ReadySteadyBlog

Jay Parini new novel The Passages of Herman Melville is just beginning to get noticed (see e.g. the Independent's review).


Below, in an extract from the Telegraph, Parini sketches the relationship between Melville and his great peer Nathaniel Hawthorne:


Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, the two great novelists of 19th-century America, were close friends at a major juncture in their writing lives, and it’s hard to imagine a more fruitful, poignant or complex relationship. For Hawthorne, it was a connection that stirred deep intellectual interest. For Melville, it was a matter of love.

After several years in Boston as an inspector at the Custom House, Hawthorne moved to Lenox, in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts, in 1850. He lived in a small cottage with his beautiful wife, Sophie, and their two children, Una and Julian. The Berkshires were dominated by such imposing literary figures as Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Fanny Kemble and James Russell Lowell, but Hawthorne was a shy man who rarely ventured into literary society.

In early August, when Melville was staying with an aunt in Pittsfield (six miles from Lenox), a prominent local figure invited him to meet the great Hawthorne – who had just published The Scarlet Letter to wide acclaim – at the base of Monument Mountain, a popular spot for outings.

They hiked up a trail with half a dozen others. Apparently a storm blew up, and the group retreated to a cave to drink champagne from a silver mug and read poetry aloud. Melville grew buoyant, leaping into the rain to a rocky precipice, where he played sailor, pretending to haul up imaginary ropes for everyone’s amusement. Hawthorne, in particular, admired this brash young author, who at 31 was 15 years his junior.

Two days later Hawthorne wrote to a friend: “I met Melville the other day and liked him so much that I have asked him to spend a few days with me before leaving these parts.” (More...)

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