Isle of the Cross

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Isle of the Cross (c. 1853) is a possible unpublished and lost work by Herman Melville whose existence was first suggested in 1990 by Melville biographer Hershel Parker.[1][2] Parker theorized that the work, perhaps a novel, perhaps a story, was what had been known as the "story of Agatha," completed around May 22, 1853[3] after the commercial failures of Moby-Dick and Pierre: or, The Ambiguities. Unlike almost all of Melville's other fiction, this work has a female central character.

On a visit to Nantucket in July 1852 John H. Clifford, a New Bedford lawyer, state attorney general, and friend of Melville's father-in-law Lemuel Shaw, told Melville the story of Agatha Hatch Robertson, a Nantucket woman who had cared for a ship-wrecked sailor named Robertson. After their marriage, Robertson abandoned her and their daughter, only to return seventeen years later, then to abandon them once again and be exposed as a bigamist. In a letter to his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne Melville described "the great patience and, & endurance, & resignedness of the women of the island in submitting so uncomplainingly to the long, long absences of their sailor husbands," and urged Hawthorne to adopt this "little idea." Hawthorne did not take up the idea, however. Scholar Merton M. Sealts, Jr., in state of the field note of 1980, endorsed the possibility that Melville wrote the story in the winter of 1853 with Hawthorne's style in mind; the work was a transition toward the "Hawthornesqe symbolism" of Melville's later stories. [4]

When Melville took a manuscript to his New York publishers, Harper & Brothers, in June 1853, they rejected the work. The publisher was possibly concerned about poor reviews of Pierre, or feared legal action from Agatha Hatch's family. [5] But since no such story was ever published or manuscript found, Sealts felt that the manuscript was probably burnt by Melville. [6] Parker in 1991 suggested that the "Agatha story" was the "Isle of the Cross." [7] [8] Basem L. Ra'ad, Professor at Al-Quds University,[9] concluded that the title refers to a story, not a full length book, and that the story was incorporated into "Encantadas, or Enchanted Isles," a series of sketches published in the Piazza Tales. [10]

In the novel The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay, one of the characters, Walter Geist, is secretly purchasing the original manuscript of "Isle of the Cross." [11]


  1. ^ Hershel Parker (March 1990), "Herman Melville's The Isle of the Cross: A Survey and a Chronology", American Literature (journal) 62 (1): 1–16, retrieved December 3, 2013 
  2. ^ The Cambridge Companion to Herman Melville - Google Böcker. 1998-05-13. Retrieved 2013-12-04. 
  3. ^ Susan Salter Reynolds (May 26, 2002), Three Questions for Hershel Parker, Los Angeles Times, p. 3, retrieved December 3, 2013 
  4. ^ Merton M. Sealts, "Historical Note," The Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces, i839-i860 (Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and The Newberry Library, I987), pp. 482-83 and 487-90. Transcription as in the original.
  5. ^ Robert Pepper (February 1, 2004), "Why Harpers "prevented" publication of The Isle of the Cross--one possible explanation.", Melville Society Extracts (126): 7, retrieved December 3, 2013 
  6. ^ Sealts, "Historical Note," p. 483.
  7. ^ Brenda Wineapple (May 20, 2002), "Melville at Sea", The Nation 274 (19): 38, retrieved December 3, 2013 
  8. ^ Mary B. W. Tabor (September 20, 1995), Book Notes, New York Times, p. 18, retrieved December 3, 2013 
  9. ^ "Basem L. Ra'ad | Authors | Macmillan". 2009-12-04. Retrieved 2013-12-06. 
  10. ^ Basem L. Ra'ad, "'The Encantadas' and 'The Isle of the Cross': Melvillean Dubieties, 1853-54" American Literature 63.2 (June 1991).
  11. ^ Donna Rifkind (March 13, 2007), Object of Desire, Washington Post, p. C8, retrieved December 3, 2013