Pierre Special Trade Edition: Or the Ambiguities (Writings of Herman Melville) Paperback – 30 Oct 1995
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From the Back Cover
This Kraken Edition of Pierre, or The Ambiguities is a reconstruction of the text that Melville delivered to Harper & Brothers early in January 1852, just as some of the most devastating reviews of Moby-Dick were appearing. The Harper brothers apparently decided that Pierre was even more outrageous than Moby-Dick and tried to avoid publishing it by offering Melville less than half the royalties they had paid for his previous books. Accepting the humiliating contract, Melville took a self-destructive revenge. After Book XVI, he interpolated a new section on "Young America in Literature", in which he arbitrarily announced that his hero, Pierre, had been a juvenile author. Melville proceeded to add an intrusive "Pierre as author" sub-plot, disparaging American literary life and the world of publishing, which he left unassimilated into the book he had first completed. Melville scholar Hershel Parker has long believed that the psychological stature of Moby-Dick would best be understood in the light of the original, shorter version of Pierre, in his opinion "surely the finest psychological novel anyone had yet written in English". Moby-Dick and the reconstructed Pierre are at last revealed as complexly interlinked companion studies of the moods of thought - the Typee and Omoo of depth psychology. Furthermore, all Melville lovers will be challenged by Maurice Sendak's extraordinary pictures, which constitute a brilliantly provocative interpretation of Melville's study of moral and mental ambiguities. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
Herman Melville (1819-1891), novelist and poet, was born in New York City. Working with Romantic materials of primitivism, individualism, nature and the Gothic, Melville produced a body of fiction that analyzed reality in both its social and metaphysical dimensions. He is best known for his masterpiece, Moby Dick.
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Top Customer Reviews
When this first appeared it was slated by the critics and would probably be so by many today, but given its faults it isn't hard to read and is very interesting. Melville needed to make money and so thought about writing a sentimental novel, a genre that had been very popular with the public since the 18th century. Melville soon realised however that he just couldn't produce something that was going to be popular, what he liked and excelled at writing wasn't what the public was clamouring for and so this book is a bit of a hodge podge. Indeed by the time I was on the second page I thought birds were going to sing and everyone was going to burst into song. Even that early in the book Melville has already started to parody, and this is really a satire on the whole genre, rather like Austen's satire Northanger Abbey (Wordsworth Classics). Running deeply throughout this book is the theme of incest, although there is no actual indication either explicitly or between the lines that this ever actually happens with any of the characters.
The main story is that Pierre is set to marry Lucy but then a girl claims that she is his half sister.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The stumbling points for most readers are the novel's opaque prose, the "thees and thous" of its antiquated dialogue, and the labyrinthine hodgepodge of a plot. But the density is broken by colloquial asides, sparkling sarcasm, and an occasional passage that approaches Dickensian mirth, such as Melville's description of the "Preposterous Mrs. Tartan!" and her undercover attempts to play matchmaker between Pierre and her daughter: "Once, and only once, had a dim suspicion passed through Pierre's mind, that Mrs. Tartan was a lady thimble-rigger, and slyly rolled the pea."
Behind the mask of the prose, however, is a modernist--even scandalous--story of a young, somewhat deluded man whose nihilistic descent leads to his destruction. Engaged to Lucy Tartan, Pierre adores his mother (their make-believe brother-sister relationship is almost creepy in its amorous undertones) and worships the memory of his long-dead father. This idyllic world is shattered by a missive from a woman, Isabel, who claims to be his half-sister--a claim supported by a more-than-passing resemblance to a portrait of his father. Complicating matters are his romantic feelings for this alleged half-sister.
Convincing himself that he is choosing honor over duty, he breaks off his engagement and flees to Manhattan with Isabel, taking along a local woman who had been disgraced by an out-of-wedlock tryst. Disowned by his mother and cut off from his family fortune, Pierre finds shelter for this odd trio among bohemian neighbors in a dilapidated part of town. His finances slowly evaporating, Pierre struggles to support them by writing a novel. And then, just when the plot can barely handle another twist, his estranged fiancee Lucy shows up at their doorstep.
To go any further would spoil the fun for the reader. Yet even such a basic plot summary omits some memorable and extraordinary scenes and sketches: his first meeting with Isabel, the near-riot that greets them during their first night in Manhattan, the eccentric philosopher who refuses to put his scholarly brilliance into written form.
Adultery, incest, madness, murder, and suicide--all the ingredients of a bleak nineteenth-century melodrama are wrapped in archaic language and modern themes. In her life of Melville, Robertson-Lorant calls "Pierre" "a narrative nervous breakdown" that is a "minefield" for biographers. It's also a goldmine; in no other work does Melville more clearly ridicule his critics, his friends and family, and even himself. The weird universe of "Pierre" is not the place to start if you've never read Melville, but it's certainly where you should go if you want better to understand his life and works.