Magazine article Melville Society Extracts

Redburn's "Prosy Old Guidebook" Revisited (in PowerPoint)

Magazine article Melville Society Extracts

Redburn's "Prosy Old Guidebook" Revisited (in PowerPoint)

Article excerpt

Chapter 30 of Melville's fourth book Redburn (1849), in which the matured Wellingborough Redburn meditates on his dead father's old copy of The Picture of Liverpool; or Stranger's Guide, forecasts a number of important themes and rhetorical practices that would become characteristic of Melville's craft in Moby-Dick (1851). In his 1938 PMLA article entitled "Redburn's Prosy Old Guidebook," Willard Thorp identified the correct edition (1808) of the actual Picture of Liverpool consulted by Melville for Chapter 30, and he discussed the book's role as a source for additional chapters of Redburn--particularly 31, which returns the narrative to young Wellingborough's point-of-view, and accentuates his forlorn situation as the Yankee naif vainly attempts to navigate Liverpool with the aid of this outdated relic.

Subsequent critics have recognized in the guide-book a symbolic importance that ranks with that of the glass ship in Chapter 1, the inapt shooting jacket worn by Redburn throughout the narrative, and other tropes that contribute to the book's dominant motif of youthful disillusionment. Yet while illuminating the symbolism of the guidebook in young Redburn's inexperience and rude awakenings in the narrative proper, critics of Redburn have neglected to explore the significance of the guidebook in the compositional present, as displayed in the matured narrator's close attention to its physical qualities, and in how those qualities evoke a rhetorical pattern that was new to Melville's fiction--one prompted in no small degree by his experience of drawing from his own troubled childhood for subject matter. In "Redburn's 'Prosy Old Guidebook' Revisited," I discuss the structural and thematic content of Chapter 30 in its own right, then turn to its significance as a textual area of incubation for major themes in Moby-Dick. …

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