Pierre; or, The Ambiguities

Pierre; or, The Ambiguities

Pierre; or, The Ambiguities

Pierre; or, The Ambiguities

Excerpt

In the summer of 1851 Melville, scarcely thirty-two, completed his sixth book, Moby-Dick, of one substance with himself, a wild Everest of art, limit of governable imagination.

The begetting of this marvel of our literature called for an immense deliverance of imagery and thought at high temperature and, for a year and a half, the almost unremitting application of the will to form -- altogether, it would seem, the longest course of furious and superb productiveness we know of in America. But, despite this huge expenditure, within a few weeks -- how long we do not know exactly -- Melville began laying out his seventh book, this Pierre.

Since his mind had come of age in 1845 Melville's experience had been one of continuous unfolding, until one day his questing spirit encountered a barrier which, so far as he could see, was insurmountable. This was the occasion of a deadly moral conflict, his spirit committed to a "dark hope forlorn, whose cruelness makes a savage of a man." The presentiment of his defeat was heavy on him when in the spring of 1851 he wrote Hawthorne that he had now "come to the inmost leaf of the bulb, and that shortly the flower must fall to the mould." It was just then, facing annihilation, that Melville rose, in Moby-Dick, to the heights of sublime eloquence and won his place in the selectest company of authors. Thus did he magnificently exemplify Byron's conclusion, written on a leaf of the manuscript of Childe Harold, "For by the death-blow of my hope, My Memory immortal grew." The end of Ahab, embodiment of the author's defiant spirit, was the "utter wreck" prayed for, "if wreck I do," in Mardi, Moby-Dick was the rainbow Melville . . .

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