Melville: His World and Work

Who cares if Melville was gay? I certainly don’t give a fig (one of his favorite snacks) about his or any other genius’s sexuality. Yet that’s a bugaboo that must be faced in every single biography about the man. To be fair, his circle jerking in the “A Squeeze of the Hand” chapter of MD is over-the-top madness and hilarious, but must we dissect him to this degree?

Delbanco takes on the thankless task of creating a vivid biography of someone who left mostly traces of himself only in his written work, scattered letters, a thin journal here and there. This book is expansive in its exploration of Melville’s oeuvre, panning for nuggets of his life in the gold streams of prose. The best part was a re-ignition of my desire to read MD again.

Other bits:

  • I appreciated learning about Melville’s habit of buying a book for his library only after he’d read a copy borrowed from a friend or the library. Hey-yo, fellow traveler!
  • After the thudding failure of MD, Melville actually proposed publishing his next book under a pseudonym!