Saturday, June 13, 2020

Elizabeth S Melville, Happy 198th Birthday

Today is the birthday of Herman Melville's wife Elizabeth S. Melville aka Lizzie, born Elizabeth Knapp Shaw in Boston on June 13, 1822. Herman married the daughter of Lemuel Shaw on August 4, 1847. From "Boston As It Is" by "Falconbridge," Correspondence of the Philadelphia Saturday Courier, August 14, 1847:

Philadelphia Saturday Courier - August 14, 1847 via GenealogyBank
Herman Melville, the renowned author of those two lucky books, Typee and Omoo, was last week united to the daughter of old Chief Justice Shaw, of this city. That, I guess, will stop his whaling business and revels with the nymphs of the South Sea.... FALCONBRIDGE.
Falconbridge was a pseudonym of journalist Jonathan Falconbridge Kelly (1817-1855).

Here's a link to my 2009 letter in Leviathan on the significance of the melting mood in Melville's prose dedication "To Winnefred," usually read as addressing his wife.

Melville’s use of the melting mood offers no grounds for presumptively and exceptionally characterizing Melville’s wife as “imperceptive” of literary irony, and no grounds for excluding her from the class of “alert” readers…. Given her long experience with Melville’s development as poet, including her vital role in the collaborative effort (a failure, ultimately) in 1860 to publish “Poems by Herman Melville,” Elizabeth is unlikely to have misperceived Herman’s use of stock literary devices such as verbal or situational irony and metaphors of human mortality.
Footnote 4 cites Laurie Robertson-Lorant on the formal education of Elizabeth Shaw Melville in Melville and Women, edited by Elizabeth Schultz and Haskell Springer (Kent State University Press, 2006).

Thinking of Winnie-Lizzie as dedicatee reminds me that Hershel Parker gives her the last word in Herman Melville: A Biography Volume 2, 1851-1891 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002; paperback 2005).

Winnefred does not figure in "Copyright, 1892, by Elizabeth S. Melville": Rethinking the Field Formation of Melville Studies, the March 2019 Leviathan essay where Adam Fales and Jordan Alexander Stein offer a "wife-centric" model of authorship that pays welcome attention to Elizabeth's agency in securing the 1892 republication of Typee. And, more generally, in promoting her husband's literary legacy.

For further study of "To Winnefred", digital images from the manuscript of Weeds and Wildings are accessible via Houghton Library, Harvard University:
  • Persistent Link
  • Description Melville, Herman, 1819-1891. Unpublished poems : autograph manuscript, undated. Herman Melville papers, 1761-1964. MS Am 188 (369.1). Houghton Library, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass. Folder 5. Weeds & wildings with a rose or two.
  • Page sheet 4 (seq. 151)
  • Repository Houghton Library
  • Institution Harvard University
  • Accessed 13 June 2020
In print, the best reading text of "To Winnefred" is available with the rest of "Weeds and Wildings" in the 2017 Northwestern-Newberry Edition of Billy Budd, Sailor and Other Uncompleted Writings. A printed text of "To Winnefred" also graces Volume 16 of The Works of Herman Melville (London: Constable, 1924), pages 303-4; digitized copies are accessible online courtesy of HathiTrust Digital Library. The 1924 Constable volume with "To Winnefred" via Google Books:

Electronic text of Melville's Dedications including "To Winnefred" may still be found on the pioneering website

Explicating Melville's published poem Bridegroom Dick, Juana Celia Djelal suggests the speaker's wife Joan may be based on Elizabeth Melville, the poet's "wife and transcriber of his writings." See Djelal on “Melville's Bridal Apostrophe: Rhetorical Conventions of the Connubium” in Melville Society Extracts 110 (1997) pages 1-5.

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