Melville (Magill's Literary Annual 2006)
Briefly lionized as a young writer of South Sea romances, neglected by critics throughout most of his writing career, and unacknowledged as a literary genius until thirty years after his death, Herman Melville has since become the subject of an enormous amount of critical attention and several substantial biographies, including Hershel Parker’s comprehensive two-volume life, published in 1996 and 2002. Andrew Delbanco has wisely chosen not to compete with Parker, whose life of Melville approaches two thousand pages. Rather, Delbanco has concentrated the results of what has clearly been a long and thorough study of his subject into 322 pages of text. The relative brevity of Delbanco’s book is one of its virtues, though not the most important one. How much, not just of Melville’s “work,” but of his “world,” as the subtitle promises, can be told in such a compass? The answer is: a great deal.
Delbanco immediately reveals himself as a connoisseur of Melville appreciators (and depreciators) in a preliminary seven-page selection of “Extracts, supplied by a Sub-Sub-Sub-Librarian”a witty parody of Melville’s send-off of Moby Dick (1851), of course. They range from Allan Melville’s observation that his seven-year-old son Herman seemed “backward in speech” and “somewhat slow in comprehension” to a New York Times editorial from May, 2005, comparing New York mayor Michael Bloomberg to Captain Ahab. Some of these...
(The entire section is 1991 words.)
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Bibliography (Magill's Literary Annual 2006)
Booklist 102, no. 1 (September 1, 2005): 41.
The Boston Globe, September 18, 2005, p. E6.
Kirkus Reviews 73, no. 13 (July 1, 2005): 716-717.
Library Journal 130, no. 13 (August 15, 2005): 84.
The Nation 281, no. 19 (December 5, 2005): 43-46.
The New Republic 233, nos. 26-28 (December 26, 2005): 25-29.
The New York Review of Books 52, no. 19 (December 1, 2005): 6-12.
The New York Times Book Review 155 (September 25, 2005): 24.
(The entire section is 46 words.)