Saturday, January 19, 2013
Brenda Wineapple's 2002 Hatchet Job
In the Nation (May 20, 2002) Brenda Wineapple led a Hatchet Squad against the accuracy of my biography of Melville. Rather than reviewing my second volume, she declared that the final scene from the first volume was fantasized, even worse than “largely imagined”: “Parker’s fine sleuthing turned up a newspaper article, printed in the 1852 Windsor, Vermont, Journal, that recounts Melville meeting Hawthorne for dinner at a hotel in Lenox, Massachusetts, conveniently situated between Pittsfield and the small house the Hawthornes were occupying on the border of what today is known as Tanglewood” (38–39). Wineapple continued (39): “And on the basis of this gossip column” (of course, it was not a gossip column), “Parker speculates that the dinner took place circa November 14 and that as the two friends lingered, alone in the dining room, Melville handed Moby-Dick to Hawthorne. (‘In no other way could Hawthorne have had a copy so soon,’ Parker explains.)” She was building toward this demolition of my integrity as a biographer (39):
As Hawthorne held Moby-Dick in his hand, “he could open the book in his nervous way (more nervous even than normally),” writes Parker, “and get from his friend a guided tour of the organization of the thing now in print, and even sample a few paragraphs that caught his eye or that the author eagerly pointed out to him.” He could indeed. Whether he did is another matter, though not for Parker, as secure in his fantasy as Edmund Morris is in his imaginary Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan. “Take it all in all,” Parker concludes, “this was the happiest day of Melville’s life.”
Not for Wineapple the high spiritual mood in which Stanton Garner read the last pages, his awe “that there never was, nor ever will be, such another moment.” Not for Wineapple the ecstasy that the old-time Melville-Hawthorne scholar Harrison Hayford felt at the ending of the full printout of the first volume, as I quote later in this chapter: “It breaks into SONG—a Song of jubilation & Praise.” You can’t write a biography or write a conscientious review of one without revealing your own character.
In MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE I lay out just how much evidence I had for everything I said about this last meeting between Melville and Hawthorne in the Berkshires.
Here I want to quote Paula Backscheider: “For an academic to be accused of ‘making up things’ . . . is the most serious charge that can be levelled against him or her and may discredit that person forever” (xix). Wineapple, then Richard H. Brodhead, then Andrew Delbanco, then Elizabeth Schultz, all accused me of making things up. The most egregious of these members of the Hatchet Squad, Delbanco, accused me of making up THE ISLE OF THE CROSS and POEMS then in his own book on Melville (2005) blithely mentioned the existence of each. I may die discredited by such lies, which have spread on the Internet with the notable help of Alan Helms, but in my new book I am trying to set the record straight. Read it, please.