Davidson, ed., Selected Writings of Edgar Allan
Poe (Boston: Riverside Press, 1956), p. 101.

7Pierre, pp. 128-9.

18Ibid., p. 135.
1Ibid., p. 6.

20Ibid., p. 339.
21It is generally believed that Melville culled the
name "Glendinning" from Scott's novels The Monastery and
The Abbott. It is entirely possible, however, that he
derived the name from Poe, who in turn may have taken it
from Scott.

2Murray as well as Edward Fiess, "Byron and Byronism
in the Mind and Art of Herman Melville," Dissertation
Abstracts International, 25 (1965), 4145A; and Joseph J.
Mogan, Jr., "Pierre and Manfred: Melville's Study of the
Byronic Hero," Papers on English Language and Literature,
1 (1965), 230-240.
Pierre, p. 226.

24Ibid., 320-321.

2Love and Death in the American Novel is based on
the premise that American literature tends to deal with sex
in gothic terms.

2Frederic Carpenter, "Puritans Preferred Blondes:
The Heroines of Melville and Hawthorne," New England
Quarterly, 9 (June, 1936), 260.
M-L Von Franz, "The Process of Individuation,"
in Carl G. Jung, ed., Man and His Symbols (New York: Dell,
Pierre, p. 169.
2Martin L. Pops, The Melville Archetype (Kent, Ohio:
Kent State Univ. Press, 1970).

30Von Franz, p. 191.

31Pierre, p. 73.

32Ibid., p. 370.

33Ibid., pp. 413-414.
34"English Background of Melville's Pierre".

35Pierre, p. 399.

3Nicolaus C. Mills, "The Discovery of the Nil in
Pierre and Jude the Obscure", Texas Studies in Literature
and Language, 12 (Summer, 1970), 249-262.

3Horace Walpole, as quoted in Summers, p. 34.



The genre critic has always had great difficulty

in dealing with the satiric work. Hard as he tried, North-

rop Frye could not replace the terms irony and satire with

anything more specific, though he did create a distinction

between them and a pair of working definitions:

The chief distinction between irony and
satire is that satire is militant irony:
its moral norms are relatively clear, and
it assumes standards against which the
grotesque and absurd are measured.1

Irony, on the other hand, leaves uncertainty in the reader's

mind as to the attitude of the author and the attitude which

he, as reader, ought to assume toward the events recounted.

In regard to this definition, Pierre can be seen either as

irony or as satire; if the much-debated pamphlet of

Plotinus Plinlimmon is taken as the explicit moral of

Pierre, the book is satire, and if it is taken as only one

of multiple attitudes, the book is ironic. We shall consider

the possibility that the correct view is to interpret a

satiric structure incorporated in an overall ironic design.

It is the purpose of this chapter to consider Pierre as a

satirical romance with Plinlimmon's philosophy as central,


and to examine the passages and techniques that rightly

belong to satire.

Satire, says Frye, requires two things: "one is

wit or humor founded on fantasy or a sense of the grotesque
or absurd, the other is an object of attack."2 David

Worchester, in The Art of Satire, has a similar statement:

In the formation of any kind of satire
there are two steps. The author first evolves
a criticism of conduct--ordinarily human
conduct, but occasionally divine. Then he
contrives ways of making his readers compre-
hend and remember that criticism and adopt it
as their own. Without style and literary
form, his message would be incomprehensible;
without wit and compression it would not be
memorable; without high-mindedness it would 3
not "come home to men's business and bosoms."

Worchester incorporates irony in his discussion of satire,

considering that an ironic view can

become a habit of thought, an unseen governor
in the choice and ordering of literary mater-
ial. Finally, it may take on itself the form
of the Adversary, or diabolos, and confronting
God with self-comparisons put His justice and
His mercy to question.4

Worchester's idea of irony is a sense that things are not

as they should be, a sense which may "inspire a minute

trope of rhetoric"5 or extend, as it obviously does in

Melville, to a cosmic scale. This is not to be confused with

Frye's use of the term irony, having reference to the ab-

sence of an explicit standard for the guidance of the reader.

Worchester's diabolos, who sounds much like Ahab, is

motivated by a specific view of what ought to be. So is

Pierre, but the author and the narrator of his tale may not

be. Thus the satiric is incorporated in the ironic.

Given a standard which he wishes to inculcate, the

satirist must find a literary form for conveying his attack

against deviations from that standard. He must have a fic-

tion--a voyage, a social situation, something resembling

plot. He will often employ within this plot an "image which,

if effective, the reader cannot easily forget,"6 a "central

symbol of violence"7 which in many works is cannibalism,

dismemberment, or suicide. Satire deals with the corruption

of an ideal, but one must have an eye for the objective

results. The physical condition and ultimate fate of a

satiric character indicate how he is to be regarded. Thus

illnesses are important in satire. Furthermore, "the satir-

ist who wishes to convey his indictment by a fictive rather

than a discursive structure must (if his indictment is very

severe) employ a physical encounter which ends in violence."

In the context of these observations, Pierre's

ocular disease constitutes a satiric indictment of him.

Satiric diseases are usually highly appropriate, as venereal

disease for the lustful. Pierre's being stricken in the

organ of sight indicates that his perception of the world

has been at fault. He must look out blearily between his

lashes as a punishment for having such imperfect perception.

His suicide, far from being tragic, is in this context a

proper end for one who has followed distorted standards.

But the real "central symbol of violence" in the novel is

the murder of Glen in cold blood. Commission of that in-

human act reveals the erroneous nature of Pierre's principles.

The satiric message in Pierre is embodied in a

"manifest fiction," the story of an innocent boy from the

country who goes to the city and finds that all is not as

he expected. The violent actions and Pierre's illness occur

within this plot, and the fiction constitutes the literary

form required by Worchester's definition. Of the style we

shall have more to say later, but Pierre obviously has

certain stylistic devices which do not occur elsewhere in

Melville and which can be interpreted as elements in a total

satire. There are, in fact, a variety of distinct styles.

So much for "style and literary form." No recent critic

(earlier reviewers were shocked at the nonconformism of the

apparent moral of the book) has denied the work's "high-

mindedness" as it obviously deals with basic moral problems.

"Compression" at first seems alien to Pierre, until one

considers the actual simplicity of the narrative structure

and the multiplicity of meaning that is packed into it. Of

course, compression was never Melville's strong point, and

this complexityof messages is one of the reasons for the

failure of many critics to recognize the satirical aspect

of the book.

But the real sticking point about Pierre as satire

is the problem of "wit." Of course, the "Young America in

Literature" chapters are humorous gems, but how much of the

rest of the novel is in this vein? John D. Seelye William

Braswell and Lawrance Thompson1 present excellent argu-

ments for considering the entire novel as satirically, "even

facetiously"l2 conceived. The author's wit is revealed

through such devices as parody, mock-heroic, Chaucerian irony,

caricature, wordplay, humorous names, exaggeration--the

humorist's entire repertory is at his command. As another

scholar, Edward Rosenberry,13 points out, Melville was known

to his contemporaries as a humorist whose folksy vein resemb-

led that which Mark Twain would later tap. Both Moby-Dick

and The Confidence Man have strong elements of American folk

humor. Pierre is the book between these two, and can be

reasonably expected to contain some humor.

The remaining element of the definition is "an

object of attack" in Frye's words, or a "criticism of con-

duct" in Worchester's. What, then, is attacked or criticized

in Pierre? There are several answers to this question, as

indeed there are for many satirical works. One scholar

insists that "satire consists of an attack by means of a

manifest fiction upon discernible historic particulars."14

If we look in Pierre for an object with historic identity,

we arrive at the doors of the Christian church. Christian

ideals are applied in society, and the idealist meets a

violent end. In satiric terms, Christianity fails the prag-

matic test; pragmatism and common sense are the basis for

judgment in satire. The application of the term "enthusiast"

to Pierre may be a direct reference to several revivalist

Christian movements which took place around New England and

Upstate New York during Melville's lifetime. The term

appears to have been derogatory as applied to these sectar-

ians. At any rate, the book clearly demonstrates the imprac-

ticality of any real attempt to apply New Testament ideals

to daily conduct. Again, an overall ironic structure may

render this message invalid, or at least only relative.

Other discussions of satire do not insist upon an

historical entity as the object of the attack. The satirist

may attack generalized human vices, which vary little from

the time of Midas to that of Epicure Mammon, or from then

to our own time. Avarice, gluttony, lechery, pride--these

are human constants. Earlier satirists, both Roman and

Elizabethan, tend to criticize such abstract vices, and

Melville's affinity with the Elizabethans was, as we know,

powerful. The character of Pierre could very well bear a

Bunyanesque cognomen such as Pride. He places his private

judgment above social norms, which automatically makes him

a fair target for satire.

The object of attack, whether an historic entity or

a generalized vice, is often exemplified by a "comic butt."

This person must be in possession of his faculties--one

cannot satirize a true madman--and have a valid moral sense.

His error must be legitimately an error, not an inborn de-

ficiency, which could not be held against him. "The common-

est object of satire is a monomaniac,"5 writes W.H. Auden.

"Monomaniac" is, as we remember, Melville's own term for

Ahab. It is applicable as well to Pierre, who pursues one

type of virtue to the exclusion of all else. Balance is

the essential aim of all comic art; the man who loses his

balance must be laughed back to normal. Such is the basis

of the comedies of Aristophanes and the "humor" plays of

Ben Jonson; for this reason Jane Austen turns her ironic

scalpel on the gothic novel, and Cervantes burlesques the

chivalric romance. Pierre acts in a fashion which is

totally against his self-interest in mundane terms, and he

thereby unbalances his entire family circle. He does this

willfully, being (at first) neither a madman nor a criminal.

Later he becomes both as the result of his own choices. At

that point the comic muse gives him up.

Satire is, almost by nature, digressive. Swift's

Tale of A Tub actually makes a digression upon digressions.

Even Candide, taut as it is, takes sly digs at the South

American Jesuits and at others of Voltaire's bugbears.

Pierre, too, has secondary targets. The literary taste of

the day is handled very roughly, not only in the "Young

America in Literature" chapters but in parody throughout

the novel. Lawyers are treated unfavorably, as are the

impractical Apostles, some of whom closely resemble Trans-

cendentalists. Again, their empty stomachs indicate that

they are not on the right course. Urban society as a whole

is depicted as corrupt and unfriendly, a theme which dates

back to the Satyricon and reappears constantly in satires.

The Christian religion receives the cannonade; but Melville,

like a true satirist, fires smaller shot at other objects

which have from time to time annoyed him.

Satire tends to express itself by certain literary

techniques. Some of these are summed up by Alvin Kernan:

The scene is always crowded, disorderly, gro-
tesque; the satirist, in those satires where
he appears, is always indignant, dedicated to
truth, pessimistic and caught in a series of
unpleasant contradictions incumbent on prac-
ticing his trade; the plot always takes the
pattern of purpose followed by passion, but
fails to develop beyond this point.16

Kernan's description of scene applies to Pierre in certain

scenes, such as the watch-house riot and the Apostles'.

The description of the satirist certainly applies to the

narrator of Pierre. The plot of the novel conforms to the

pattern of action ("purpose") followed by suffering ("pas-

sion"), but without the final step into knowledge that is

characteristic of tragedy.

Classical satire was written in a colloquial and

linguistically inventive form of verse, spoken by a scornful,

even bitter poet. It tried to "correct the vices and the

follies of its time, and to give the rules of a happy and

virtuous life."1 The verse satires of Horace, Juvenal,

Persius; Hall, Marston, Donne; Dryden, Pope, and Johnson

belong to this class. But even in classical times there

was another satiric form, the Menippean satire. Menippus

wrote both prose and verse, but now we separate the "light

verse" from prose tales like the Satyricon or The Golden

Ass. Both works deal with the misadventures of a very

fallible hero, an innocent or ignorant fellow who learns

about the corruptions of civilized life. Both are in prose,

are structured according to episodes, and have the quality

of "attack" that is characteristic of satire. They are the

ancestors of such satiric prose masterpieces as Gargantua

and Pantagruel and Don Quixote, and in turn of Voltaire's

Candide and Johnson's Rasselas. Frye, in his Anatomy of

Criticism, uses the term anatomy to describe satiric prose

works. I prefer to reserve that term to describe a treatise,

which may be loosely organized, dealing with a stated topic.

That is the sense it has in Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy

and in Frye's own title. An anatomy in this sense is pri-

marily a nonfiction form, though itmay incorporate stories.

I prefer the term "Menippean satire" for such essentially

fictive works as those discussed above.

There seem to be several subclasses of the satiric

prose tale. In one direction there is the picaresque

novel; it focuses on an antisocial hero, and discursively

attacks various vices of his society. Similar to this is

the satiric voyage--Gulliver's Travels, the search for the

Bottle in Rabelais, the voyage around Mardi in Melville's

earlier novel, the course of the raft in Huckleberry Finn.

Although the organizing principle is a geographical voyage

rather than a single character's encounters with his society,

this type, like the picaresque novel, is discursive and

has numerous objects of attack. A third type is what Frye
calls the "satire on ideas" and Sheldon Sacks8 calls an

apologuee." Sacks attempts to distinguish between the

type of wide-spectrum satire represented by Gulliver's

Travels and the more limited and precise attack of Rasselas.

The latter work belongs in a special class: "The informing

principle of all such works is that each is organized as

a fictional example of the truth of a formulable statement

or closely related set of such statements."19 Sacks does

not specify the vehicle for the statement; the two best

examples we have, however, are voyages made by ingenu

characters, Candide and Rasselas.

If the Plinlimmon pamphlet is taken as the "formulable

statement" of Pierre, then Melville's novel is an apologue.

There are, furthermore, numerous resemblances between

Pierre and the tales of Voltaire and Johnson. The anti-

romantic romance (Don Quixote, A Connecticut Yankee in King

Arthur's Court) is a type similar to the apologue, as well.

It differs from the more serious and philosophical apologue

in that its object of attack is a literary mentality, not

a philosophical system, and therefore it contains much parody.

But it is more focused than either the picaresque novel or

the satiric voyage; it demonstrates the gap between reality

and a prominent fictional mode.20 Pierre incorporates ele-

ments of the anti-romantic romance in its Quixotism and its

literary parody.

The three works we want to look at most closely as

analogues of Pierre are, then, Candide, Rasselas, and Don

Quixote. Sealts (in Melville's Reading) has no listing

for Candide at all. The entries for Rasselas (1869) and

Don Quixote (1854) are later than the composition of

Pierre. What is one to make of that? First of all, as

this is not a source study, it is not necessary to prove

that Melville read any specific work, but only that he

produced something that resembles it. Nevertheless, we can

create good probabilities that Melville was familiar with

all three of these works. Sealts explains, in his intro-

duction, that there are gaps in Melville's life that we can

never fill in. We do not know what was in his father's

library. If it was anything like the libraries described

in Redburn and Pierre, it must have been extensive. We do

not know what Melville read on shipboard. Although Duyckinck

kept a record of the books he lent, others of Melville's

friends may have lent to him, or even read to him, other

works of which we have no record. Perhaps the author's

letters and diaries accidentally omit to mention certain

puschases that he made from booksellers. Finally, it is

possible that he became familiar with some works at second

hand. One can know enough about a distinctive work like

Don Quixote, Candide, or Rasselas to imitate it without

reading it through, if the summary one has received is compe-

tent. This could explain Melville's purchases of Don

Quixote and Rasselas at dates later than his apparent famil-

iarity with them. He would certainly wish to become acquain-

ted at first hand with something he had heard much about;

he seems to have been an avid book collector who purchased

works for his library even though he had read them before.

He purchased Bayle, for example, years after borrowing the

work from Duyckinck.

Critics have recognized echoes of both Cervantes

and Voltaire in Melville prior to the composition of Pierre.

In regard to Queequeg's idol, Lawrance Thompson remarks,

"Melville knew that Voltaire had some pertinent things to

say on this human tendency toward making God in our own

image.21 The dominant model for Mardi's satiric voyage is

clearly Rabelais, whom Melville had read around 1848; never-

theless, John Seelye22 believes there is considerable influence

from Cervantes in the Quixotism of Taji's behavior. Be-

tween the composition of Typee and the forging of Moby-

Dick, "Lucian, Rabelais, Montaigne, Burton, and Bayle pro-
vided Melville with a library of Pyrrhonic writings"23 to

help him indulge his satiric tendencies. Bayle, especially,

was a powerful influence. Melville once planned an entire

summer of reading in Bayle's Historical and Critical Dic-

tionary, which he had read in Duyckinck's library and then

purchased for his own.

From Bayle Melville learned the history of philoso-

phy up to the eighteenth century. Bayle was a great dialec-

tician who used "self-protective stylistic equivocations"24

to argue the issue of the origin of evil. Although he was

tried for defending heresies, the ambiguity of his phrasing

was such that he could claim to have defended orthodox doc-

trines. His method was to present a multiplicity of argu-

ments on an equal basis, so that the orthodox interpretation

(often shown to be self-contradictory) is seen as no more

valid than the unorthodox. Most relevant for our purposes,

Bayle was "the centre of the Manichean controversy in the

eighteenth century, as he had been ever since his Manichean

articles had aroused a new interest in the whole problem

of evil.25 Millicent Bell and Lawrance Thompson26 have

shown the great extent of Moby-Dick's debt to Bayle. Reading

them, one wonders whether the name "Pierre" is not a refer-

ence to Pierre Bayle. The method of multiple possibilities

(ambiguities), the heavily Manichean flavor of the book as

emphasized by the dual angels, and the use of the mouth-

piece philosopher all suggest the influence of Bayle's

techniques and ideas. The conceit of the chronometricals

and horologicals also comes directly from the work of Bayle.27

Interest in Bayle and in the "Manichean illusion"

should have led Melville to Voltaire, Bayle's disciple and

the most powerful opponent of Leibniz's optimism in the

eighteenth century. America was pretty much an extension

of the Optimistic school, and Emersonian T.ranscendentalism,

which is fundamentally Optimistic, reigned in Melville's

America as the Leibnizian system had in Voltaire's France.

It has become a critical commonplace that America's three

great writers of the mid-nineteenth century, Poe, Hawthorne,

and Melville, were arguing for the "power of blackness" in

the face of a society inclined to an opposite view. Both

Melville and Voltaire showed early inclinations toward

Optimism, but in the course of their lives they both turned

against this philosophy. Candide was written at a low

point in Voltaire's life--he was growing old, he had lost

Mme. du Chatelet, he had fought with Frederick. Specif-

ically, the Lisbon earthquake and generally, his systematic

studies of history made him conscious of a conflict between

"the clocklike order of a rational, mechanical universe and
the mad confusion of an illogical, capricious reality."2

Similarly, Melville had experienced the financial failure

of his serious fiction, had written what he considered pot-

boilers in order to survive, and seemed in real doubt about

his future as an artist. Even if we do not accept state-

ments about a mental breakdown after Moby-Dick, it is apparent

from numerous sources that Melville was depressed at this


Candide was not Voltaire's first blast at Opti-

mism. His famous poem on the Lisbon Earthquake, though

phrased far more mildly than Candide and, in some versions,

allowing for hopes of divine Providence, evoked a storm of

protest across Europe. One response was a letter from

Rousseau which probably provoked Candide. Melville, too,

had made a serious statement about the power of evil and

the apparent rule of chaos in Moby-Dick, and even without

waiting for publication he knew what the reviews would

say. Pierre is his response to the criticisms of Moby-

Dick, a response formulated even before many of the criti-

cisms had been penned. Like his hero, Melville saw it all

in advance:

In that lonely little closet of his, Pierre
foretasted all that this world hath either of
praise or dispraise; and thus foretasting
both goblets, anticipatingly hurled them both
in its teeth.29

If he did not arrive at Voltaire's door by way of

his interest in Bayle, Melville could well have been led

there by his passion for Shakespeare. He read avidly all

the Shakespeare criticism he could get. He may well have

known that Voltaire was the center of a famous Shakespeare

controversy. During a brief exile in England, Voltaire

became familiar with Shakespeare and undertook to introduce

his writings on the Continent. He did so, however, with

serious censures on the English poet's failure to observe

the classical unities. One reply to Voltaire's Shakespeare

criticism is contained in the preface to Walpole's Castle

of Otranto, a book which Melville owned.

There are some tantalizing clues in the text of

Pierre which point to a study of French and possibly an

acquaintance with some of Voltaire's works. There is one

direct reference to the tart-tongued Frenchman in the letter

from Pierre's publishers denouncing his book as "a blas-

phemous rhapsody, filched from the vile Atheists, Lucian

and Voltaire.30 Isabel gives a description of the French


It was a bonny tongue; oh, seems to me so
sparkling-gay and lightsome, just the tongue

for a child like me, if the child had not been
so sad always. It was pure children's language,
Pierre; so twittering--such a chirp.31

A rather more detailed acquaintance with French is suggested

by Melville's use, early in the book, of a rather unusual

expression. In the description of the mysterious face,

Pierre "knew not what" and in the same passage "could not

tell what"32 it evoked. Rare in English, this construction

is common in French, as "je (il) ne sais quoi." A sign

pointing to Voltaire is Melville's mention of "all-seducing

Ninon" who could "unintendingly break scores of hearts at

seventy.33 Ninon de L'Enclos, a famous courtesan, was

Voltaire's first patron.

The reference to the "Semiramian pride" of Mary

Glendinning reminds us that Voltaire wrote a tragedy entitled

Semiramis. The play is a Shakespearean imitation, a

tragedie dans le gout anglais which borrows from Ham-

let the father's ghost, the mother-son attraction, and the

bloody final scene. Semiramis, the Babylonian queen who

helped murder her husband several years before the open-

ing of the play, marries her son without knowing his identity.

After they find out the truth, the son wants to avenge him-

self on the man who murdered his father, but accidentally

stabs and kills his mother, a partner in the original

crime. Recall the scene in which Mrs. Glendinning throws

a fork into her own portrait and says that the wound is

inflicted by her son. Both the incest motif and the Hamlet

analogues would make this play ideal for Melville's use in

Pierre, if indeed a reference is intended. A further assoc-

iation is Melville's use of the word "magians." The wise

men in the Babylonian court are called "les mages."

Semiramis was published in English as early as 1760, and

performed in English in 1776.35 Possibly there was a copy

of it in the library of trans-continental trader Allan

Melville. The only work of Voltaire's we can trace to that

library is the Histoire de Charles XII36 but there may have

been others.

For instance, there might have been a volume of

Voltaire's Romances. What he called romances are actually

very short philosophical tales apologuess). One such tale

is "Memnon, the Philosopher." Memnon is a young man who

decides one day that he will become "a perfect philosopher."

He will avoid love by thinking of the decay of female beauty,

foster temperance by recalling the effects of intemperance.

He will never quarrel with his friends, and, being inde-

pendently wealthy, never frequent the court. Needless to

say, he soon breaks all of his resolutions and loses all

his property, as well as one eye which is injured in a

fight. His "good genius," a celestial being, consoles him

in his ruin. Memnon will be happy again, the being tells

him, though he will never recover his eye, but he must

never again try to be a perfect philosopher. "Is it, then,

impossible?" said Memnon. "As impossible as to be perfectly

wise, perfectly strong, perfectly powerful, perfectly

happy," is the reply.37

Melville's alternate name for the Terror Stone, the

MemnonStone, certainly seems to refer to this story.

Memnon's course is Pierre's, his fancied immunity to sin is

as fragile as Pierre's, and the attempt at superlative

virtue leads both young men into the worst evils they can

conceive. The actual account that is given of the Memnon

story in Pierre is, however, the traditional version and it

echoes Bacon's account in The Wisedome of the Ancients (1619).

The poets say, that Memnon was the sonne of
Aurora, who (adorned with beautiful armour, and
animated with popular applause) came to the Troiane
warre: where (in a rash boldnes, hasting unto, and
thirsting after glory) he enters into single combat
with Achilles the valiantest of all the Grecians, by
whose powerful hand he was there slaine....
This Fable may be applied to the unfortunate
destinies of hopeful young men, who like the sonne
of Aurora (puft up with the glittering shew of
vanity and ostentation) attempt actions above
their strength, and provoke and press the most
valiant Heroes to combat with them, so that (meeting
with their overmatch) are vanquished and destroyed,
whose death is often accompanied with much pitty
and commiseration. For among all the disasters that
can happen to mortals, there is none so lamentable
and so powerful to move compassion as the flower of
vertue cropt with too sudden a mischance....38

Compare Melville:

For Memnon was that dewy royal boy, son of Aurora,
and born King of Egypt, who, with enthusiastic
rashness flinging himself on another's account into
a rightful quarrel, fought hand to hand with his

overmatch and met his boyish and most dolorous
death beneath the walls of Troy....39

He retains the best strokes of Bacon's, such as the word

overmatchh," but writes a modern, tight summary. Nor does

he miss the Shakespearean misquotation (from Hamlet,

appropriately); it is corrected in the next paragraph:

Herein lies an unsummed world of grief.
For in this plaintive fable we find embodied
the Hamletism of the antique world; the Hamlet-
ism of three thousand years ago: "The flower
of virtue cropped by a too rare mischance." And
the English tragedy is but Egyptian Memnon,
Montaignized and modernized; for being but a
mortal man Shakespeare had his fathers too.40

Melville seems to be inviting us to discover his

fathers in the Memnon passage, and we find them a very ill-

matched pair. Melville seems to be balancing Voltaire's

version of the tale with Bacon's. Later references to

Bacon ("man's brain went into doting bondage, and bleached

and beaten in Baconian fulling-mills, his four limbs lost

their barbaric tan and beauty,"41 "Bacon's brains were

mere watch-maker's brains; but Christ was a chronometer"42

are quite unfavorable to the Englishman. For it is the

complacency of self-assured reason that Melville wishes to

attack; Bacon's systems of reasoning helped to begin that men-

tality, and the same complacency informed American transcen-

dentalism. When, in Moby-Dick, Melville balanced Kant and

Locke as two whales tied to the Pequod's sides, the balance

was even. But when he balances confident rationalism with

a Manichean insight, represented for him by Bacon and

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