Saturday, April 2, 2011


Richard H. Brodhead: Hapless Revenger

In the June 2007 issue of NINETEENTH-CENTURY LITERATURE and in MELVILLE: THE MAKING OF THE POET (2008) I belatedly protested against three reviewers of my 2002 HERMAN MELVILLE: A BIOGRAPHY, 1851-1891, all of whom had implied or claimed outright that I had made up two lost books that Melville wrote, THE ISLE OF THE CROSS (1853) and POEMS (1860). Ever since 1960 scholars had known for sure that Melville finished a book in 1853, although it was 1987 before I discovered the title; since 1922 Melville scholars had known all about POEMS, including Melville's twelve-point memo to his brother on the publication of his verses. The leader of this pack of critics, in the 23 June 2002 NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW, was the then Dean of Yale College, Richard Brodhead. Snarling behind him were Andrew Delbanco in the NEW REPUBLIC and Elizabeth Schultz in the COMMON REVIEW. None of them had performed archival research on Melville, and apparently none of them had bothered to read Melville's letters or any biography published after 1921. Apparently they had not read the book they were supposedly reviewing! What a pack of character assassins! For, as Delbanco bluntly put it, if I had fantasized the existence of two lost books then I was to be trusted nowhere. None of them has ever apologized, but Delbanco in a 2005 book blandly talked about THE ISLE OF THE CROSS and POEMS quite as if he had known of their existence from earliest childhood.

I kept silent for five years during which I never once slept peacefully through a whole night. Well into 2006, I realized that Brodhead had rushed to judgment about the Duke lacrosse players and was destroying their reputations. It was 2002 all over again, and worse--for three players were in danger of being imprisoned for 30 years. I began writing what became the 2007 article, "THE ISLE OF THE CROSS and POEMS: Lost Melville Books and the Indefinite Afterlife of Error," and the Introduction to the 2008 book. By "indefinite afterlife" I meant the persistence of lies on the Internet. The false accusations by Brodhead, Delbanco, and Schultz remain there, untagged with the Melvillean warning, "NO TRUST." Beginning in the fall of 2007, I have experimented with putting Truth out on the Internet on LieStoppers: will this Internet Truth last as long as falsehood? Will my blog last as long as Brodhead’s lies about POEMS in the New York TIMES or Delbanco’s in THE NEW REPUBLIC?

I see now that Richard Brodhead's malignity in 2002 may be his way of taking revenge for a footnote in my FLAWED TEXTS AND VERBAL ICONS: LITERARY AUTHORITY IN AMERICAN FICTION (1984, pp. 28-29). When I drafted that passage a quarter century ago, it was after trying for a decade to clarify the chronology of the composition of Melville's PIERRE. I don't recall reading what I quoted from Brodhead and I don't recall writing the footnote, but I can tell by its anomalous character (the only such footnote in the book) that I had been appalled, as I still am, by Brodhead's fixation on literature as something that exists for him to write facile criticism on and by his cold-heartedness toward the author.

The footnote was to this comment: "Melville's PIERRE is also [like PUDD'NHEAD WILSON] the result of two very different and imperfectly combined creative processes, the second one destructive of part of the achievement of the first." In the footnote I wrote:

"While most critics find unity at all costs even in books known to have a strange compositional history, now and again a critic of the post-New Criticism generation . . . is content to place less stock in formal perfection. Richard Brodhead, in particular, has displayed a remarkable tolerance toward Melville's altering the direction of PIERRE half way through the book as we know it. Brodhead observes, as Leon Howard and many others had done, that the second half of PIERRE has little to do with the first, then with mild benignity decides that 'Melville was wise not to let a foolish consistency keep him from exploring the subjects and methods he does' (in 'Chronometricals and Horologicals,' 'Young America in Literature,' and 'The Church of the Apostles') even though 'their inclusion has a curious effect on the book's narration.' Brodhead knows the book is split in two. Rather than demanding a verbal icon, however, he makes the best of a bad situation, finding interest where he can--but at the cost of closing his eyes to the agony that lay behind Melville's decision to record his rage against his reviewers and his fears about the death of his career as a writer, even if doing so meant wrecking what might well have been the most tightly unified work he had yet written." Then I cited Brodhead's HAWTHORNE, MELVILLE, AND THE NOVEL" (1976), p. 182.

Before 1984, had anyone ever expressed even mild skepticism about anything Brodhead had published? Certainly he was not regularly held to high standards by scholarly reviewers, for none of the enthusiastic early critics of another book, THE SCHOOL OF HAWTHORNE (1986) knew that Brodhead had not bothered to call the roll in that school--had not bothered to find that the room was not, like his Andover and early years at Yale, all male. (Brodhead had not read Harriet Beecher Stowe's New England novels, among other once popular books influenced by Hawthorne.) Having previously seen only flattery from reviewers and critics, was Brodhead incensed by my 1984 footnote?

In 1995 I did something more than a little outrageous in an attempt to help people think through many new pieces of evidence about the composition of PIERRE. Enlisting Maurice Sendak as illustrator, I edited a version of PIERRE so as to recreate something close to what existed when Melville finished the book and accepted a ruinous contract for it, before he stuffed the manuscript with wholly extraneous material such as that which Brodhead had been pleased to practice his literary criticism on. I hoped that anyone who loved MOBY-DICK would want to know what Melville himself thought, at least early in the composition, would be a greater book, a Kraken book to his THE WHALE (the title Melville used for MOBY-DICK until after sheets had been shipped to England). The KRAKEN edition, a nonce text for Sendak to illustrate, was meant to allow the reader to glimpse the work which Melville thought would be a psychological voyage more profound than MOBY-DICK. As the dust jacket said, "Melville scholar Hershel Parker has long believed that the psychological stature of MOBY-DICK could 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." Of course the edition was not offered "as 'definitive' but merely as supplementary" to the standard text.

You would have thought I had burned every copy of the 1852 PIERRE! On 7 January 1996 Brodhead vented his rage in "The Book That Ruined Melville" (the NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW "Bookend"). Unsurprisingly, the article is peppered with factual errors (according to Brodhead, THE CONFIDENCE-MAN was published in 1856 and 20 is half of 50), and with opinions which Brodhead offers as fact (MOBY-DICK started without an Ahab). Granting that the "Kraken" edition "may bear a close relation to what the book looked like at a certain stage of its history," Brodhead asked rhetorically, "but even if it does, since when did readers feel they should have access to every stage of a work's evolution?" Of course I was not talking about several absolutely irrecoverable stages but one "certain stage"--the stage at which the book was complete, at which the Harpers had looked it over and decided that they would publish it at a punitive royalty, and the parties had agreed on a contract--all in the first days of 1852.

Brodhead's "Bookend" reveals an appalling lack of curiosity. Taking the KRAKEN edition as an attempt to recreate a book greater than the PIERRE we have known, he opts for the "original" (by which he means not the book as "originally completed" but as published). Brodhead shows no interest in learning what Melville had attempted in PIERRE as he first completed it. He also showed no interest in or sympathy for the forces that drove Melville to write the pages on Pierre as an author, that "harrowing reckoning of the meaning of his own career." Words like "harrowing" are in his vocabulary, but as in the 1976 book, Brodhead is happy to have such painful pages to criticize--the more the better, fodder for his conventional essays.

Protected, cosseted all his academic career despite the pinch of inflation in the dark 1970s (which he perceives as his own Great Depression), Brodhead seems haplessly unaware of how ordinary people suffer. On 1 May 1851, Melville, already a debtor, went disastrously into new debt, betting everything on the success of MOBY-DICK. With that book he had horrendous luck, for in London the little epilogue got lost in the shuffling when the table of contents was split into three and the etymology and extracts were moved to the back of the third volume. Some English reviewers commented scathingly on Melville's ineptitude--What? first person novel and no survivors of the PEQUOD? The two English reviews reprinted here in time to harm Melville were among the most hostile, and the one printed twice in Boston did not say precisely what was so very wrong with the catastrophe. No one holding MOBY-DICK could say, "Hey, here's an epilogue and Ishmael survives!"

Many of the American reviews had been ferocious, calling Melville blasphemous and insane. In January 1852 it was clear that MOBY-DICK was not selling as well as some of Melville's earlier books. How could Melville make the second semi-annual interest payment on the loan he had taken out in May? He had not made a living at 50 cents on the dollar after costs and now had agreed to take 20 cents on the dollar. And there were other distressing events, all in the first week or so of 1852, surely including a confrontation with his friend Evert Duyckinck over PIERRE, since right then he wrote the Duyckinck brothers mockingly into the manuscript. As we have seen in UNTIL PROVEN INNOCENT (p. 92 is a good example) other people's suffering means nothing to Brodhead.

I suspect that Brodhead remembered the one honest criticism he had ever received, my 1984 footnote about his blindness to Melville's agony. He extracted revenge in the "Bookend" and extracted his full measure of revenge in his 23 June 2002 review. He was not adept enough to wreak vengeance without inflicting wounds on himself, for he exposed his ignorance of all Melville scholarship since 1922. Or was he deliberately pretending not to know all the work on which I was building and that which I had discovered? Could he not read the quotations from the documents on the pages of my biography? Brodhead was Dean of Yale College and he could get away with any false allegation, he must have thought. He had gotten rid of James Van de Velde, hadn't he? In 2002 no one would question him or Andrew Delbanco or Elizabeth Schultz, his cohorts in savaging my reputation.

Along with James Van de Velde and with Michael Pressler and his family, and with the 2006 Duke lacrosse players and their families, I ask simply: HOW CAN RICHARD BRODHEAD LIVE WITH HIMSELF? Melville knew that kind of man. His conclusion, as I will explain in another article, was that they suffered from a defect in the region of the heart.

Now, in April 2011, in two cases going forward, Richard H. Brodhead will face evidence that he is guilty of “constructive fraud” (see my post on that subject) and of “obstruction of justice”—something taken rather more seriously as fraudent publications and obstruction of scholarship.

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