Monday, September 19, 2022

Pierre πŸ’• Lucy

Accessible courtesy of the great Internet Archive, a virtual version of the 1929 edition of Pierre; or, The Ambiguities, introduced by John Brooks Moore with a preface by H. M. Tomlinson, and published in New York, NY by E. P. Dutton & Co. The real thing is from Trent University Library, donated by the distinguished Canadian scholar Gordon Roper (1911-2005) and apparently containing his marginal annotations.

One annotation in Roper's copy of Pierre strikes me as especially good, the neatly inscribed comment in the left margin on page 44, next to a passage from the fourth section of Book II, Love, Delight, and Alarm. Part IV starts on page 43 of this edition and ends near the top of page 47 with "what wonder then that Love was aye a mystic?" 

Since the 1980's, academic critics for the most part have regarded Melville's language in this particular section of Pierre as excessively romantic and sentimental. So obviously overblown, that it can't be taken seriously. Most take it for satire. Melville must be joking when his narrator avows, for instance, that

Love is both Creator's and Saviour's gospel to mankind; a volume bound in rose-leaves , clasped with violets, and by the beaks of humming-birds printed with peach-juice on the leaves of lilies.

Introducing the Norton Critical Edition of Pierre, editors Robert S. Levine and Cindy Weinstein highlight "humor and parody" as the chief effects of Melville's "overworked prose" in Book II.  

For Samuel Otter in Melville's Anatomies (University of California Press, 1999) Melville's imagery is "absurdly literalized" (page 205).

Fearless of contradiction, Robert Milder described the Edenic opening of Pierre as Melville's "grotesque" and "diabolical parody of the romance."
MILDER, ROBERT. “MELVILLE’S ‘INTENTIONS’ IN ‘PIERRE.’” Studies in the Novel 6, no. 2 (1974) pages 186–99 at 192-193.

One consequence of this view is that Lucy Tartan, the proper heroine of Pierre, gets lost way before Pierre dumps her and moves to the city with Isabel and Delly. Isabel, maybe Pierre's half sister, has effectively displaced Lucy in Melville criticism as well as in the twisted mind of Melville's enthusiast-hero Pierre Glendinning.

Disheartened by so many Lucy-less views I exclaimed in wonder, great googly-moogly!  Have these eminent English professors never been in love? Gordon Roper knew better. As rightly remarked in the margin, Melville's fantastically infatuate "style" exactly suits Pierre's mood and perfectly captures the insanely elevated feelings of any red-blooded youth in his predicament:

"style of these opening pages his attempt to give the reader the feeling of the young man in first love." 

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