Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Kind Review by David Seed Discovered Ten Years Late!

 I stumbled across this review today in COMPARATIVE AMERICAN STUDIES 2.1 (March 2004)--just a decade late. Thank you, David Seed. The American reviewers were scathing. Richard Brodhead, Andrew Delbanco, and Elizabeth Schultz all said or implied that I made up two lost books that Melville wrote, THE ISLE OF THE CROSS and POEMS, and Delbanco said I could not be trusted anywhere in any volume because I made these books up. Brenda Wineapple said I wrote fantasy biography like Edmund Morris's DUTCH. How nice to see the review by David Seed.

It is impossible to over­state Parker's skill at organizing an enormous mass of data, much of it available for the first time, into a coherent and engrossing narrative. The documentation for this volume, like its predecessor, is impeccably schol­arly and thorough, and is given in concluding pages without the distrac­tion of footnotes to disrupt the flow of reading. Among the many bodies of information which Parker draws on, the books which Melville knew deserve mention as a special resource. Every chapter carries as its epigraph a quotation which Melville had marked in his copy and these excerpts are just one textual signal that we are being given the life of a mind. This is important to bear in mind because one of Parker's main purposes in the present volume has been to fill in the gap which many accounts of Melville's life have left, thereby implying that he did nothing in the four decades before his death in 1891. . . .

In his last years Melville lived very much within his family and Parker excels at giving a 'thick description' of his life-style, whether at home, staying with relatives, or going on his travels. What astonishes in this narrative is the sheer density of detail- everyone based on contemporary documents - which gives a unique texture to this account of the last phase to Melville's career. Parker's biography represents the ultimate achievement in Melville scholarship and offers the reader a mine of information on one of the formative American writers of the 19th century.

David Seed
Liverpool University, UK

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