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Herman Melville. Biography and Themes “Bartleby, the Scrivener” “Tartarus of Maids” . Melville Biography Timeline. 1819 b. New York 1830 family bankrupt 1832-3 family falls apart; H.M. drops out of school 1839 1 st voyage at sea. Timeline cont.

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Herman melville

Herman Melville

Biography and Themes

“Bartleby, the Scrivener”

“Tartarus of Maids”

Melville biography timeline
Melville Biography Timeline

  • 1819 b. New York

  • 1830 family bankrupt

  • 1832-3 family falls apart; H.M. drops out of school

  • 1839 1st voyage at sea

Timeline cont
Timeline cont.

  • 1841-1848 experiences at sea=37 books about it

    • At first popular reading & commercial success

      • 1841-1844 on ships Acushnet and Lucy Ann

      • 1844 Typee

      • 1847 Marries Elizabeth Shaw; Omoo

    • But wants to change writing, wants meaning; wants to rebel, write banned books

      • 1849 Mardi and Redburn—failures critically and financially

Timeline cont1
Timeline cont.

  • 1850 White Jacket; develops relationship with Nathaniel Hawthorne

    • Returns to “popular fiction” but hates it

    • Melville to Hawthorne (while working on Moby Dick): “Dollars damn me. [What I feel] most moved to write, that is banned—it will not pay. Yet altogether, write the other way I cannot. So the product is a final hash, all my books are botches.”

Timeline cont2
Timeline cont.

  • 1851 Moby Dick

    • Topic: 800 pages about guy trying to find whale and get back at it

    • Not as much of failure as Mardi, but not successful; received little notice

    • Wants to write novels written at two different levels

      • Said to Hawthorne: “secret motto that few would discern”

      • Said about Hawthorne’s books: “are superficially calculated to deceive—egregiously deceived, the superficial skimmer of books”

Timeline cont3
Timeline cont.

  • 1852-1867 Pierre, Israel Potter, trip to Europe, edits Hawthorne’s works, The Confidence Man

  • 1867 abandons fiction

    • Magazine writing to make $

    • Publishes short stories in Europe (including “Bartleby”)

    • Emotionally wrung out from failures, careful of issues of offensiveness, still trying out technique of writing for two audiences at once

Timeline cont4
Timeline cont.

  • 1866-1886 Job in Custom House; sons die

  • 1886 Inheritance

  • 1891 H.M. dies

  • 1920 H.M. rediscovered as an author

Themes in hawthorne and melville
Themes in Hawthorne and Melville

  • Romantic concern with good and evil

    • Hawthorne: Puritan ancestry

    • Melville: ships

  • Responded differently

    • Hawthorne: positive

    • Melville: negative

The chart darker romantics
The Chart: Darker Romantics

**D.R. shares characteristics with other Romantics but more pessimistic view

  • Authors: (Hawthorne), Melville, Edgar Allan Poe

  • View of Man: moral struggle with evil; feelings and intuition; dark interior

  • View of God: good v. evil; sin and its psychological effects on people

  • View of Nature: evil found in setting and symbol; often the supernatural

  • View of Society: must be reformed


  • Objects and persons equated with meanings outside of the narrative

  • Characters personify abstract qualities

  • Evokes dual interest

  • Religious, moral, political, personal, satiric


  • Power of presence of evil

  • No logic in society or nature; man depend on self

  • No dogma can teach; man learn it on own

  • Man must fight society and nature

  • Life is mask of appearance

  • Battles of conscience

  • Redemption in human love for fellow man

Themes cont
Themes cont.

  • Man=maker of own identity

    • must accept inability to fully know power of universe

    • must know own mortality

    • must know need for fellow man and capacity for love of humankind

Themes cont1
Themes cont.

  • Man is not equal to God

  • Love=only element of innocence that endures

  • Can result in isolation or “hell”

  • Responsible for other human beings


  • Dickens quality

  • Some readers: about Melville’s own struggles as writer

    • Bartleby paid as copier (scrivener) to write what everyone else is writing—Melville’s own feelings?

Mythological allusions in tartarus of maids
Mythological Allusions in “Tartarus of Maids”

  • Tartarus

  • Greek version of hell/underworld

  • Bacchus (Old Bach)

  • God of wine; often had a harem of women called Bacchantes: “[Bacchus] was accompanied, as was his custom, by a train of women dancing and singing exultant songs, wearing fawn skins over their robes, waving ivy-wreathed wands. They seemed mad with joy.”

    (Edith Hamilton’s Mythology 68-9).

  • Cupid

  • “[Venus’s] son, that beautiful winged youth whom some call Cupid and others call Love, against whose arrows there is no defense” (Hamilton 122).

  • Actaeon

  • the hunter who accidentally witnessed the goddess Artemis bathing and “was changed into a stag…His dogs saw him running and chased him…They fell upon him, his own faithful hounds, and killed him” (Hamilton 374).