Melville's Reviewers: British and American, 1846-1891

By Hugh W. Hetherington | Go to book overview

Chapter IV: MARDI

". . . extraordinary ideas in a still more extraordinary and extravagant style."--LondonMorning Post ( 1847), reviewing Mardi.


BRITISH RECEPTION

When Melville offered Mardi to Murray and to the public, he was gambling, and for high stakes. Murray had had fair warning. On March 25, 1848, nearly a year before it was finished, Melville had written candidly to Murray that his original plan for his forthcoming book had been to write a "bona-fide narrative" of '"his adventures in the Pacific, continued from 'Omoo,' " but that now he had changed his "determinations," and that the "reiterated imputation of being a romancer in disguise" had "pricked" him into a resolution to show what a "real romance" from him would be like.1 Here he accounted for a contrast between the first and later parts of Mardi, a book beginning with a voyage on a whaler in the real Polynesia, but then becoming a romantic quest for the lost white maiden Yillah, symbol of the form of happiness man most desires, and then turning into a journey through Polynesian islands, by now transformed into allegorical representations of the countries of the world.

When the manuscript finally reached the English publisher some ten months later, it had a preface in which Melville boldly restated what he had told Murray, and added that he "wanted to see whether the fiction might not be received for a verity." Mardi was thus declared an experiment, and experimental indeed it was, in ways far more profound than as a mere test of credulity. Although he lost with Murray, who promptly declined this professed fiction, Melville was still to have his chance with the readers, for his agent was able

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1
Log, p. 274.

-100-

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Melville's Reviewers: British and American, 1846-1891
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • List of Illustrations xii
  • Chapter I: Reviewers British And American 3
  • Chapter II: Typee 20
  • Chapter III: Omoo 66
  • Chapter IV: Mardi 100
  • Chapter V: Redburn 135
  • Chapter VI: White Jacket 157
  • Chapter VII: Moby-Dick 189
  • Chapter VIII: After Moby- Dick 227
  • Chapter IX: "Dead Letters" 265
  • Index 293
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