vendredi 9 décembre 2011

David S. Reynolds, BENEATH THE AMERICAN RENAISSANCE, New York, Knopf, 1988, 625 pages

It is perhaps understandable that the subtitle of Melville's next novel was The Ambiguities. Melville's private comments on Pierre; or, The Ambiguities suggest that he believed the novel was broadly representative of American popular culture. Melville wrote his publisher, Richard Bentley, that the novel "was very much more claculated for popularity than anything you have yet published of mine." At about the same time, his friend Sarah Morewood commented: "I think [Melville] cares very little as to what others may think of him or his books so long as they sell well." It may seem odd that a novel designed for popularity wouls fail abysmally. Pierre had poor sales and received generally harsh reviews, including one charge that Melville had gone insane. How do we explain the negative reception given to a novel evidently written for the masses? The truth is that Pierre was too broadly representative of antebellum popular culture - with all its crippling moral paradoxes - to have wide appeal. In this paradigmatic novel are embodied the profound dualisms of American popular culture. The first half of the novel portrays the Conventional world of pastoralism, domesticity, the angelic exemplar, hopeful religion, military heroism, and innocence. The second half of the novel plunges us into the Surversive world of dark city mysteries, shattered homes, illicit love, social and philosophical radicalism, and bloody crime. Since both sections of the novel feature themes and characters that had proved extremely popular with American readers, we understand why Melville expected good sales. Perhaps he wanted tout attract both those who loved Conventional novels like The Wide, Wide World (to Sophia Hawthorne he promised Pierre would be "a rural bowl of milk") and those who consumed Subversive exposés like The Quaker City (to Bentley he called the book "a regular romance, with a mysterious plot to it, and stirring passions at work"). Whatever his motivations, the fact is that by fusing the two realms he produced a highly explosive mixture that gave little pleasure to either class of readers.

p. 159.

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