Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 597
Saddle Meadows. Name of both the New York village and the nearby ancestral manor of Pierre Glendinning’s family. Herman Melville modeled the estate on his own Arrowhead estate, near Pittsfield, Massachusetts, as well as his Uncle Herman’s home at Gansevoort in upstate New York. From the start of the novel, Pierre embodies Saddle Meadows. The grandeur of the countryside is reflected in the physical and spiritual grandeur of this cultivated youth and his heroic lineage. The novel opens with repeated assertions that Pierre is fortunate to have been born and bred in the country; however, he eventually must survive in the city, where his pastoral breeding is of little help.
The residents of the village of Saddle Meadows are a closely knit community; the threat of scandal to the Glendinning name is made that much more damning because of this. In the early nineteenth century, America’s Revolutionary War was still within the cultural memory, and its heroes were still linked with the ancestors who bore their names. Because of their ancestry, the Glendinnings hold a place similar to that of feudal lords in the village: They own most of the property and many of the church pews. Their implicit superiority to the townspeople is based upon the respect—and fear—they collect from these people.
After Pierre chooses to learn Isabel’s story, Saddle Meadows becomes a fantasyland for him, to be recalled in solitude in the city as an idealized and untouchable dream that no longer can exist in reality. In the city, Pierre’s memories of his home tie the second part to the first and make his situation more miserable in comparison. Emphasizing where he comes from, and how ideal his surroundings were, Melville makes Pierre even more tragic and pathetic as a character.
City. Although the name of the city is unspecified in this book, it is clearly based on New York: It is a large coastal city, of hundreds of thousands of people, edged by a large bay. In the first part of the novel, the city is mentioned only briefly as a remote seat of aristocracy that draws away people like Lucy and Pierre’s father for portions of the year. After being expelled from Saddle Meadows, Pierre flees to the city, hoping to enjoy these same aristocratic elements through the supposed generosity of his cousin, Glendinning Stanly.
Far from aristocratic, the city which Pierre, Isabel, and Delly encounter is dark and gloomy. Most of the scenes occur either at night or indoors. The night of their arrival foreshadows their entire experience in the city. They find the sights, the sounds, and the citizens rude and garish. It is an awakening from their original illusion of Saddle Meadows as a microcosm of the world, an illusion that is shattered on their first night in the city when Pierre enters a hotel. The innkeeper, noting Pierre’s address in his book, asks whether Saddle Meadows is anywhere in this country. Once the source of Pierre’s identity and pride, the name “Saddle Meadows” is shown to be of no worth in his new life in the city.
The city’s dismal atmosphere brings about physical changes in both Pierre and Lucy, who lose their bloom after they begin to live there. These two perfect creations of nature, like spring flowers, lose their beauty and vitality when transplanted to the gloom of the city. Because Pierre’s beginnings and formation are entirely in the hands of nature, he is unequipped for his unnatural existence in the city.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 227
Dillingham, William B. “The Wonderful Work on Physiognomy: Pierre” and “Convenient Lies and Duty-Subterfuges: Pierre; or the Deceptions,” in Melville’s Later Novels. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1986. Discusses Melville’s satirical treatment of Pierre as a victim of several strange nineteenth century theories, including physiognomy (reading character through facial expression).
Dimock, Wai-Chee. “Pierre: Domestic Confidence Game and the Drama of Knowledge.” Studies in the Novel 16, no. 4 (Winter, 1984): 396-409. Sees Pierre as a battleground for Melville’s investigations of theories of epistemology and psychology, with no clear conclusions being reached about either field in the novel.
Duban, James. “Subjective Transcendentalism: Pierre.” In Melville’s Major Fiction: Politics, Theology, and Imagination. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1983. Regards Pierre as Melville’s comment on the disastrous consequences of what the Transcendentalists proposed, using intuition as a guide to action. The notes contain an excellent review of criticism.
Higgins, Brian, and Hershel Parker, comps. Critical Essays on Herman Melville’s “Pierre: Or, The Ambiguities.” Boston: G. K. Hall, 1983. A collection of critical essays. Contains a bibliography of other works on Pierre.
Wilson, James C. “The Sentimental Education of Pierre Glendinning: An Explanation of the Causes and Implications of Violence in Melville’s Pierre.” American Transcendental Quarterly, n.s. 1, no. 3 (September, 1987): 167-177. Indicates that Pierre is a flawed product of a society that gave its young a false view of reality.
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