mardi 8 mars 2011

William Charvat, THE PROFESSION OF AUTHORSHIP IN AMERICA, 1800-1870, Columbus, Ohio State University Press, 1968, 327 pages.

From Irving and Longfellow to James and beyond, one of the symptoms of friction between the American writer and his public has been his tendency to write about writing - to write poems about poems and fiction about novelists. Though such works vary widely in tone from defensiveness to a guilty deprecation of art itself, they all derive from the sense that the writer is different from people and that people resent him for it. He has often attempted to minimize that difference, as Poe did when he described the writing of "The Raven" as a purely rational process. Just as often he has allied himself with people against writers. It is a sure sense that impels a James Whitcomb Riley to attack poets and a Herman Wouk to make villains of artist and intellectuals.
Melville, like Henry James in his short stories of the nineties, took the offensive, and, particularly in Pierre, made the embattled genius a hero and a martyr. This is the book which shut him off from any further serious consideration by contemporary critics, and the public's rejection of it was conclusive: it took Harpers 35 years to sell 1,800 copies. Considering Melville's original intention in writing it, it was an incredibly blundering and perverse performance for a professional writer.
(p. 273)

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