Correspondent Colorings: Melville in the Marketplace

By Sheila Post-Lauria | Go to book overview

CHAPTER NINE
Writing the American Novel: The Confidence-Man

WHEN MELVILLE STARTED The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade in the spring of 1855, he was still submitting stories such as "Benito Cereno" and "The Apple-Tree Table" to the editors of Putnam's, the monthly where he had been enjoying an enthusiastic following among its readers. Throughout the reviews of The Piazza Tales, a collection of Melville's Putnam's stories, critics commonly referred to the "great attention" the tales had generated among that audience.1 The reviewer for the New York Dispatch recalled the surging popularity of Melville's stories in various issues of the journal. When "The Encantadas" appeared, he recalled, "the chapters were universally considered the most interesting papers of that popular Magazine, and each successive chapter was read with avidity by thousands."2Melville's tales were so popular with Putnam's readers that the author's work became the trademark for the magazine. The American Publishers' Circular maintained that Melville's Putnam's stories "were, in no small degree, instrumental in raising that journal to its present proud position -- the best of all American Monthlies."3

Melville crafted his new work, The Confidence-Man, with this strong readership in mind. Though the letter written to the publisher of the journal has not (yet) been found, Melville apparently proposed The Confidence-Man for both serialization in the monthly and subsequent book publication.4 His allegiance to Putnam's conven-

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