Correspondent Colorings: Melville in the Marketplace

By Sheila Post-Lauria | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
Writer and Community in and White-Jacket

THE RELIANCE OF the "classic" writers Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville on popular antebellum practice has often been seen as an act of aesthetic degradation and self-limitation. Scholars have usually presented these writers as ideologically superior to their culture.1 The marketplace, so the argument goes, forced these "alienated" artists to preserve prevailing ideologies in their fiction against their personal wishes. Where financial necessity failed to control literary impulse, the shackling influence of the Puritan, Revolutionary, and genealogical fathers did.2

Considering the works of Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville as responses to economic necessity and societal pressures risks obscuring the personal artistic impetus that distinguishes their works as well as any creative reliance on popular materials these authors might have maintained. Certainly, as authors dependent on their writings for financial support, they shared a common economic necessity. The presence and preservation of what Emory Elliot has termed an "American ideological consensus" of popular ideas and conventions, however, does not necessarily mean a common denominator. Poe's criticism of morality and ethics in the fiction of the period represents a stance ideologically antithetical to Melvillean aesthetics, which include ethics and social morality as integral components. Then again, Hawthorne's view of his cultural inheritance as potentially dangerous and inimical to artistic creativity is considered by Melville the very key to artistic survival.3

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