Talk:Herman Melville/Archive 1

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Archive 1 Archive 2 Archive 3


Why use the Barnes and Noble mural when there is this big high quality painted portrait:

The Barnes & Noble mural has, as far as I know, never appeared on any Melville site, and provides a fresh image of a man of whom only 4 or 5 contemporary portraits exist. I say keep it. Dr. Trilobite 06:35, 19 December 2006 (UTC)
But isn't the use of an image from B&N probably a copyvio? Scrawlspacer 16:17, 11 May 2007 (UTC)

Omoo and Typee

Omoo and Typee are not non-fiction; they are novels (although they are based on Melville's experiences). Typee is based on liveing with a canible tribe. Could someone please correct this section of the list of Melville's writings? If there are no objections, I will do it. Thanks. ffirehorse 01:43, 17 Aug 2004 (UTC)

Go for it. We like it when you correct mistakes - that's what Wikipedia is about! -Seth Mahoney 02:03, Aug 17, 2004 (UTC)

Just didn't want to step on anyone's work; it's not necessarily a minor edit. Thanks. ffirehorse 02:20, 17 Aug 2004 (UTC)

Nevertheless, both books were touted at the time of publication as being non-fiction. True, there were criticisms even then that large amounts of both works were fabricated or even plagiarized from other travelogues, but a number of Melville's supporters (including the real-life Toby) insisted they were true. (Some of these supporters did have ideological agendas, often anti-clerical or anti-religious, that caused them to want to defend both books against attack.) Scrawlspacer 16:05, 11 May 2007 (UTC)
There seems to be a lot of fuss made about the fact or fiction side of his books. In fact, they are both. An embellished version of real life experiences.

Living, as I do, on the Island of Nuku Hiva, the island where Melville stayed, I can appreciate his grasp of the Marquisian character in the short time he was here. (Considered as no more than three weeks.)What is less well known is the fact that the name of his first book is a total error ! Due to the limited communication between people of different languages, it seems that, when Melville asked about finding a refuge from the whaling ship, he asked about other parts of the island. As, at the time, the tribal system was still strong and Christianity was still very new, just a few years earlier, when he asked about the Taipi tribe (Who lived in modern day "Taipivai" He was warned not to go there as they were cannibals. He thus thought that the Marquisian word for cannibal was Typee, as it was spelt at the time. In fact, the word is Kaienana (Kai, to eat, enana, man. This I adopted as my nickname) So, in fact, he was being warned that the Taipi tribe were still cannibals. (the last recorded cannibal act was on Ua Huka, an isolated island, in 1906............... Unless one considers the biting off, and swallowing of a young Frenchman's fingertip by his local girlfriend last month, the last recorded act ! The unrecorded acts are, of course unrecorded !) Kaienana (talk) 09:46, 3 November 2008 (UTC) —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 09:40, 3 November 2008 (UTC)

Two things: first, try not to respond to posts that are four years old; you should probably make a new section. Second, unrecorded = not verifiable so there's nothing we can do with this information until it is published in a reliable source. --Midnightdreary (talk) 13:26, 3 November 2008 (UTC)


Below is a revised text. I wanted to put the references to Hawthorne in a larger context -- I found the current text misleading to the extent that it may have implied that Melville was some sort of imitator or follower of Hawthorne's style of writing.

I have also added references to some additional works of Melville's.

My suggestions are not, I'm afraid, a model of elegant writing, but they are the best I can come up with for now. Any thoughts or comments?

Editorgeek 20:04, 1 Jun 2005 (UTC)


Moby-Dick author Herman Melville

Herman Melville (August 1 1819September 28 1891) was an American novelist, essayist, and poet. During his own lifetime his early novels, South Seas adventures, were quite popular, but his audience declined later in his life. By the time of his death he had nearly been forgotten. His masterpiece, Moby-Dick, originally published in 1851, was "rediscovered" in the 1920's. He is now widely esteemed as one of the most important figures in American literature.

Melville admired Nathaniel Hawthorne greatly, whose genius he compared to Shakespeare's in an essay entitled "Hawthorne and His Mosses,"[1] published in The Literary World in 1850. Melville and Hawthorne became close friends during the time Melville was working on Moby-Dick. He dedicated his great book to Hawthorne when it was published in 1851.

Beginning with his novel Mardi, and following with Moby Dick, Pierre, and The Confidence Man, Melville intended to craft serious literary works quite different from his earlier popular, South Sea adventures. These later novels brought mixed reviews and few sales to support his growing family. Melville briefly tried his hand at writing short works of fiction for magazines, but for the most part he had to rely on his father-in-law, Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw for money. Eventually, with Hawthorne's help, Melville received a political appointment as a New York City Customs agent in 1866, a post which he held for nineteen years. By that time, however, he was suffering serious bouts of depression, no doubt magnified by his frustrations with his literary career, his son's suicide, family tensions, and his anguish over the Civil War.

Melville published no more prose works after 1857 and began writing poetry during the Civl War. His last great work of fiction, the short novel Billy Budd, was an unpublished manuscript at the time of his death. It was later published successfully and turned into an opera by Benjamin Britten.

Melville's prose works include Typee, White-Jacket, Omoo, Mardi, Moby Dick, Pierre, Israel Potter, The Confidence Man and many short stories and works of various genres (including those published as The Encantadas and The Piazza Tales). His short story "Bartleby the Scrivener" is among his most important pieces, and has been considered a precursor to Existentialist and Absurdist literature. Melville is less well known as a poet and did not write any substantial poetry until late in his life; after the Civil War, he published Battle-Pieces, which sold well. But once again tending to outrun the tastes of his readers, Melville's poetic masterpiece, the epic length verse-narrative Clarel, about a student's pilgrimage to the Holy Land, was also quite unknown in his own time.


I think editing the mention of Billy Budd "sitting in a tin can for 30 years" is a good move. I have here a collection of short stories ("The Shorter Novels of Herman Melville," Horace Liveright, Inc., 1928) with an introduction by a man, Raymond Weaver, who claims to have rediscovered this manuscript, then in the possession of Melville's granddaughter, Eleanor Melville Metcalf. This introduction states that upon Melville's death his wife carefully collected many of the manuscripts (probably also destroying some in the process), and placed them in a "miniature trunk... where they reposed unhampered with for twenty eight years." The "tin can" version has a nice ring to it, but I am more inclined to believe the above version.

This introduction also discusses some of the problems inherent in publishing any "definitive" version of the Billy Budd story. Even though this was found in the above mentioned trunk, and in Melville's own handwriting, "the script is in certain parts a miracle of crabbedness: misspellings in the grand manner; scraps of paragraphs cut out and pasted over disembowelled sentences; words ambiguously begun and dwindling into waves and dashes," etc.

Many of your revisions are good, though there are still some omissions, e.g., forgetting to mention that Lemuel Shaw was Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court. Also, as far as I know, Raymond Weaver is universally acknowledged as the scholar who brought about the Melville Revival by tracking down Metcalf, discovering from her the existence of the Billy Budd manuscript in all its disarray, obtaining it, and then publishing a version of it in either 1917 or 1924 (sorry for the momentary confusion). A much more definitive text was constructed in the 60s by Harrison Hayford and Merton M. Sealts, Jr., though, so much of the commentary on Billy Budd before this landmark of editorship is regarded as less than adequate for an accurate understanding of the novella but definitely revealing and significant in charting the history of Melville and Billy Budd criticism and the ideologies permeating it. Scrawlspacer 16:35, 11 May 2007 (UTC)


I was never aware that Melville was of scottish descent, believing him to be English and Dutch in origin. Can anyone find a link on this?

I don't have a link, but Harrison Hayford's two-volume biography says that the MelVILLs (Herman's mother added the 'e' after her husband's death) were descended from Scottish nobility, whereas the mother's side of the family was, as you say, of Dutch descent.
I think you mean Hershel Parker's two-volume biography. I'm not aware of a Hayford 2-vol. bio. Also, I think it was Melville himself who added the "e," but it's been a while since I read that (and maybe I'm just trying to find another connection to Hawthorne (who added a "w" to his birth surname of "Hathorne"). Melvillean 17:50, 30 August 2006 (UTC)

First-Person language

I can't believe that this (and the paraphrase notice) has remained in this article for over three years! This article desperately needs to be reworked. Tfine80 21:01, 11 August 2005 (UTC)

Herman Melville's Religious Journey

Is the information which this book claims to provide about Melville accepted by scholars as true, or as a significant minority viewpoint? Does the book itself have notability? -- Antaeus Feldspar 17:49, 4 February 2006 (UTC)

I think it's fine to have this viewpoint in the article. It just needs to be supplemented with other perspectives on Melville's religious leanings. There has been a lot of research done on this topic and there are a lot of religious themes and allusions in his writings. Asedzie

To understand Melvilles 'Religion' you need to understand that 'Moby Dick' is a work of allegory (namely Masonic). Melvilles true 'Religion' was "Democracy", in White Jacket he makes that clear. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Johnwrd (talkcontribs) 04:17, 14 May 2009 (UTC)

Well, having the viewpoint in the article is good; describing it as "one of the most important new insights about Herman Melville made in the last half of the 20th century" is not unless that actually is the importance that scholars place upon it. Since the editor who described it that way was talking about the research of his grandfather (and since he's shown certain problems with accurately understanding and representing what he reads) I don't think we can jump to the conclusion that it really is as important as is claimed. -- Antaeus Feldspar 00:28, 5 February 2006 (UTC)

I'd like to point out that this section is a one-to-one copy of copyrighted material. See: Please delete. 21:33, 6 February 2006 (UTC)


Why is this page such a vandal magnet? I just blocked User: for 24 hours, but if this continues, we might want to consider semiprotection for a little while. -GTBacchus(talk) 18:57, 20 April 2006 (UTC)

I watch a few writer and composer pages, Bacchus, and am surprised at how often they're vandalized too. Béla Bartók? What did he ever do to anyone? It seems to be just goofy teen-like behavior, so perhaps it's due to teenage vandals learning about these authors/composers in high school courses... If so, maybe it's a good-- if annoying-- sign that these high schoolers are familiar with names like Melville & Bartók... Keeps us on our toes anyway... Rizzleboffin 19:15, 20 April 2006 (UTC)

Documenting sources and references

It seems to me that this article needs revisions, especially, I feel, it needs to document its sources. I think if that happened the quality of the article would improve significantly.

--Jottce 12:17, 1 May 2006 (UTC)

daniel orme

In the article, I find no mention of "Daniel Orme", the very last Melville's fiction as they say. Any reason why? —The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk) 10:19, 5 January 2007 (UTC).

I've added a mention of this in the "Bibliography" section, but of course the whole article still needs so much work that I'm not sure exactly where else it will end up. Scrawlspacer 00:40, 19 May 2007 (UTC)

Major bump-up

This article is pretty sound for a piece about a minor American novelist, but this is Herman Melville we're talking about. Is anybody up for doing a serious rethink of it, reflecting the fact that some people (C.L.R. James for example) consider Melville the greatest American author who's ever lived? He was Nabokov's favourite American novelist, too. I don't think that, as it stands, it conveys how much respect people have had for Melville. I'm not saying that the article has to puff him, obviously; just that it needs something like an Influence section or a Critical Response section . I'll have a go if nobody else will. (Also, Melville did not write Mardi as an account of his travels in Polynesia, or rather he may have started out writing it about them, but he soon began to do something very different.) Lexo 17:07, 19 January 2007 (UTC)

I wholeheartedly agree with you, Lexo, that this article needs much more depth. (In fact, I'm not even sure it would be that sound for a minor American novelist, but, as you say, it is in no way worthy of the person generally regarded by both domestic and foreign critics as the greatest American writer ever, no matter what his drawbacks and flaws.) I will be glad to help you in providing some living flesh to this rather bare-bones article. Scrawlspacer 16:13, 11 May 2007 (UTC)
I would suggest, first things first, in-line citations. This entire article lacks any clear references! If anyone has a couple good resources, get started on that so at least we can confirm what's already here to be true. -Midnightdreary 17:57, 16 May 2007 (UTC)
Sounds good. I've already started to do that and hope by week's end to have some good citations. I'll probably have additions, too, just as a matter of course in reviewing what's on my shelves, but I'll try to put anything that seems controversial somewhere on this page for review. Scrawlspacer 02:21, 17 May 2007 (UTC)
If you're using a reputable biography (not sure what the preeminent Melville biography is), I wouldn't worry about controversy if it's well-cited. Oh, if you think it's worthwhile, try adding in the wikilink for Dark romanticism. It's a decent article but not linked very often. -Midnightdreary 03:33, 17 May 2007 (UTC)


Herman Melville was bisexual and this is well known. This has been noted even by scholars:

If you can find a source that is more than pure speculation, and cite it in the article, then the category can be added. Quadpus 21:09, 27 March 2007 (UTC)
The Literary Dick (as in Private Detective) examines the question of Melville's sexuality (search for Melville on that page). Their conclusion is that Melville was bisexual, based on extended quotations from Laurie Robertson-Lorant's 1996 biography, Melville: A Biography (already cited in the article, though I have just corrected the copyright date). I don't have a copy of the actual book, but it does appear to be a mainstream, scholarly biography. If anybody has a copy, we can quote it directly and include an authoritative section on Melville's sexuality. Taranah 22:53, 27 March 2007 (UTC)

Numerous articles in The Melville Society's journal Leviathan have ducumented Melville's homosexuality/bisexuality.

I've added the LGBT Project template to this biography, so hopefully we'll get more people looking for good sources on this. However, it IS, as several of you already say, well-known. (And some claim he was outright gay.) Scrawlspacer 00:51, 19 May 2007 (UTC)

There is no consensus about Melville's sexuality, and it is entirely anachronistic to use terms like 'gay' and 'bisxual' when discussing the erotic lives of nineteenth-century gentlemen. The contemporary academic field, however, has a vested interest in outing well-known writers, and this is reflected in the sources cited above.

The fact of the matter is that despite Hershel Parker's monumental research, there is very little primary material on Melville. Having become an obscure recluse, few thought to keep his letters. Similarly little diary material survives (principally a travel journal). As a result, critics have to rely to a disproportionate degree on his published fiction for inferences about his life... in this instance, the opening chapters of Moby-Dick, and Billy Budd, are usually proferred as 'evidence' of Melville's potential bisexuality (when of course there is plenty of opposing 'evidence' in Typee and Oomoo of a lusty appreciation of women). This is problematic, to say the least, as both these works are highly crafted works of fiction with identifiably fictitious narrators. Melville loved to ruffle the feathers of polite society, so it's probably more true to say he was unafraid to address the reality of male on male relationships in the seafaring community.Freddiebav 14:37, 9 October 2007 (UTC)

<< the opening chapters of Moby-Dick, and Billy Budd, are usually proferred as 'evidence' of Melville's potential bisexuality>>: Big deal, so many people wrote/write about gay themes and were/are not gay themselves. There are men who write things like if they were women and use a feminine pseudonim and aren't gay or bi, they are just making a writing exercise --> <<when of course there is plenty of opposing 'evidence' in Typee and Oomoo of a lusty appreciation of women>>

There's only speculation that he was bisexual/homosexual. He never said he was and most people will point to either aspects of his life or his writing to say he was. Again, it is speculation/controversy and has never been identified as fact. IronCrow 22:51, 18 October 2007 (UTC)
According to wikipedia guidelines, some attempt at consensus should be made, before making arbitrary changes to a disputed fact. See Wikipedia:Consensus Newtman 05:44, 21 October 2007 (UTC)
That's a preposterous misuse of guidelines Newtman. Wikipedia does not report what is factually true, but what is verifiable. It is not necessary for us to say that he was bisexual, but it is necessary to say "so-and-so writes that Melville was bisexual, so-and-so disputes this claim citing" etcetera, assuming all the so-and-sos wrote and disputed in the pages of a reputable source. (talk) 15:03, 3 February 2008 (UTC)

Hey I can find out if he was Bi or not. I have cancer and will be dying soon. If I don't see him in heaven we will know he was Bi. (talk) 03:55, 14 February 2010 (UTC)

What makes you assume bisexual people don't go to heaven? Your "joke" is in poor taste. Please don't bother posting again if that's the only contribution you wish to make to improving the article. Contaldo80 (talk) 15:43, 15 February 2010 (UTC)

"Other critics have suggested possible homoerotic overtones in some works." It's difficult to read this without a loud guffaw. It's rather like saying that a batch of brownies might possibly have chocolate in them. The homoeroticism of the first chapter of Moby-Dick is plain, extending to Ishmael describing himself and Queequeg as "married". > In Billy Budd, Melville praises Billy's great physical beauty, just as Owen Wister bluntly admires The Virginian's muscular grace. And in White-Jacket, there's a famous passage in which Melville states that some sailors are guilty of the sins of The Cities of the Plain (Sodom & Gomorrah). These are not possible homoerotic overtones -- they are blatant homoerotic elements. If a Shakespeare scholar claimed that "A Midsummer Night's Dream" just possibly might have heterosexual overtones -- he would be laughed to scorn for stating the plainly obvious.

What do these elements tell us about Melville's sexuality? Other than the self-evident observation that writers generally don't write about things that don't interest them, little. But that's no excuse for weakening them to the point of facile dismissal.

I'm aware that anything in Wikipedia has to be verifiable. But Wikipedia goes too far (or rather, not far enough) in defining what comprises "original research". The result is that "legitimate" academics have their say -- which can be conservative to the point of being anti-gay -- while the non-academic isn't allowed to point out the plainly obvious, because the academics that are permitted to be quoted bury their observations in mush-mouthed ambiguity.

In the approximately 125 years since the general public became aware that homosexual behavior was relatively common among men, social and literary academics have (and continue to) suppress speculation -- not to mention facts -- about the sexuality of famous people or particular social groups. (Note, for example, the attacks Tobias Schneebaum has been subjected to (though he's partly to blame for them).) Walt Whitman, "The Good Gray Poet", has perhaps, more than anyone else, been subjected to repeated attempts to deny his homosexuality -- despite the in-your-face homoeroticism of some of his poems, and the diary he kept that recorded the men he went to bed with. Wikipedia's mealy-mouthed Whitman article is an excellent example. I guess I'll just have to find the time to dig through some books and fix it.

I have no desire whatever to paint anyone as heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual without hard evidence. But... I'm tired of anti-gay garbage masquerading as "neutrality". I've changed the first sentence to read: "Some passages and sections of Melville's works can be readily interpreted as homoerotic." That is a factually correct but non-waffling NPOV statement.

> A queer college acquaintance, born and raised in New England, told me that high-school students were obliged to read Moby-Dick (because of the connection with New England whaling) -- but the first chapter was bowdlerized. Regardless of what Melville did or did not intend, Ishmael and Queequeg getting cozy/chummy offended the school board. WilliamSommerwerck (talk) 20:59, 31 May 2010 (UTC)


I changed a sub-section under "Poetry" that was "Unpublished or uncollected poems" to "Frequently anthologized poems" because I could see that most of the poems listed as "unpublished or uncollected" were, in fact, published in magazines at the time and/or collected in the poetry books listed farther up in the section (one of which was published posthumously). (For example, "The Portent" is the first poem in Battle Pieces.) Looking at the majority of the poems, I could only think that the author of the sub-heading had meant to say something about "uncollected" poems actually being the MOST collected, i.e., anthologized, of Melville's poems. However, since I'm not able to find one of the poems in my edition of the Complete Poems, it seems my change is not accurate. I hope someone out there knows the rationale for calling the poems in the sub-section "unpublished or uncollected."

Also, I added a list of poems that my Collected Poems does show as "unpublished or uncollected," but I put them right underneath the poetry book titles. Do you think this is a good idea, or should they be broken out into another sub-section? Scrawlspacer 05:41, 17 May 2007 (UTC)

I'm very surprised to see he wrote poems too! I only thought he wrote stories. Can someone talk inthe article about his poetry instead of just list of them please? Bolinda (talk) 05:10, 20 September 2008 (UTC)

Trivia section: Where (or if) to integrate?

In keeping with WP's demands, I've worked to abolish the trivia section and integrate its information into the rest of the article. However, after accomplishing the incorporation with two of the facts, I'm left with two others that maybe just don't belong in the article at all. Suggestions? Ideas?

Oh, I should include the two bits, especially since I've already removed them from the article:

  • Guillaume Depardieu, the French actor who played the main role in Pola X, Leos Carax's film adaptation of Pierre: or, The Ambiguities, got in a motorcycle accident and had to have a leg amputated, thus "matching" Captain Ahab, who lost a leg to Moby-Dick.
  • He is the great-great-grand-uncle of American musician Moby, who took his stage name from Melville's most famous novel.

Thanks, and a cup o' grog to all! Scrawlspacer 18:46, 20 May 2007 (UTC)

These are trivial even by trivia standards. They don't need to be in the article.--Cúchullain t/c 20:27, 20 May 2007 (UTC)

The Moby connection is interesting -- I didn't know that until now. Maybe someone would care to set up a section on Melville in Contemporary Culture section? Maybe Melville's Works in Contemporary Culture? Hopefully somebody can locate a bar named after the Town Ho. IvyGold (talk) 02:39, 24 July 2008 (UTC)

Navigation box for Melville's works

I made this Template:Herman Melville. If people think it's useful, it can be added to this article and the articles on Melville's works to allow for quick navigation between those works. It's based on other author templates on Wikipedia like Template:Charles Dickens. Thoughts? --Midnightdreary 03:15, 12 June 2007 (UTC)

No responses after a month... but I went ahead and added it anyway. It's easy to edit if people have better ideas. Thanks! :) --Midnightdreary 22:14, 14 July 2007 (UTC)

Wife Beater?

Would somebody review the line about him abusing his wife, and his children hating him to the point of suicide, moving to SF and burning his letters? This is an awfully damning accusation with no citation source. Vandals at it again?

9/22/07: I just chopped that passage. Specious at best. Plus someone added a comparison between Ahab and George W. Bush, which has absolutely nothing to do with the life of the long-departed Melville.

4/4/2009: Laurie Robertson-Lorant's scholarly life of Melville -- Laurie Robertson-Lorant, Melville: A Biography (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1998) -- provides ample documentation of the charges of wife-beating and the sad fates of Melville's sons. You can also find backup in the biographies by Andrew Delbanco and Hershel Parker. From Rbb1787

ETA: both of the comments above were from me, the first last August. Now for four tildes:

IvyGold 03:08, 23 September 2007 (UTC)

—Preceding unsigned comment added by IvyGold (talkcontribs) 03:04, 23 September 2007 (UTC)

Wife beater, Bush? This has got to be the most funniest and stupidest thing ever. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Seatglued (talkcontribs) 00:41, 17 June 2008 (UTC)


What is a 12-memo? The second paragraph of "Recent critical appreciations and controversy" mentions "Melville's 12-memo to his brother Allan..."

Perhaps someone who knows what it is could explain it a bit in the article. If it's a typo, maybe someone knowledgeable could fix it.

Thanks, AndersW (talk) 04:37, 19 December 2007 (UTC)

Melville Revival

Is it appropriate to site the effects of Melville's work on psychoanalysis? I'm researching psychoanalysis during the 1920's and am under the impression that, especially in Boston, Melville had a deep and lasting impact on the theories of personality being developed. One place in particular relied heavily on Melville's work, the Harvard Psychology Clinic lead by Henry Murray and Christiana Morgan who were deeply affected by Melville. I'm afraid to edit this page because I'm not sure if it is appropriate. Please advise.



Efigment (talk) 22:33, 28 January 2008 (UTC)

That's interesting and new to me. Unless we have an appropriate Influences section for it I think the Melville Revival would only be about well the revival of Melville interest.Pfdb019 (talk) 07:22, 11 May 2008 (UTC)

Cyfal had originally reinstalled the lead line to the third paragraph. I took out the paragraph based on your directions beccause that seemed the best choice unfortunately. I hope that's ok.Moonbada (talk) —Preceding comment was added at 01:28, 13 May 2008 (UTC)

BTW, sorry, I missed the point with the year [2]. --Cyfal (talk) 04:38, 13 May 2008 (UTC)
Anyway, a second answer to Melatope's contribution (see Contaldo80 here) – I think this discussion page is the correct place to respond: In Moby-Dick (from project Gutenberg) sentences can be found like the following, so I think ""marriage bed episode" is not that misleading: "Upon waking next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg's arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife." "For though I tried to move his arm—unlock his bridegroom clasp—yet, sleeping as he was, he still hugged me tightly, as though naught but death should part us twain." --Cyfal (talk) 19:19, 13 May 2008 (UTC)
Cyfal, I would caution against interpreting this passage as suggesting that Melville was gay or bisexual. Regardless of whether this passage is sexually suggestive (I personally believe it is), in good practice we should avoid interpreting it as reflecting the author's own sexuality in the absence of supporting biographical evidence. See below for a larger discussion on this issue. DixitAgna (talk) 01:15, 7 June 2008 (UTC)

Thanks for that Cyfal. It helps to provide much clearer evidence for the inclusion. I have also come across the following extract from Melville's Essay on Hawthorne's 'Mosses' as published in the Literary Review in August 1850, which I think is also interesting. There are strong sexual overtones in the writing (although it's likely that Hawthorne became increasingly uncomfortable about the intimate language employed by Melville to describe their friendship):

"To what infinite height of loving wonder and admiration I may yet be borne, when by repeatedly banquetting on these Mosses, I shall have thoroughly incorporated their whole stuff into my being,--that, I can not tell. But already I feel that this Hawthorne has dropped germinous seeds into my soul. He expands and deepens down, the more I contemplate him; and further, and further, shoots his strong New-England roots into the hot soil of my Southern soul." Contaldo80 —Preceding comment was added at 14:52, 14 May 2008 (UTC)

This excerpt certainly sounds suggestive to our modern ears, but I would caution against interpreting it as sexual. The language and imagery of the passage is not atypical of the writing of the time, in imagery or style. I doubt that many others of that time period would interpret it the way we would now. See also my comments below. DixitAgna (talk) 01:00, 7 June 2008 (UTC)

I'm sorry if I come across as the strict academic here, but I couldn't help but notice in looking over the Melville Revival text discussed here that the references are severely outdated. There are two from 1949 and 1950, and with the amount of scholarly interest in Melville nowadays, there is no reason for their inclusion unless they are seminal or influential works. For this reason, I am removing them. I am sorry if this upsets anyone but it would not be good practice in academia. On a related note, I am inclined to remove the Kosofsky Sedgwick 1990 entry as it is not an ideal choice for citation on this issue. It will be difficult to understand without being in academia, but the easiest point to get across is that it is always important to critically consider one's sources. Just because something is published does not mean we should cite it. Kosofsky Sedgwick is a brilliant figure in queer theory and gender studies but she is not a Melville scholar. She also has a tendency to be over-inclusive in who she considers gay or bisexual, as is the case with Melville. Unless Melville scholars accept this claim or make it themselves, we should not be relying on Kosofsky Sedgwick's assessment. A modern-day analogy that might help illustrate my point is the case of Michael Crichton and global warming. We may give Crichton's words greater weight if the topic were his writing, fiction in general, or even medicine (Crichton graduated from Harvard Medical School) but he is not an expert on global warming. DixitAgna (talk) 01:48, 7 June 2008 (UTC)

I noticed that the paragraph on homo-erotic themes in Melville's writing is under the Melville Revival section, where it does not belong. However, I agree the interpretation of homo-erotic elements in his writing is a valid one and should be kept somewhere. I recommend that it is inserted where appropriate in the article on Moby-Dick. I welcome others' thoughts on this. I am pasting the relevant section below so it isn't lost:

Some interpretations of Melville's works have included the perception of homo-erotic subtext. For example, in Moby Dick, it has been suggested that male bonding is present in the "marriage bed" episode involving Ishmael and Queequeg, as well as in the metaphoric "Squeeze of the Hand" chapter describing the camaraderie of sailors extracting spermaceti from a dead whale.[1]

DixitAgna (talk) 02:01, 7 June 2008 (UTC)

I disagree with DixitAgna. The question of Melville's sexuality is still an often-discussed topic (note: I'm referring to the man, not any psychoanalytical discussion of his work... not all fiction is autobiography). If these particular sources are not good enough, more can be found. The information, however, is verifiable and solid and should be remain. DixitAgna, I think you can be satisfied with more references, rather than just entirely removing the section. Give the editors here some time to do so. --Midnightdreary (talk) 14:07, 9 June 2008 (UTC)

I agree very much with (Midnightdreary), and will try to provide some additional sources (I've already done so once but will do so again). In 'Melville, His world and work' by Professor Andrew Delblanco (Columbia University) published in 2005, the author analyses sexual imagery in Melville's 'Pierre' I will paraphrase.

Delblanco cites W. Somerset Maugham who explained Melville's anger (as manifested through his literary characters) as arising from "disappointment with the married state" (p180). He was not referring to post-honeymoon cooling but that Melville 'had married in order to combat inclinations that dismayed him" - inclinations towards his own sex. Pierre and Glen's feelings for each other are "much more than cousinly attachment". Pierre is a novel about a boy who remains in a state of inhibited development. He is looking for his missing half but has no idea where to find it (p183).

Pierre's mother is the model of the overbearing mother whom Freud blames for homosexual tendencies in boys, and since she has some inkling of her son's preoccupations, she wants him coaxed away from his uncelestial desires and so arranges a marriage with Lucy Tartan (p 183). The likeness between Lucy and Melville's wife Lizzie is hard to miss was the daughter of a 'an early and most cherished friend of the father of the betrothed'; and Mary Glendinning (in whom Maria Ganswevoort Melville could have recognised herself) sense her son's hesittaions about his designated bride (p184).

Since Melville lived and died before the word 'homosexual' came into wider use, there is something plausible about Maugham's suspicion that Melville may have been perplexedly aware - in himself as well as others - of impulses for which there was no established language, and that Pierre was his attempt to write about them. By Melville's time there had long been legal penalties for specific homosexual acts but the idea that some men felt a confirmed sexual preference for other men was only beginning to be whispered (p. 200).

It would be prudish to doubt that during his nearly four years at sea he had found himself aroused in the company of other men. In the maritime world of his youth, the pairing up of older with younger men in a relation known as 'chickenship' was evidently common. Whether Melville availed himself of male partners, or relieved himself in as much privacy as he could find aboard ship, or waited for the next contact with island women, no one can say. But it is certainly true, as Maugham, writes, that he had an 'eye for masculine beauty'. In his vagabond days in the Pacific he had admired the 'matchless symmetry of form' of Polnesian boys and relished the services of one in particular, Kory-Kory, who 'never for one moment left my side' having been assigned the task of 'tenderly' bathing his limbs. Even when in the evenings the girls chased away Melville's personal attendant during their anointing of his 'whole body', Kory-Kory 'nevertheless retired only to a little distance and watched their proceedings with the most jealous attentions' (p. 201).

The character of Carlo in Redburn is described as a 'rich cheeked chestnut-haired italian boy' who 'from the knee downward, the naked leg was beautiful to behold as any lady's arm; so soft and rounded, with infantile ease and grace; he was such a boy as might have ripened into life in a Neapolitan vineyard (p.201). One avowedly gay critic goes so far as to claim that 'every positive depicition of sexuality in melville is a depicition of male masturbation' alluded to in a squeeze of the hand chapter in Moby Dick. (p.202).

To follow through this theme through the history of Melville criticism is to watch the critics register one of the significant developments of modern life - the growing acceptance of same-sex desire - and not surprisingly in the second half of the 20th century Pierre came to be recognised as a work of deep psychosexual insight (p 203)"

References cited include Herscehl parker (Introduction to Pierre, 1995); Edward Dahlberg (Dahlberg reader, 1967); James Creech (Closet writing: The case of Melville's Pierre, 1993); Camilla Paglia (Sexual Personae, 1990) etc. Contaldo80 (talk) 16:46, 9 June 2008 (UTC)

I still don't see how these sources fail the requirements in WP:RS. My recommendation is to leave this information in considering that only one editor is requesting its removal and more than that requesting its inclusion. --Midnightdreary (talk) 22:31, 9 June 2008 (UTC)

I agree. Can we be clear what the issue is here please? It is a fact that literary critics have taken an interest in the homo-erotic subtext (as clearly illustrated above). I'm happy to reflect concerns that sources cited are too old - but this is surely remedied by the half dozen sources from the past 20 years that I have cited above. Is there anything else outstanding before we restore the text? And can I reiterate the point made byMidnightdrearythat no-one has actually taken out the para with references from the 1920s. Very odd? Contaldo80 (talk) 16:18, 10 June 2008 (UTC)

I think what we did with headings and subheadings should serve as a good compromise. I would recommend that the homo-erotic themes section not be expanded much further. Due to the concept of undue weight, we should really flesh out the other stuff as, I would argue, contemporary criticism and the Revival are more important. Are we at peace here? :) --Midnightdreary (talk) 23:03, 12 June 2008 (UTC)

My objections to the use of very dated references still stand if there are better and more updated ones available. Otherwise, I agree with Midnightdreary's suggestion. It is indeed better that the homo-erotic themes are now appropriately under their own section. Another minor point: Delblanco should not be referred to as a professor in the references. It is clear from the text under discussion, from your questions regarding differential treatment to references from the 1920s, and from your referring to Delblanco as a professor in the references, that you are unfamiliar with what is considered standard scholarly practice. This is not a knock against you at all but I simply ask you heed the advice of those who know.DixitAgna (talk) 14:47, 14 June 2008 (UTC)

I fixed the Delbanco ref. Dixit, just be careful not to be too bogged down with "standard scholarly practice"; this is Wikipedia and it has its own set of policies and guidelines which, as I've learned, aren't necessarily similar to anything else out there. :) As far as I know, unless modern scholarly consensus agrees that a certain critical reading of a work is altogether incorrect, there's no reason why an old reading is outdated for our purposes. --Midnightdreary (talk) 15:10, 14 June 2008 (UTC)

incorrect, there's no reason why an old reading is outdated for our purposes. --Midnightdreary (talk) 15:10, 14 June 2008 (UTC)

Thanks to DixitAgna for your advice on how to cite reference material. I did find your comment, however, on 'heeding the advice of those who know' as slightly patronising. I do actually have a postgraduate degree in history from a very good university, and am familiar with how to research, use and cite historical and literary material. I'm agreed that it's always good to improve the standard of articles, but we should not forget that Wikipedia is not actually an academic journal. However I'm still not clear as to the argument you are making. The sources from the 1920s deal with the 'Melville revival' and not the critical analysis of homo-eroticism. You removed the latter but not the former - are you being clear about what you mean to do? Contaldo80 (talk) 15:04, 15 June 2008 (UTC)

I apologize if I sounded patronizing, but that you cited Delblanco as a professor in the reference section, which seems strongly to reflect unfamiliarity with standard academic practice at a postgraduate (UK) or postcollege (US) level, as this is clearly never done in standard academic publications regardless of field. Either from being corrected by your professor when you were in postgrad or from poring over numerous articles in your studies, you would not have completed your studies without at least this understanding. There are other things that are also suggestive of unfamiliarity with standard academic protocol, but this is the most obvious. Wikipedia is not an academic journal. Nevertheless it is commonly used as an academic resource. As for the 1920's sources for the Melville Revival being fine but the 1949/50 sources for the homo-eroticism being unacceptable, please see my discussion above. Although this would be immediately obvious to someone with the relevant academic background, it is also understandable why it is not apparent to those without it. Again, I apologize if I come across as being patronizing but you are continually resistant to valid input and I really am at a loss as to how to get my point across. I am simply asking that the references be updated. It seems from your research that you have found more recent references, so I fail to understand your resistance on this issue.DixitAgna (talk) 15:35, 15 June 2008 (UTC)

Dixit, I'm going to try to be as clear as possible: Wikipedia does not follow the same standards you refer to in academia. --Midnightdreary (talk) 16:04, 15 June 2008 (UTC)

I passed the exams - phew - so must have got it right on the day! I don't mind if people tidy up the article to be more academically vigorous but (talk) you were being rather unclear in the way you expressed it. I think what I now understand you to mean is that you did not remove the sources cited from the 1920s - because these were seminal or influential works. However you viewed the other references from the 1950s as not-seminal (at least not in the same way). Is that what you mean to say? Contaldo80 (talk) 09:13, 17 June 2008 (UTC)

Further reading and references

Could we cut down the "Further reading" section to a more manageable list? My recommendation is about 8 at most. Really, what we should do is get our hands on the suggested texts and use them as sources to incorporate more footnoting. While we're on references, how come none of the later references give full names of the authors and don't even have page numbers? --Midnightdreary (talk) 20:45, 28 May 2008 (UTC)


Well, considering at least one editor feels very strongly that a certain category does not belong on this page (labeled as "a load of crap"), we might as well open discussion. My personal feelings aside, I believe we must acknowledge the heavy amount of scholarship that suggests Melville was either gay or bisexual. As such, I believe the category in question is acceptable. Of course, at some point, further discussion of Melville's relevance to this category should be added, including points of view for and against the theory. --Midnightdreary (talk) 22:49, 6 June 2008 (UTC)

From the edit history, it appears that Melville's sexuality has generated a fair amount of interest amongst editors here. I generally think it is great when there is interest in a great literary figure such as Melville, but there unfortunately appears not to be a lot of meaningful discussion of this topic here. I am hoping my contribution here will generate better dialogue. From my understanding of Melville, the speculation that he may have been gay or bisexual is almost entirely based on interpretations of his writing without the support of congruent biographical evidence. While it is certainly tempting to interpret a writer's fiction as having some degree of biographical basis, we should always some caution in doing so, and, if there is no corroborating evidence from the writer's own life, the most advisable path would be to avoid doing so entirely. That is to say, the amount we interpret something from Melville's writing as having an element of biographical truth should be matched by the amount of biographical information in support of this interpretation. If there is no biographical support, we should be very cautious with our assertions. The unfortunate thing in the case of Melville is that suggestions of gay or bisexual themes in his writings, be they present or not, cannot be taken as evidence of his own sexuality in the absence of biographical evidence in support of this claim. Following this strategy is always advisable academic practice.DixitAgna (talk) 01:11, 7 June 2008 (UTC)

What makes this easy for us is that none of us have any interpretation to do, autobiographical reading of his fiction or not. As Wikipedia is based on WP:V, WP:RS, and WP:OR, the trick is to get someone else's published discussion of Melville. Earlier on this very talk page, an editor recommended one biography as a starting point. My guess is that no modern biography of Melville would leave this out. The trick for us is to find the information and add it with footnotes. Of course, we're looking at a bad example of an article because it's not thoroughly sourced to begin with. We have work to do, friends! --Midnightdreary (talk) 01:45, 7 June 2008 (UTC)


This page is close to edit-warring, which I'm hoping I'm not egging on. I recently removed the list of influences/influenced from the infobox, but was reverted by an anon IP. The whole section is unsourced and POV, for one thing, but it also has been standard to remove this stuff as the articles improve and look for recognized status as, in theory, there should be discussion in the prose of the article on these names rather than just a weak, uninformative list (see, for example, my Featured Articles for Edgar Allan Poe and Rufus Wilmot Griswold and Good Articles on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Thomas Holley Chivers, Walt Whitman, and others). It's not just me, either, because there seems to be a trend in removing infoboxes from author articles entirely as they achieve recognized status: Mary Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, Emily Dickinson, etc. Is there any reason why they should stay, rather than having a discussion in the article itself on his influences and his legacy on those he influenced? --Midnightdreary (talk) 16:47, 10 June 2008 (UTC)

Battle Pieces

According to American National Biography and The Civil War World of Herman Melville, Melville fronted over four hundred dollars for publishing costs on Battle Pieces and hardly saw any return. Most critics claimed that it was too complicated as a work for the public audience

people will "vandalize" this site

your complaint only makes people want to do it more so stop your complaining and stop being so anal


He was bisexual and/or gay? I have never heard of this! Is this really true? Are there any reliable sources? Obviously I have never heard of this in school. GlassDesk (talk) 22:01, 6 December 2007 (UTC)

This has been previously mentioned, check under 'Bisexuality' on this page. However, there are very few reliable sources to prove this fact. YoungWebProgrammer msg 11:15, 20 May 2008 (UTC)

Youngwebprogrammer is partly right, in that there is not an abundance of direct evidence to support the suggestion of bisexuality or homosexuality as a fact. I am not aware, for example, of any contemporary witness accounts or evidence that talk about it. However, the issue is more complex than that. The best summary I have read is in the recent biography by Andrew Delblanco (a professor at Columbia University), 'Melville: His world and work', Oxford 2005. I have reproduced key passages below:

Whether hinting at it or saying it loud and clear, some of these critics are saying the same thing: that Melville was homosexual. Yet it remains difficult to know whether this attribution of homosexual feeling is an overdue acknowledgement of something of which Meville was aware or a projection on the part of gay readers who find themselves drawn to him - or perhaps just both.

Contaldo80 (talk) 09:11, 28 May 2008 (UTC)

The preceding quote is a classic example of academia's mush-mouthed "analysis" of controversial topics. Melville was a strikingly handsome man -- but I'd never suggest he was queer simply because I thought he was good-looking. (What other reason would a modern reader have to be "drawn to him"?) Rather, the fact is that there are obviously homoerotic scenes and elements in his works, and he explicitly acknowledges (with an apparent condemnation) the existence of homosexual behavior on war ships. This in no way proves sexual interest in men, but it is highly suspicious. There is nothing wrong in saying, in so many words, that their presence strongly suggests a sexual interest in men, whether or not Melville was consciously aware of it. Why is this so hard to say? WilliamSommerwerck (talk) 14:59, 28 June 2010 (UTC)

Because you are the one trying to say it. Read WP:OR. Our own conclusions, regardless of how well-reasoned, are worthless on Wikipedia. Good work responding to a post over 2 years old, by the way! ;) --Midnightdreary (talk) 18:22, 28 June 2010 (UTC)

removal from LGBT writers from the United States category

I propose to remove Melville from the LGBT writers from the United States category. Everything I've seen regarding his sexuality is conjecture, and the category is a statement of fact. If there is a "suspected LGBT historical figures" or similar category, I would support using that instead. But the current category implies that the theory is a fact, and I can't support that. --JaGa (talk) 17:31, 16 June 2008 (UTC)

I've become ambivalent about this. It seems to me that Melville's homosexuality/bisexuality is talked about in biographies as often as Walt Whitman's. Yet, for some reason, though we're okay categorically (pun intended) calling Whitman gay, we're hesitant about Melville. Amidst all these debates we've been having on this article, I've seen little improvement. Can we try building this article, rather than hampering it by endlessly debating? I'm taking the page off my watchlist, at least temporarily, fearing that my own interference (perhaps stubbornness) is preventing expansion of this article. --Midnightdreary (talk) 18:02, 16 June 2008 (UTC)
I think like you Melville's potential homosexuality/bisexuality is talked about often like Whitman's. The difference is that with Melville there is *no* and I repeat ABSOLUTELY no biographical stuff evidence of homosexuality. So all we have is his books. The problem with his writing is it is so symbolic and so there's so many ways we can read it. So does our interpretation tells us more about Melville or ourselves? Like some other editor noticed, Maugham and Auden were both gay. Does what they say tell us about how they see things or how Melville wrote things? Saying you're disappointed with your marriage just doesn't cut it. There are ton of people who are diasppointed with their marriage. Doesn't make them gay or lesbian. The difference is there is some stronger biographical stuff for Whitman so people feel more confident saying he was gay which I think he probably was. So in sum all you can really say is that some people have *interpreted* gay themes in his writing. You can't say that for a fact.-CaptainGlorie (talk) 22:58, 16 June 2008 (UTC)

I copied this from higher in this page. "I found Queequeg's arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife." "For though I tried to move his arm—unlock his bridegroom clasp—yet, sleeping as he was, he still hugged me tightly, as though naught but death should part us twain." Some other editor said it was an example of a gay theme. But the narrator also says "I tried to move his arm—unlock his bridegroom clasp." What about that for a gay interpretation? He clearly doesn't like the situation and wants to get out of it. CaptainGlorie (talk) 23:01, 16 June 2008 (UTC)

I do worry about the way we're approaching this debate. We seem to be saying that unless we have srong and convincing evidence to support the theory that Melville was homosexual, then we must assume he was heterosexual? Is that because it's the default position - or is simply a numbers game - ie statistically a person is more likely to be heterosexual than homosexual so let's leave it at that. Not very academic I don't think. In any case I don't think we're looking, or indeed, need to prove Melville was out-and-out homosexual. It can't be done (nor can we prove it absolutely the other way - unless we get into his head). The article must suffice with presenting critical views on either side coolly presenting the most compelling evidence - leaving it for the reader to make up their own mind. Contaldo80 (talk) 09:02, 17 June 2008 (UTC)

Perhaps it becomes less of a "numbers game" and more of a probable truth if we consider marriage to a member of the opposite sex to be a "default position" of a heterosexual, which, at last check, it is. Kev.burmeister (talk) 04:02, 12 March 2009 (UTC)

According to whom? Do you mean to tell me that someone who is absolutely homosexual couldn't still get married in a heterosexual relationship? Do you think that never happens even today? I like Contaldo's point (from a year ago) that we just need to present the sides of the debate and let the reader decide. --Midnightdreary (talk) 12:54, 12 March 2009 (UTC)

Thank you Midnightdreary, very kind of you to say so. Kev.burmeister, on the other hand, I think your view above is patent nonsense. Have you heard of Oscar Wilde? Now seen as one of the leading gay figures of the past 100 years, and imprisoned for it - and he was married!! For god's sake even Elton John was married at one time to a woman - do you think he identifies himself as heterosexual? These issues are more complex than you give them credit for. Contaldo80 (talk) 15:48, 12 March 2009 (UTC)

LGBT people from the US

I must confess to being tired about the umpteenth reversion of the LGBT people from the US category. The latest reversion tells us that 'because someone writes gay fiction then that does not make them gay; no matter what we might wish'. Melville did not write 'gay fiction' - in the 19th century this was virtually unknown and highly anachronistic. There are nevertheless homo-erotic sentiments expressed in Melville's writing that - coupled with biographical evidence - strongly suggest that he was attracted to his own sex, albeit repressed. But I have no more energy to continue wrangling over category labels. I'd rather leave it out. Contaldo80 (talk) 08:38, 2 July 2008 (UTC)

Can we try to get consensus on this? Here's my two cents: the category is irrelevant. What this article needs is a solid discussion of Melville's sexuality using reliable published sources, and not just themes in his works. I'm certain they can be found easily. The category? Eh, who cares? Ultimately, it leaves no room for the big question mark, whereas the prose in the article itself is more flexible. --Midnightdreary (talk) 05:02, 11 December 2009 (UTC)
I could not agree more with you. I tried to do this earlier this year (last year?) setting out more biographical detail. Melville's relationships while in Tahiti etc but sadly they were systematically edited away. I'm happy to try and dig it up again and present here for other editors thoughts, but won't put it back into the article until I'm confident that there is a broad consensus for something. Contaldo80 (talk) 12:21, 11 December 2009 (UTC)


It's great to see that this article has been expanding and improving, rather than just serving as a war zone for debate on contentious issues! The quality of the article, however, can only improve further with significant referencing, footnotes, and the like. The article very heavily falls into the realm of original research in its current state. Anyone with Melville books, now is the time to cite what's here to make sure it's salvageable. --Midnightdreary (talk) 12:03, 11 August 2008 (UTC)

Good point. From a casual glance and drawing on my background in American literature, the section on sexuality is the clearest example of what you term original research and not very representative of the views expressed in more academic publications. I will try to work more on that section, although my time is always unfortunately limited. For now I have reshaped it to put the focus more properly on questions of gender and sexuality in Melville's writings. I have removed the section on Maugham and Auden; being a good writer does not make a person an expert on others' writings and there are probably better, more recent sources that can be drawn on. I have removed two additional references that have been found to be problematic (i.e. Arvin was forced to leave the college and eventually was committed to a state mental hospital, and Parker's relatively recent biography [see Cassuto, Leonard. "The Silhouette and the Secret Self: Theorizing Biography in Our Times." American Quarterly 58.4 (2006): 1249-1261 for details]). I intend to augment the section with references from mainstream academic journals (rather than popular sources). —Preceding unsigned comment added by Primadue (talkcontribs) 07:18, 5 October 2008 (UTC)

Great! I've given your personal talk page a welcome template which has a series of links which you might find useful in your Wikipedia work. I'm not a major expert on Melville but I do pretty well with Wikipedia policy and "rules", and I've written a handful of featured articles on American literary figures of the 19th century, so I'd be more than willing to help out on these aspects. If there is ever anything I can do to help with your work, feel free to leave me a note on my personal talk page. --Midnightdreary (talk) 11:10, 5 October 2008 (UTC)

A note of caution. I contributed to the section on sexuality and I can confirm that it isn't original research. Much of what's there is taken from academic sources. I'm all in favour of improving text where possible; but I want to make sure that any changes that are made are objective. As things stand I'm unhappy about the removal of the quotes from Auden and Maugham. being a writer does not necessarily make you a critic, I agree. But they are notable literary figures and what they say is of relevance here. Contaldo80 (talk) 09:41, 6 October 2008 (UTC)

Actually, it kind of is a default position. You can't just say that someone's not straight because they're married, that's ridiculous. I don't know if Mellville was gay, bi, straight, or animalistic; nor do I care (does that change his writings? No). But looking through a lot of this, it all looks speculative. Most sources say that he might have been gay or bisexual, they don't say he was. I'm not taking any information out aside from the category inclusion. You guys argue over the rest. You aren't doing anyone justice by just asserting your opinion and attempting to place it as fact. Wikipedia isn't sopposed to go for truth, but what can be cited and said about whatever subject. (talk) 11:37, 29 September 2009 (UTC)

Themes of Gender and Sexuality

The section "Themes of Gender and Sexuality" offers, I think, a great compromise to our debates on Melville's sexuality and/or sexual readings of his work. The phrase "though not the primary focus of scholarship" is a great compromise, even if it is a bit weasel-like. Do others agree that this is a solution? The section is a bit long right now and I might recommend some trimming (as well as specific page numbers for each reference rather than page ranges, particularly for quotes) or an expansion of the other sections to balance it out. --Midnightdreary (talk) 16:55, 20 October 2008 (UTC)

I agree, I already gave my opinion here... --Cyfal (talk) 17:56, 20 October 2008 (UTC)

No "Henry" in NYT obituary

According to Andrew Delbanco, the New York Times obituary wrote about "Henry Melville". I don't know where he read this. In NYT September 29, 1891 there is a short notice on the death of Herman Melville (the author of "Mobie Dick", among other titles). In NYT October 2 there is a longer article. None of these two texts got his name wrong. October 6 had a letter published, the title of which has been slightly garbled in the microfiche; the scanned text is unreadable, but the OCR:d title says "Harry Melville". Hexmaster (talk) 23:32, 1 July 2009 (UTC)

I don't know what "OCR:d" means. Have you seen the Delbanco book? It's possible that he wasn't referring to The New York Times but a different publication called Times based in New York. I've heard about Melville's obituary being wrong before, I think from my tour of Melville's house last summer. --Midnightdreary (talk) 02:02, 2 July 2009 (UTC)
OCR = Optical Character Recognition, the technique used to turn scanned microfiche into searchable text. I mentioned it because when I searched the NYT archive, I did get one hit from October 6: "THE LATE HARRY MELVILLE.; A TRIBUTE TO HIS MEMORY FROM ONE WHO KNEW HIM." (Thus my error in the edit summary.) In the actual text, the headline reads "H[blurred] MELVILLE". Which is as close as I get an obituary-error. I haven't read Delbanco and don't know what he's referring to. If there is another Times of New York I haven't heard of it. Maybe the error occured in some lesser newspaper, which only later came to be attributed to the NYT? Hexmaster (talk) 10:50, 3 July 2009 (UTC)
It very well could be a different publication. I know I've come across a Times of New York (or something along those lines) and was pretty confused myself. Not saying that's the case here, but it calls for further investigation. Even the blur seems to indicate we can't assume it was correct, right? --Midnightdreary (talk) 22:41, 3 July 2009 (UTC)
Correct - but it was a letter from a reader. The obituary and the death notice in The New York Times got Herman Melville right. I'd remove that part in the article until someone investigates Delbanco's statement. Hexmaster (talk) 08:05, 4 July 2009 (UTC)
I don't have the book myself but I can get one from the library... eventually. I assume there's no rush on this. --Midnightdreary (talk) 11:57, 5 July 2009 (UTC)
I changed the wording of the "Henry Melville" part and called it a "common story". I'm not really sure if this is true, but I first heard about it in Adventureland, so I guess that makes it common? I also added a link to a PDF scan of the actual obituary, proving that it isn't true. You might have to be a subscriber to the Times to pull it up, though. I'm not sure what to do about that? --Plumpy (talk) 05:42, 14 November 2009 (UTC)
It's all quite strange. I wonder where this rumor started. I still have to grab a hold of Delbanco's book - I've gotta see what his footnote for that particularly piece of information is. I guess if it's not true, it's not true and should just be removed. I think it's hard to prove it's a "common story" unless we find a source that says, "It's commonly told that..." --Midnightdreary (talk) 11:37, 14 November 2009 (UTC)

The Hunt for Moby Dick

The external link to the book and film shouldn't have been reverted. I can't speak for the book, but the film is primarily a biography of Melville, and is not just about Moby Dick. Prescottbush (talk) 09:42, 6 October 2009 (UTC)

You don't think the link is a little too promotional for the book/film? --Midnightdreary (talk) 13:07, 6 October 2009 (UTC)
I saw the film a few days ago, and thought it was worthwhile for people interested in Melville's life story. "A little too promotional?" That's a judgement call, but I thought that with Wikipedia, the general idea is to be inclusive. Prescottbush (talk) 18:03, 7 October 2009 (UTC)
Well, that's a big assumption! It's definitely not. Wikipedia is not an indiscriminate list of information, for one thing, not to mention the raging battles of "inclusionists" versus "deletionists." I'm neither. --Midnightdreary (talk) 22:15, 7 October 2009 (UTC)

A sentence that doesn't make sense

Other critics have suggested possible homoerotic overtones in some works. ... Although some of these critics have speculated that what they perceive to be themes of gender and sexuality in his writings may be reflective of his own personal beliefs, there is no biographical evidence to support these claims.

This sounds like someone trying to say he wasn't gay in a wording so terribly veiled and confused that it manages to say something completely unintended. If we take the phrase "personal belief" in its proper meaning, the sentence is extremely puzzling. The default expectation is that a writer's work (including the themes in it) will be somehow "reflective of his own personal beliefs" - otherwise he'd be a liar. For example, if he writes some symbolic narrative about the relationship between the sexes, then he presumably believes the message of his own story. So it's absurd to say that "there is no biographical evidence to support" the claim that Melville wasn't a liar. Which is why I surmise "personal belief" here is supposed to mean sexual orientation, but calling gayness/gayhood/gaiety/gaitude a "personal belief" is crazy, too. -- (talk) 20:47, 4 March 2010 (UTC)

Maybe it's just me, but this seems pretty clear. It saying that just because he writes about gay themes that doesn't make him gay. Maybe instead of "personal beliefs" we can try "lifestyle"? --Midnightdreary (talk) 04:08, 5 March 2010 (UTC)
If everybody is sure that this is what the sentence is trying to say, then IMO it should read something like:

Although some of these critics have speculated that what they perceive to be themes of gender and sexuality homosexuality in his writings may be reflective of his own personal beliefs sexual orientation, there is no biographical evidence to support these claims.

-- (talk) 22:53, 5 March 2010 (UTC)
I can support that. My guess is that the sentence has been handled by many people, leaving it a bit messy. --Midnightdreary (talk) 03:41, 6 March 2010 (UTC)
Absolutely. I commend you for trying to bring clarity to the issue! Contaldo80 (talk) 11:47, 15 March 2010 (UTC)

I've been repeatedly criticized for commenting, but not editing or updating. Then, when I do, my changes are weakened or reversed. I was just obliged to restore some of the changes I made yesterday.

Let's get a few facts -- uh -- straight. Herman Melville spent part of his life sailing. He was consciously aware that some sailors engaged in homosexual behavior. He says so in White-Jacket ("The sins for which the cities of the plain were overthrown still linger in some of these wooden-walled Gomorrahs of the deep."). This fact must necessarily inform anything in his books that is "perceived" (what a waffle word!) as homoerotic. Melville was not a naive observer of male/male social relationships. He knew what men did when women weren't available, and probably directly observed it. (Though by 19C the British and American navies had become very strict about open homosexuality (even occasionally executing offenders), it nevertheless continued in private.)

It's impossible to interpret Ishmael and Queegueg lying in bed and rubbing their legs together as innocently non-erotic (this passage has been bowdlerized for its blunt eroticism), particularly as Ishmael talks about he and Queequeg being "married". ("Upon waking next morning about daylight, I found Queequeg's arm thrown over me in the most loving and affectionate manner. You had almost thought I had been his wife." and " our hearts' honeymoon [!!!], lay I and Queequeg--a cosy, loving pair.") It's difficult to believe that Melville had not seen sailors involved in LTRs, and even perhaps in love with each other. Indeed, as the South Pacific natives he visited had rather looser rules than Europeans about sexual relationships, he might have seen homosexual behavior among their men.

I don't have time to discuss Billy Budd in detail, but the story is shot through with homoerotic elements, including the likelihood that the bachelor Captain Vere is a closet case, and his willingness to allow Billy to be hanged is partly due to his inability to possess him. And let's not forget Billy is a model of the Handsome Sailor.

Though the circumstantial evidence that Melville was bisexual is overwhelming, there is no hard evidence for it. Therefore, what are the writer and editors afraid of? Why is it necessary to describe Melville's writings in such weasely, mealy-mouthed terms? Homosexual behavior is no different from heterosexual behavior. If a man kisses a woman on the mouth, that is an erotic act. If men lie in bed with their arms around each other, rubbing their legs together, that is an erotic act. It is not an act that's perceived as erotic, or might be interpreted as erotic -- it is erotic, regardless of the author's conscious intent. Erotic behavior between men exists as surely as erotic behavior between men and women. Acknowledging it as such no more comprises original research than stating "Oxygen is the eighth element in the periodic table" does. If two men do something that, when done by a man and a woman, would be considered erotic, then it is (homo)erotic. QED.

The ultimate issue here is that too many academics -- and some of the people who edit Wikipedia -- want (for whatever reasons) to convince the world that homosexual behavior does not exist, that there was never any famous person who was homosexual (not even Walt Whitman), and that when homosexual behavior does exist, it is an aberration. These people are convinced that, if they stood in front of one of the many smoking guns, they would in no way be injured. This goes against Wikipedia's stated goal of neutrality -- the definition of which (admittedly) has some social context. (Note how Conservapedia assumes that any attempt to be "objective" is a form of extreme liberal bias.)

I'm not trying to promote homosexual behavior between men. (Not in Wikipedia, anyway.) All I ask is that the facts be presented, simply and without waffling qualifications. Anyone who wishes to discuss this should feel free to contact me privately. My e-mail is listed under my Amazon reviewer profile. WilliamSommerwerck (talk) 14:25, 2 June 2010 (UTC)

I'm sorry you seem to have such a strong disdain for edit summaries for your own changes but other people use them for theirs. Have you checked the history of the page to determine why some of your changes were undone? That might make it easier for you to make stronger contributions in the future. --Midnightdreary (talk) 22:21, 2 June 2010 (UTC)
If I know something is wrong, an edit summary isn't going to change my view. (Edits are, in a sense, their own justification -- or lack thereof.) But, you're right, there's no excuse for not providing one. I've added a summary to make it Perfectly Clear why I made the changes. And I'll aggressively defend them, because the previous version was hardly neutral. I will also continue to insist that "stating the obvious", calling a knife a knife, without waffling qualification, is not original research.
Wikipedia is an antidote to strictly academic analysis and interpretation. Having a PhD does not make one immune to prejudices. The "academic elite" uses its education and position to enforce its prejudices. I could give you examples -- such as the long debate over the translation of the Mayan written language, which was brought to a near-halt for several decades by one of the researchers who virulently attacked anyone who disagreed with him -- but I assume you're familiar with such. These prejudices are particularly strong in the fields of anthropology, sociology, and even biology. In Biological Exuberance, the author gives examples of biologists asserting that homosexual behavior among animals is anything and everything other than what it appears to be, or accusing animals of engaging in immoral behavior! (That's not a joke.)
To drive the point home... In searching for the White-Jacket quote given above, I browsed the Project Gutenberg text file for it. It's not there. It appears the source file was bowdlerized. I've reported this to the founder, who's looking into it. How many other PD books have been altered because someone didn't approve of their content? If this bothers you (and it should), you should be equally bothered by what I dub "visible bowdlerization", in which a seemingly NPOV (often masquerading as "academic objectivity", when it is the opposite) is used to promote a non-neutral perspective. As it was in this article.
I would prefer that further discussion be taken off-line. I've told you where you can find my e-mail -- I refuse to hide behind an alias -- and we can chat. You might find I'm someone worth talking with. WilliamSommerwerck (talk) 12:40, 3 June 2010 (UTC)
I didn't read all of these long posts; I just don't have the time. My point in noting the edit summary is that your change was partially restored to a prior version because it altered sourced content not supported by the footnote. I'm not interested in debating opinions regarding Mr. Melville; I have none, so far as Wikipedia knows. --Midnightdreary (talk) 19:57, 3 June 2010 (UTC)


The things listed under "Legacy," are tributes, not his legacy. His legacy is that he wrote a novel (and some other things) regarded by many scholars and other readers as one of the greatest works of world literature. (talk) 17:01, 27 April 2011 (UTC)

I agree. With that said, this sort of information usually gets stuck in a section with the innocuous title of "legacy" on Wikipedia. Information on his long-term appreciation in literature usually ends up in a critical reception section. Either way, this article is still young in its development and quality. --Midnightdreary (talk) 20:07, 27 April 2011 (UTC)

Racism in Moby Dick

Was Herman Melville a racist? Particularly Chapter 42 of Moby Dick, Melville expounds on the terrifying aspects of the color White, how White dominates other colors, and how the White race dominates other races. Was Moby Dick, the white whale, a symbol of white superiority and pride? I was shocked when I read this statement from Chapter 42 pg. 163 [2] Speaking on whiteness, Melville writes, "...and though this preeminence in it applies to the human race itself, giving the white man mastership over every dusky tribe..."

  1. ^ E. Haviland Miller, Melville, New York 1975.
  2. ^ Norton, (1967)
The purpose of the Discussion page is to improve the encyclopedia article.
From "What Wikipedia is not": "Primary (original) research, such as proposing theories and solutions, original ideas, defining terms, coining new words, etc. If you have completed primary research on a topic, your results should be published in other venues, such as peer-reviewed journals, other printed forms, or respected online publications. Wikipedia can report about your work after it is published and becomes part of accepted knowledge; however, citations of such reliable sources are needed to demonstrate that material is verifiable, and not merely the editor's opinion."
If you have a source for literary criticism or a passage from a biography that deals with the topic, collect these and develop a new section for the article, or publish your own. Idle or "leading" questions are not appropriate here. Neither is pure speculation. 36hourblock (talk) 20:45, 4 August 2011 (UTC)
This is a discussion page. I never stated in the article Melville was a racist. Harold Bloom's Herman Melville's Moby Dick does discuss both views whether Melville was a racist or not a racist.[1] I gave a direct quote from Melville's book Moby Dick. I asked an open question. I have not proposed a theory, just a question. There is a difference. A discussion, according to Wikipedia, is "more-or-less spontaneous" and unpredictable. I would not put something as contentious as Melville being a racist in the article without a quote. What would be helpful is to have more sources on the subject, if there are any. Cmguy777 (talk) 06:18, 5 August 2011 (UTC)
  1. ^ Bloom (2007), pg. 68.
I had the same reaction as User:36hourblock; Wikipedia policy clearly states that discussion pages are not for general discussion of the topic, but for ways to improve the article. Your intent wasn't clear in your comment. I ditto everything that 36 noted but would emphasize that the article should cover major aspects of Melville scholarship; if his view on race is not a major part of Melville dialogue, I'd avoid it here. --Midnightdreary (talk) 18:07, 5 August 2011 (UTC)
I am not here to discuss racism in general. Bloom's book mentions there are critics who believe there is an element of racism in Moby Dick. Other critics disagree. I am not here to start an edit war. Bloom is the editor and I believe he has other authors write on different subjects. Melville directly stated that the white race is superior to other races in Moby Dick, although speaking in the protagonist's voice. Cmguy777 (talk) 00:22, 6 August 2011 (UTC)
Now we're getting somewhere. My immediate reaction is: No, don't add this info here. If anywhere, it belongs in the article on Moby-Dick. --Midnightdreary (talk) 02:22, 6 August 2011 (UTC)
I apologize if the subject of racism offended any editors. According to Carolyn L. Carter the character Queequeg was a character to "undermine racial categories and to inculcate the lessons on racial tolerance". The main character Ishmael overcomes his color prejudices. [1] I believe the issue of slavery and racism can be presented concerning Moby Dick. If Melville has alluded to racism and slavery in other works, then I believe this can be discussed in the main biographical article. Cmguy777 (talk) 05:13, 6 August 2011 (UTC)
  1. ^ Bloom (2007), pp. 68-71
Who has indicated any personal offense? Again, you have shown only that this is a response to Moby-Dick - it belongs there, not here (further, this latest quote from Bloom shows Melville was not racist). --Midnightdreary (talk) 12:35, 8 August 2011 (UTC)
I would have to check if slavery was not a constant theme throughout Melville's works. Melville has discussed racism and slavery in his works. Melville works must be taken as a whole rather then on passage. There may be other sources then Bloom who discuss racism and slavery. I do not object to putting the bloom information in the book Moby Dick. Cmguy777 (talk) 22:31, 8 August 2011 (UTC)

Law and Lit section

I think this section should be drastically redacted and combined with another section or removed entirely. Most of it is a summary of Billy Budd and what's left needs work to meet reasonable quality guidelines. Tdimhcs (talk) 07:00, 25 October 2011 (UTC)

Best known for...

"He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick and the posthumous novella Billy Budd."

Moby-Dick? No question. Billy Budd? I don't know. What is the evidence? I would have said "Bartleby." (talk) 22:32, 21 December 2011 (UTC)

Good point. It sounds fairly POV without a source and should probably be removed. Though, with that said, I think it's important to get Moby-Dick in the lead somewhere, somehow. --Midnightdreary (talk) 05:20, 22 December 2011 (UTC)

Agreed. I went ahead and removed Billy Budd. If you or someone else wants to change the way MD is referenced, go for it! (talk) 00:19, 23 December 2011 (UTC)

Custom House

In reference to my recent removal of the statement that the Custom house was located on Gansevoort St., I wanted to add that even though the building was indeed located on Wall St., Melville most often worked in satellite offices on the riverfront. E.g. in The Melville Log there is this entry: "his last Custom house office was at Simonson's Lumber yard, foot of 79th st on East River. (Jay Leyda, The Melville Log, vol.2 pg 796). Although Gansevoort St. does end on the Hudson river, I can find no evidence that a) there was a customs office located there or b) that M. ever worked there. ~ Alcmaeonid (talk) 15:23, 5 April 2012 (UTC)

Melville's obit

The article currently says this: "A common story says that his New York Times obituary called him "Henry Melville", implying that he was unknown and unappreciated at his time of death, but the story is not true." It references Delbanco & the original obit (now added as an image). This is simply wrong. What Delbanco says is this: "a posthumous reference on October 6 in the New York Times garbled Melville's first name" (Delbanco pg.319) which is true. This is not the obit but a later retrospective piece. And the name was not listed as Henry Melville but Hiram Melville. I'm changing the section accordingly. ~ Alcmaeonid (talk) 15:33, 23 April 2012 (UTC)


The section "Later Years" has the sentence: "While Melville worked, his wife managed to wean him off alcohol, and he no longer showed signs of agitation or insanity.", but this is the first time alcohol use is mentioned. Was Melville an alcoholic? Did alcohol use contribute to his "agitation or insanity?" — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:21, 28 April 2012 (UTC)

None of the major biographies refer to him as alcoholic. "Sometimes he may have showed the liquor's effects because he wasn't used to drinking."- Parker, vol. 2, 401. ~ Alcmaeonid (talk) 19:46, 28 April 2012 (UTC)

Archive change to 120 days

I've changed the length of archiving to 120 days. I looked at the archive, and there doesn't seem to be a real need for such a very short time span for archiving threads, because this talk page is not exceptionally busy. Probably 365 days would be short enough. Archiving so quickly means that notes could be lost. I hope this is OK with other editors, if not let's discuss it here. JoshuSasori (talk) 08:22, 22 December 2012 (UTC)

Suggested improvements

Interesting article, well written but with some "holes" that need filling. For example, the section "Marriage and later working life" mentions his writing Moby-Dick during the period (1847-66), but says nothing about its actual publication or immmediate relative failure. In describing the period, his "best" book is virtually ignored - the same as happened in 1851! Some of the later text about the book (e.g. first published in London, and why) should be lifted from later sections and placed earlier. Then in section "Later life" it mentions "he no longer showed signs of agitation or insanity" - what's this? When did the signs begin? What caused them? As written, it suggests that Melville's disturbed mind only matters because he got over it, which cannot be the article's intention! It's rather like a doctor saying "don't tell anyone he's ill until after he recovers". And a third suggestion - the article referred to the poem Clarel "inspired by his earlier trip to the Holy Land". What earlier trip? So he travelled to more than just Liverpool and the Pacific? I amended the grammar to "an earlier trip" as there's no previous mention, but if he visited the Mediterranean it's another "hole" that needs filling (he lectured on ancient Rome, it also says - so perhaps he went there too?). Perhaps a Melville devotee can pick up on these things, to help improve further. Pete Hobbs (talk) 23:11, 18 October 2012 (UTC)

I definitely agree with all of the above. I went through some of the history of the page, and the material doesn't seem to have been moved about or edited, but just not written in the first place. Perhaps the original creators of the text forgot to get around to putting it together. I've done the same thing. I will try to find some references to assist getting it in better shape. JoshuSasori (talk) 02:38, 23 December 2012 (UTC)
First of all, in general: for such a great writer, this page should have been a lot more developed than it currently is--Henry James gets much better coverage on Wikipedia. Melvilleans, come here and edit this page until it is admitted into the "featured content"--section. Second, the specifics: Melville visited Europe in 1857, met Hawthorne in Liverpool, and then travelled further to see the Mediterranean. His journals from this and other trips have been published under the title Journals. The chronology is also confused in the section Early works and travel. Better to do everything chronological: first discuss HM's voyages, and then the works based upon these trips. MackyBeth (talk) 18:15, 29 November 2013 (UTC)

Chronology problems in "Later Works"

The section "Later works" skips over the publication of Moby Dick completely. It discusses writing of Moby Dick, and then jumps to the critical reception of Pierre. It should say at least something about Moby Dick's publication. JoshuSasori (talk) 04:23, 22 December 2012 (UTC)

What I don't get is this: many references are to biographies by Hershel Parker and Andrew Delbanco. But if contributors have these sources at hand, how can it be that this article is not a lot more informative than it is?MackyBeth (talk) 19:19, 29 November 2013 (UTC)

Doesn't appear to be COI?

Apologies if in supplying that link I sidestepped Wikipedia's procedures. For reasons stated below by others, I did not consider this a conflict of interest. Thank you for restoring the link. Ssosmith--Ssosmith (talk) 17:26, 30 November 2013 (UTC)

As I read WP:COI, which is a guideline, not a policy, though a very important one, it doesn't apply to the good intentioned undo. The guidelines reads, "Using material you have written or published is allowed within reason, but only if it is relevant, conforms to the content policies, including WP:SELFPUB, and is not excessive. Citations should be in the third person and should not place undue emphasis on your work....," then goes on, "Museum curators, librarians, archivists, and similar are encouraged to help improve Wikipedia, or to share their information in the form of links to their resources. If a link cannot be used as a reliable source, it may be placed under further reading or external links if it complies with the external links guideline. " Let me know if I'm wrong! In any case, as an unbiased and uninvolved editor, I think I'm in the clear to restore this very useful site. Cheers, ch (talk) 06:54, 23 November 2013 (UTC)

The website takes further the important work done by Merton M. Sealts, Jr. on Melville's Reading from the 1960s tot 1990s.Oh, forgot to sign:MackyBeth (talk) 18:47, 29 November 2013 (UTC) — Preceding unsigned comment added by MackyBeth (talkcontribs) 18:38, 29 November 2013 (UTC)