Talk:Herman Melville

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Melville's spelling of Gram(m)ar, and in general[edit]

Throughout his life, Melville never achieved - or never even bothered to achieve - consistency in his spelling habits. The two quotations from his earliest surviving letters show the word Grammar spelled both with two M's and with only one M. This may lead Wikipedia editors to confusion, for is this a typo by the quoting Wikipedia editor, or a correct quotation from a letter with spelling anomalies? As this article develops, this issue will keep surfacing again and again. My proposal to avoid this: 1) when quoting a passage which contains an error by Melville, it may be best to indicate here on the talk page that your quote does contain the mistake, so that other editors know the error should be there. 2) Do not correct perceived typos in quotations from Melville without checking the source first. Since many people do not have these books at hand, it is probably best to call attention to the anomaly here on the Talk page before amending the quoatation. All the best MackyBeth (talk) 14:18, 13 March 2014 (UTC)

You can raise it here if you wish; however, it is understood that original texts sometimes contain real or apparent errors, so we usually make the textual mark (sic). There is a template for this purpose: Template:Sic, which when placed, looks like this: [sic]. SilkTork ✔Tea time 19:46, 17 July 2014 (UTC)

Expanded lede[edit]

I'd suggest a bit less detail in the lede expansion. Maybe not use the phrase 'Some half', and perhaps add Billy Budd as 'unpublished until x years after his death' rather than "Melville published The Confidence-Man, his final work of fiction.", which isn't exactly correct. I think such a sentence better conveys the sense of the decline of public and critical interest in Melville's work. - Neonorange (talk) 15:19, 13 March 2014 (UTC)

Good thinking. Done.MackyBeth (talk) 16:24, 13 March 2014 (UTC)

I wish I could me even ten per cent so vigorous on improving articles as you. (Here comes the but B^) I'd suggest that the addition of the quote from Woods characterizing Melville as the among the "millionaries of style" in the e lede is a quote too far. Surely, if you think still another quote is necessary in the lede, there is copious scholarship concentrating on Melville; enough to avoid this puzzling metaphor. You might wish to read The New York Times Sunday Book Review article on How Fiction Works that concludes:

"How Fiction Works" is a definitive title, promising much and presuming even more: that anyone, in the age of made-up memoirs and so-called novels whose protagonists share their authors’ biographies and names, still knows what fiction is; that those who do know agree that it resembles a machine or a device, not a mess, a mystery or a miracle; and that once we know how fiction works, we’ll still care about it as an art form rather than merely admire it as an exercise. But there is one question this volume answers conclusively: Why Readers Nap.

New York Times Sunday Book Review; Published: August 15, 2008 - Neonorange (talk) 17:51, 26 March 2014 (UTC)

On the Further Reading section[edit]

Recently I have been reorganizing the referrences so that footnotes refer to a list of Sources. As a result, the existing section "References and Further Reading" is now called "Further Reading" because all books actually quoted from are transferred to Sources. Should this FR-list be allowed to stand or is it best deleted?

  1. The list is perfectly random, important books stand next to less important works and many important books are not included.
  2. The list of Sources will keep on growing and can be used as a guide to Further Reading as well.
  3. As the article expands, it will be wise to omit any sections that do not seem useful.MackyBeth (talk) 15:12, 3 April 2014 (UTC)
  • After SilkTork added the label indicating the Further Reading list is too expansive, I finally took the liberty to remove some titles. Literary criticism should only be retained here if it discusses Melville's works in general; this is not the place to suggest criticism on specific topics. Such suggestions should be made at the articles on the individual works of Melville. Second, many biographies are seriously out of date, especially because in 1983 a large chunk of Melville family documents were discovered. I therefore only retained the most recent biographies, of which Hershel Parker´s two volumes are the most important.MackyBeth (talk) 12:53, 17 July 2014 (UTC)
    • With this smaller list, it is more obvious that Parker's two volumes and the Delbanco book are both in the FR section AND in the list of Sources. Eventually, the FR section will be abandoned as the Sources expand, but as for now it would be nonsense to have such list and not cite these two major biographical enterprises.MackyBeth (talk) 13:24, 17 July 2014 (UTC)

Good work on trimming the list; I have removed the FR tag. I have, however, put a tag on the external links section, as that also looks to be excessive. SilkTork ✔Tea time 19:46, 17 July 2014 (UTC)

Thanks. I read your comment on your own Talk page, but I thought it best in this case that you removed the label yourself, so that it would be clear we have consensus here. I will remove the new label right after the list of links has been suficiently cut down. I noticed there are some links on individual works such as The Confidence-Man, and such lists belong to the articles on the individual works. Same rationale as with the books list: links included here should be on topics too general to be delegated to an article on a specific Melville work.MackyBeth (talk) 20:00, 17 July 2014 (UTC)

External Links[edit]

Today I revised the External Links section after reading Wikipedia:External links. Removed were:

  • Links no longer working.
  • Links about particular novels or stories, because these links belong on the Wikipedia pages for those individual books.
  • Links directing to bibliographical lists. Such links merely duplicate each other, and they duplicate the Wikipedia page Herman Melville bibliography.

The list of links is also reordered. For each author important enough to have his own Society devoted to him, the Wikipedia article for that writer should start its enumeration of "External links" with the Herman Melville Society, Hawthorne Society etcetera, because these links are to content that is likely to be updated continuously. For that reason, I put the scholarly project on Melville's Marginalia next.

I am not sure, though, how to decide on linking blogs of individual Melville scholars. Recently, John Bryant started a blog on his research for the Melville biography he is going to write:

Another scholar, Hershel Parker, has a blog going on for some years now (never mind how long precisely): http://fragmentsfromawritingdesk,

Suggestions are welcome.MackyBeth (talk) 15:48, 18 July 2014 (UTC)

Good job! Definitely agree with all the choices you made!
Scholar blogs aren't really important, but if they are notable scholars, it might be worth writing biography articles on them and linking the blogs on those pages, Sadads (talk) 16:31, 18 July 2014 (UTC)
Thanks for the compliment! The page for Hershel Parker has a link to his blog added indeed. So I will not add these links to the Melville page.~~

Why I put the Nabokov quotation in the lead[edit]

This week someone took out the Nabokov quotation stating that it is not relevant what Nabkov's favorite writers are. I put the quotation back, because the lead usually has one or more quotations summing a writer's achievement or reputation. See for instance the lead section at Ezra Pound and Ernest Hemingway. This is not to say that the Nabokov quotation is perfect and should never be removed, but it seems to me reasonable that editors only remove this citation once they have found a replacement that is better suited for the purpose, and not remove it without replacement at all.MackyBeth (talk) 13:40, 8 August 2014 (UTC)

Article breakdown into sections[edit]

It may seem unnecessary that I have supplied a breakdown into sections for the article, because quite a few sections are now very short. In fact, I have had to add a few sentences on the short fiction to create a section because the article contained nothing on the short fiction yet. I hope that this breakdown and the numerous gaps it reveals will inspire users to help developing this page. It also should be helpful to readers, because they will need less time to scan the article to find what they are looking for. I also noticed that quite a few things were out of chronological order and some information appeared twice in this article. This is now repaired. The section "Melville's poetry" contained the only mentionings of some works in the article. These sentences have been moved to their place in the chronology, and what now remains of the section is focused on the reception of the poetry and Melville's reputation as a poet.MackyBeth (talk) 17:44, 18 August 2014 (UTC)

Article organization[edit]

I just noticed that in biographical articles for writers the discussion of the life is separated from description of the writings. Is this a standard policy, and if so, should the Herman Melville page be reorganized in order to comply with the format?MackyBeth (talk) 20:47, 18 August 2014 (UTC)


The Biography section of this article currently has far too many headings and subheadings, making it difficult to read. Many of the sections contain only one paragraph. I suggest combining these into a more readable structure:

  • Early life
  • 1845–1850: Early novels
  • 1851: Moby Dick
  • 1852–1857: Later novels
  • 1857–1876: Poetry
  • 1877–1891: Final years

Also, the Moby Dick section needs to be expanded. Even though there is a main article for the novel, this section should at least summarize the style, major themes, background, reception, etc. of his most famous work. Bede735 (talk) 18:07, 19 August 2014 (UTC)

It was indeed not a smart move of mine to add so many sections. I have now reduced them. As for Moby-Dick, I will look at other articles on writers to see how they discuss the works for which a separate article exists. I suspect that the biographical article is the place to discuss developments and consistencies throughout a body of work rather than merely summarize information already available elsewhere.MackyBeth (talk) 19:56, 19 August 2014 (UTC)
I think your new structure improves the article. Bede735 (talk) 20:12, 19 August 2014 (UTC)

Irreconcilable differences in Hershel Parker and Andrew Delbanco's Melville biographies[edit]

Wikipedia guidelines state that editors present the scholarly consenus on the topics they work on. Working my way through the Melville biographies by Hershel Parker (Vol 1, 1996, Vol. 2, 2002) and Andrew Delbanco (2005) for this article, I have now stumbled upon differences that cannot both be accomodated. One must choose a version, and since this choice implies inevitable judgment on the part of the editor, it will be wise to state my reasons for the choice. The issue is this:

In the 1830s, Herman Melville worked as a bank clerk until his brother hired him to work in his cap and fur business. Also in the 1830s, Gansevoort's business suffered when a fire destroyed his skin-preparing factory. Not only the date, but the whole sequence of these events in Parker is different from Delbanco. Parker says on page 95 of his first volume: The fire occurred in 1934, and because of the fire Gansevoort could no longer afford his employees. So he was forced to withdraw Herman from the bank to help him out. Delbanco says on his page 25: Gansevoorts business prospered so well that he could afford to hire Herman, and after that he suffered a setback by the fire, which he says occurred in 1835.

Parker's version should be the one included in this Wikipedia article, I think, because:

  1. In addition to all of Delbanco's sources, Parker uses (among other items) unpublished family correspondence, and thus must be rated the better documented biographer;
  2. Delbanco goes from the death of Melville's father in 1832 to 1839 in not much more than two pages (p.24-26), while Parker has tens of pages on the young Melville in the 1830s, indicating a difference in commitment to Melville's younger years.

I am aware that Delbanco focuses on Melville's writings, so his book is something between a biography and a critical study. His aim, as he stated in interviews of the time, is to get readers to read Melville whereas Parker aims more strictly at writing a thorough biography. My comments here should therefore not be read as an attempt to indicate what is the better book, since both have different merits. What is at stake is only what should be in the Wikipedia article.MackyBeth (talk) 15:55, 21 August 2014 (UTC)

Hi MackyBeth, typically when differences are found in sources the solution is to present both sides, or to attribute a fact to one source and then mention that another author's fact differs. Sometimes this can be done in a note, sometimes it has to be done directly in the text. But it's generally not a good idea for us to choose a version but rather to present both versions. Hope this is helpful. Victoria (tk) 13:59, 23 August 2014 (UTC)
Hi Victoria, that is helpful indeed. Since I noticed that you are one of the 100 top-Wikipedians granted a JSTOR account, it would be foolish not to heed your advice, even though it is hard for me to swallow having to describe a view I think is a mistake. Now you are here, maybe you have time to look at one of the entries at "Further Reading." I put the edition of Melville;'s Correspondence alphabetical under the name of the editor Lynn Horth, because Melville himself never published his corresondence. Is this correct or should I file it under Herman Melville?MackyBeth (talk) 14:43, 23 August 2014 (UTC)
Often one of the most difficult issues (which I tend to run into more with literature than in other subject areas) is to present a view we believe to be mistaken. But a very wise and now unfortunately deceased Wikipedian explained to me, when I was new and building the Ernest Hemingway page, that the more biographies and points of view we use, the better. We want to be comprehensive and so our editorial judgement should be to include all the top scholarly literature. I'm unfortunately not up-to-date on the Melville bios, but might have a look when I get a chance. Re the correspondence, I think for Hemingway I always use the editor's name (Baker). Getting one of the first 100 Jstor accts was probably more because of my rush to sign up rather than anything else! I am keeping a watch here, and try to post answers to your questions - but I've been a bit overly busy lately. Victoria (tk) 15:22, 23 August 2014 (UTC)
What a coincidence, I became aware of Wadewitz recently when I was looking for some well-developed biographical articles that could give me an idea how to work on Melville. One of the articles I read was Mary Shelley. Her "Wikium vitae" indicates clear enough what loss this is. To inform you and possible other visitors of this page on the Melville bios, in a nutshell the story is this: the early biographers took his writings for reliable autobiography, but in the 1930s research showed that this was not justified. The first biography that was called "definitive" was Leon Howard's book of 1951. However, research conducted for the Northwestern-Newberry edition, and in addition to that a miraculous find of Melville family documents in a barn in upstate New York in 1983, made a new biography necessary to revise what has been shown to be wrong and to accomodate new information.

Links to reviews of Melville biographies[edit]

In 1993, Stanton Garner published a book on Melville's Civil War years: Melville Society Extracts review of Stanton Garner, Melville's Civil War World Two biographies taking advantage of the new documents appeared in the same year, 1996. See reviews here:

In 2000, a short biography by Elizabeth Hardwick appeared in the Penguin Lives series, see review here:

In 2002, the second volume of Parker appeared, see review: Review of Parker, Vol. 2 Andrew Delbanco published his book in 2005, when the internet was so mature that many reviews are still online. Here are three:

The Hardwick book rehearses the autobiographical readings as if nothing had been discovered since the 1920s, so as I see it, there are currently three bios that can be called serious sources: Robertson-Lorant, Parker's two volumes, and Delbanco. In addition to this, we still have Jay Leyda's The Melville Log, a collection of documents covering the whole of Melville's life. And Wilson Heflin for Melville's Whaling Years, and other books for periods of Melville's life. And of certain topics, such as the collection of essays on Melville and Women.MackyBeth (talk) 21:00, 24 August 2014 (UTC)

HM's early works" Novels, Travel Literature, or what?[edit]

Bede735 put a thoughtful question on my TalkPage asking about my reversion of his changes from the longstanding "book" to "novel" for HM's early works, Typee and Omoo. I had put an explanation on Bede735's TalkPage, but now I think this is a better place for a general discussion.

Bede735's post on my page was:

Hello, CWH. I noticed you changed "novel" to "book" in two of the Melville articles I recently edited. With the exception of The Piazza Tales, the books Melville wrote from Typee through The Confidence-Man are considered novels by the reliable sources, they're listed as novels in the navbox, and they're categorized under Novels by Herman Melville. Why the distinction? Regards,

I'll repeat my post on his talkpage here:

Your good work on the Melville template and a number of the articles brings up a question that has been swept under the rug, namely the genre of the first books. It's pretty clear that Typee and Omoo are based on HM's own experience so are not exactly fiction. He presented them as actual, though we know that he made up or plagiarized a lot. He used the word "narrative" in several cases. So "book" seemed to be a workable compromise because the lead didn't seem to be the place to go into an argument one way or the other. Maybe "travel adventure" would be better. But you are quite right to make bold edits and raise the question.
The other question is the Template, which to be sure now says "novel." You seem to have some experience with this. Would it be a technical problem to change the category from "Novels" to "Travel adventure and novels" or some such? This would finesse the problem, if it could be done.

A little background. MackyBeth and I had a discussion of this in 2013 at [1]. When MackyBeth and I discussed Omoo, I looked through enough reliable sources and could not find a consensus for novel. The NN editions, as I recall, did not use the word, although several surveys did.

Now that I look at the boxes for Typee and Omoo, I see that they now say "Travel Literature" (and it looks like Bede735 made them consistent).

Another point was that "novel" was not a common term in the 1840s, so strictly speaking it is anachronistic, but not an important point for our articles or genre classifications since we're more interested in helping readers.

So all in all, I don't see what is gained by introducing the change from "book" to "novel" in the leads to Typee and Omoo, which are not novels. The next books gradually become more and more fiction, but I'm not sure where the dividing line is. The later novels can still be, for example, Moby-Dick ... sixth book... a novel" or some such.

The Template could be adjusted by someone who is competent.

But again I thank Bede735 for raising the question in a clear way and I hope we can enlist him or her to help bring about consistent treatment in the various articles and the template. ch (talk) 03:10, 26 August 2014 (UTC)

Addendum: I searched Parker's HM and found that he is happy to call HM's later books novels but that when he discussed HM's reading of Gulliver's Travels and Robinson Crusoe, he said they were books which could be called novels "about as uneasily as we call Melville's first books novels." (p. 234). The search "Typee" + "book" seems to show, as far as I can see, that Parker always refers to Typee as a "book." So my impulse, subject to correction, is that if it's good enough for Parker it probably should be good enough for us. SFriendly.svgch (talk) 04:12, 26 August 2014 (UTC)
Hello all, I see that the issue of the genre has been raised again. In line with Wikipedia policy that editors present the scholarly consensus, the articles on Melville should avoid the word "novel." For convenience, I copy here the quotation I put on the Typee Talk page, followed by three more examples:
  1. In John Bryant (ed.), A Companion to Melville Studies (Greenwood Press, 1986), Bette S. Weidman writes on Typee: "To the vexed question of whether his first two books, Typee and Omoo, are novels or autobiographies or varieties of travel literature, let it be said at once that Melville is best defined as a writer: one who writes in order to explore what he knows" (p. 85).
  2. In the chapter on Melville in Columbia Literary History of the United States Robert Milder mostly refers to Melville's books as "narratives." See, for instance, how on page 430 he avoids using the word novel for Typee: "Melville's later observations in Tahiti...also intruded upon his narrative...Neither strict autobiography nor fictional romance, an appealing mixture of adventure, anecdote, ethnography...that gave novelty to a South Sea idyll...The main critical issue is the book's divided attitude" etcetera.
  3. Warner Berthoff on page 35 of his The Example of Melville explicitly denies that White-Jacket is a novel: "For White-Jacket is not a novel, despite an opening chapter which...announces a character and promises a story,..."
  4. Looking at the summary I made of Andrew Delbanco's 2005 biography, I cannot find the word novel for Typee, which he discusses from page 70 onward.

These sources indicate that Wikipedia editors better not use the word novel either. It is of course perfectly possible that Bede735 has come across one or more sources, even from the Melville authority that Hershel Parker is, that actually do refer to Melville's works as novels, but the general approach seems to be for scholars/critics to avoid it. Since this issue will probably keep cropping up as new editors join the Melville project, it may be a good idea to keep these quotations on the Talk page so we can refer to them.MackyBeth (talk) 16:13, 26 August 2014 (UTC)

All this being said, I hope MackyBeth and other editors on the Melville pages will join me in thanking Bede735 for many edits in the Melville pages, which are thoughtful and useful! If you look at Bede735's "Contributions" you will see an impressive range. I think we would be lucky to have his or her further contributions to editing and discussions, especially to the Template and the HM article. ch (talk) 17:06, 26 August 2014 (UTC)
No doubt about it. We need all the good hands we can get.MackyBeth (talk) 17:14, 26 August 2014 (UTC)

Quotation from Stanley Williams: too academic for intro[edit]

Hi all -

I made an edit cutting this quote from the intro:

"In Melville's manipulation of his reading", scholar Stanley T. Williams wrote, "was a transforming power comparable to Shakespeare's".

Another editor has restored it, in very good faith. Let me talk about it a little, because I believe this quote is not so great for Wikipedia, and a real problem in an intro section.

It's quite a difficult sentence to parse; I had to read it a couple times, and got puzzled reactions when testing it out on people. It's in the passive voice; the subject, "power", comes along late. (If my parsing is off somewhere, I propose that that will only emphasize the point!) Is 'Melville' the subject? No, is 'manipulation'? No..."his reading", no, and a non-academic reader will not always clearly grasp that this refers to 'the matter he read', and not, confusingly, 'the act of reading'. That's an academic way of talking (and fine in its place, in a context where you can presume a lot more). I wouldn't label it jargon; it has a certain style, but it's a grad-school level sort of style. I don't think we want to demand that Wikipedia readers unpack a sentence this dense (when it's not the necessary subject matter itself), and certainly never in an introduction.

To explain the ideas with anything like appropriate clarity, you'd need to piece it out more. A crude breakdown of the ideas might be, to overdo it: "Melville read a lot. He used that in his own writing. Not just in a simple way--he manipulated these sources. Williams says this was great: Melville achieved a great power with these effects. [And I agree. :) ] On a level, in fact, with Shakespeare, the most celebrated writer in English, who is also famous for this."

If someone wants this whole topic in the introduction, might they work that up, better than the above? :) I have not, because I feel that the concept is a fairly advanced one--not the kind of thing we want to hit the reader with, right out of the gate. I do not feel as strongly about the general topic, at any rate, as I do about this particular sentence! :)

If it's here because someone likes to demonstrate Melville's prominence by quoting a comparison to Shakespeare, could they find a more straightforward one?

If people truly want to retain it, can you paraphrase the first half, more straightforwardly, and use the second half? E.g, the complex things that Melville did...had "a transforming power comparable to Shakespeare's"?

As you see, I'm concerned about all of it, but,

"In Melville's manipulation of his reading was..."

is the worst of the little assault we are committing on the general reader, the young learner, the non-expert English speaker. Anyone else troubled by this?

At any rate, thank you for listening! Ale And Quail (talk) 23:25, 14 December 2014 (UTC)

A fair question, well put, though at some length. I tried to make the quote easier to understand by adding a sentence before it to prepare the way, but I may not have succeeded. At least we cut "allusivity"! Since the quote had been there for a while, I thought maybe nobody else had a problem with it. I agree that it would be good to have a useful quote, if only because it ties up the thought. I also wonder if anybody who is not an expert will know who Williams is. What do others think?ch (talk) 07:40, 15 December 2014 (UTC)
I added the Stanley T. Williams quotation and for a good reason: It sums up both the essence and the greatness of Melville's creativity. Melville scholarship has devoted much attention to his intricate use of sources, more than scholarship on any other writer I know of. The objection raised against the quotation is not convincing to me. First, the proposal to expand on the manipulation of his reading does not take into account that the lead of any article needs to be succinct (which is one reason why I find this quotation so terrific). Second, the proposal to find a more straightforward comparison to Shakespeare: that comparison itself is not the point. The point is how that comparison, by an important Melville scholar, ranks Melville's powers. Third, the way to improve Wikipedia is to replace material with better material, not to remove a quotation without having anything better to offer. Fourth, the quotation is perfectly free of any academic jargon and therefore can hardly be labeled "too academic."MackyBeth (talk) 17:17, 16 December 2014 (UTC)
In my opinion, CWH's rework of the lede paragraph is an improvement. The language at the last of the previous lede paragraph set two stumbling blocks, detracting from "was a transforming power comparable to Shakespeare's." The point is not "how Stanley expressed the idea, nor even that Stanley wrote it, but rather that WP:RS supports it.
As far as who Stanley is, the specialist knows; the general reader can depend, if curiosity serve, on Wikilinks and notes. — Neonorange (talk) 04:19, 17 December 2014 (UTC)
Yes I agree with that, and I also noticed ch improved the STW article to emphasize his importance for breathing life into Melville studies. Well, it seems we have consensus that the Williams quotation is worth keeping after all. Cheers.MackyBeth (talk) 18:14, 19 December 2014 (UTC)
Thank you, MackyBeth for creating the Williams article and for finding the Williams quote! This is a good example of the Wikipedian back and forth which -- in theory, at least -- ends up improving (talk) 19:09, 19 December 2014 (UTC)
Yes, and here in this case, not only in theory!MackyBeth ((User talk:MackyBeth|talk]]) 20:33, 19 December 2014 (UTC)
And thanks to MackyBeth for improving the article to the point discussions like this can arise; and thanks to Ale And Quail for expressing his concerns, which started this very satisfactory discussion. — User:Neonorange (talk to Phil) 08:46, 20 December 2014 (UTC)
Yes, I almost forgot that the Wikipedia pages for Melville were almost "dead" for years, but since a few editors are working on them regularly, Melville seems more alive. Thanks to all involved. Might be worth not giving up in 2015.MackyBeth (talk) 10:59, 21 December 2014 (UTC)
I restored the STW quotation back in its original shape, because even months after the first half was objected to I don't see why it would be "too academic" for inclusion. I put that quotation in the intro, because when I found that sentence I immediately recognized that it is a succinct, clear description of the major characteristic of Melville's style. It only needed a preceding sentence leading into the quotation. It is worth keeping in mind that so far only one reader has objected to the quotation: if it were a real problem, one would expect more people bringing it up. Suggestions made on a Talk page should not be followed without first establishing if they are actually reasonable. On 15 March ch followed a suggestion and added a sentence about the spelling Melvill(e), while that information was already provided for.MackyBeth (talk) 10:57, 21 March 2015 (UTC)

What to do with short fiction attributed to Melville[edit]

In Melville studies some stories are attributed to him, but his authorship has not been proven. Today I have come across the description of the earliest of such prose, and I wonder how these works should be treated in the article. Some of them are printed in the NN Piazza Tales in a section of Attributed Pieces. Should these pieces be treated at all? The first such piece is "The Death Craft" of 1839, published under the name "Harry the Reefer." Hershel Parker in his biography says little else than that it may or may not be written by Melville.MackyBeth (talk) 10:59, 30 December 2014 (UTC)

Melville spelled "Melville" or "Melvill"?[edit]

Throughout the article, his name is spelled both as Melville and Melvill. Is this vandalism, or is it done on purpose or accident? [2]

A good question user: you have sharp eyes! The answer is that Herman's ancestors spelled it "Melvill," but his brother Gansevoort changed the spelling, Hershel Parker says, perhaps for no reason other than that he "thought an extra letter afforded an aristocratic flourish, and certainly for no nefarious reason, since Melville was a variant spelling...." (p. 67).
I will add this information to the article, so many thanks for bringing it up!
PS But take note that new material should go at the bottom of the Talk Page (where I will move it) and that you should sign your comments with four tildes, like this: ~~~~ ch (talk) 19:09, 15 March 2015 (UTC)
Information regarding the spelling is already covered in explanatory note a, but without Parker's guess at the reason for the change, which is the kind of guess biographers sometimes have to go into, but I tried hard not to include pure speculation in the article. Note A can be found at the first mention of the name after the lead, in the opening words of Early Life. Originally, I had placed it at the very first mention of the name Melville, which is the opening of the lead, but someone who visited the article moved it to where it is now. However, I had good reason to place the information where I put it: my model was the article for Elvis Presley which has Featured Article rating.MackyBeth (talk) 18:19, 20 March 2015 (UTC)

Parker 2002 and Melville's alcoholism[edit]

When I added the data on the death of Melville's son, I supplied a reference to Parker (2002). Logically, ch read the reference as pertaining to the previous sentence as well and removed it. This confusion is almost inevitable when sourced material is added next to already available unsourced material, so it's good the confusion has been eliminated.MackyBeth (talk) 16:30, 27 March 2015 (UTC)

Proceed with caution before expansion[edit]

A few thoughts. Good that MackyBeth is giving us warning of more material to come, but I would urge that we look over the recent changes first and digest them before making major additions. There is one apparent contradiction introduced into the first paragraph of the lead, the reintroduction of a sentence which we agreed to cut, and a misspelling in the text. The section on Writing Style has a lot of good material but in a jumbled order and is out of proportion to the article as a whole, more like a set of notes than the careful essay we are capable of. The subsection on Shakespeare needs a lot of editing to make it cohere. All the (talk) 06:48, 28 March 2015 (UTC)

Restoring the sentence by Stanley Williams was explained above at the section about that quotation. The original request was made by someone who contributed nothing to this page, not before and not after his remark on that quotation. Therefore he is not an editor but a visitor of the page. The Talk Page is for editors of the page to reach consensus, and not a page where non-editors may submit their requests, which the actual editors then should have to carry out. If ch prefers his modification of Williams's quotation, then accept my apologies and I will restore it. Cheers.MackyBeth (talk) 08:49, 28 March 2015 (UTC)
The original suggestion from Ale And Quail, that the Shakespeare sentence was a stumbling block, was a good one. And it seemed we found agreement on a replacement that was more clear, without sacrificing precision. You, MackyBeth, now have reverted, as if you had harbored unexpressed disagreement with the discussion. And reverted to your version. My understanding of the use of Talk pages differs. As far as I know, talk pages are open to all, just as Wikipedia is the encyclopedia is anyone can edit. Suggestions should be judged on the merits, not on how many lines an editor has contributed to this or any article. After all, no one owns a Wikipedia article. I'd like to see you revert the 'Shakespeare' line to CH's version; THREE editors made a try at improving the sentence. It seemed to me that FOUR editors accepted the improvement. One of the good things about consensus is that it builds trust among editors. — Neonorange (talk) 21:00, 28 March 2015 (UTC)
Ah, Neonorange I see I was acting too selfish there. Restored CH's version. Still think Stanley Williams's sentence is great, and I remember well how pleased I was with it when I stumbled upon it.MackyBeth (talk) 21:41, 28 March 2015 (UTC)
Thank you for your gracious reply. Now I feel I must find a new favorite sentence for you. — Neonorange (talk) 04:36, 29 March 2015 (UTC)
MackyBeth, thanks very much for listening to Neonorange. I do hope you would try to keep in mind that all you say above about "visitors vs editors" really is nonsense on Wikipedia, isn't it? The idea that adding text is a contribution, and makes one "an editor", but an edit that shortens the text would me, that's kind of nonsense, too. :(
I hope this can be informative, not inflammatory: while someone might quite normally contribute here only once, I bowed out of the previous discussion because I estimated I would be disagreeing with you repeatedly, and I was already discouraged by your seeming not to fully read what I had written. I concluded that further efforts were likely to be more frustrating than constructive. I feared I would struggle to stay courteous, as Neonorange and CH do so well. As I'm probably showing now, sigh. But at any rate, I doubt I could achieve the impressive commitment of time that you manage to sustain. I appreciate all three of your continued efforts — Ale And Quail (talk) 18:35, 31 March 2015 (UTC)
Ale And Quail Good to hear your voice again. Please stick with us! I understand your concern with OWNERSHIP OF ARTICLES, and MackyBeth and I have had our little disagreements, but I continue to respect his or her level of commitment and energy in digging out useful scholarship. Even though they sometimes are not careful in hitting a balance, sometimes have careless mistakes, and sometimes simply add without looking at the overall structure of the section or article, these contributions have been important in developing the whole set of Melville articles. We also VERY MUCH need your edits and your comments in order that none of us gets out of (talk) 21:11, 31 March 2015 (UTC)
ch is right, we need all the perspectives we can possibly get. It may be of some use to Ale And Quail and others to explain my perspective of the Stanley T. Williams quotation that is still underlying this discussion. As Ale And Quail correctly pointed out, such quotation should be easy to understand for any reader. And I may not be the best judge of that, because I found the quotation by reading it in the original context. Judging the sentence as an individual statement then becomes difficult, because I cannot un-know the context. So others may have a clearer view on this, and other matters. If one editor adds information from a source, his view on how his edit may work out in the new Wikipedia context may be blurred by his knowledge of the whole source. Another thing: I am sorry that I gave the impression of not having fully read the posting. I did, but was puzzled by it, because I could not grasp the precise nature of the complaint. As ch said, we have had our little disagreements, and this can happen when articles are seriously being worked on by people who care about the subject. But Ale And Quail's reply is a good reminder that I should take care not to voice my disagreements in a way so as to repel other editors. Cheers.MackyBeth (talk) 15:18, 2 April 2015 (UTC)

The section "Critical response"[edit]

I would like to find out how editors look upon the section "Critical response." Well-developed parts there are "Contemporary criticism" and "Melville Revival and Melville studies," but after that it gets less satisfying. Do the two sentences about "The Melville Society" warrant a heading of their own? "Melville's poetry" cites a "recent literary critic," and we all know that it is not a good idea to use the word "recent" in an encyclopediae, because it is a problematic time-reference. In this case, recent means 1998. Then there are headings for "Gender studies" and "Law and literature," critical endeavors that seem to me too much of a niche for inclusion in an encyclopediae. In any case "Law and literature" deals exclusively with the interpretation of Billy Budd, and if it is worth retaining, belongs to the Billy Budd page. "Gender studies" is a collection of interpretive statements, and ""Melville's poetry" is a useful but non-chronological account of the reputation of the poetry (a chronological account would not have placed R.P. Warren's work in the 21st century).

To see how editors for articles on other writers deal with this material, the FAs for Ernest Hemingway and Edgar Allan Poe do have a section for "Legacy" or "Influence and legacy." The B-article Jane Austen has a section "Reception." My suggestion is this. Since Melville's reputation has changed drastically after his death, it would be reasonable to have a section titled "Reputation" rather than "Critical response," containing the first three subsections. After we have investigated what may be useful of the other subsection, we merge that material into it and delete the rest.MackyBeth (talk) 08:25, 29 March 2015 (UTC)

I suggest trimming back, rewriting and then see where you are. There's an argument to be made to explain something about scholarly studies, similar to the Critical reception section we put in Ezra Pound. For Pound it seemed particularly important because he's controversial. I handled Hemingway differently because it was the first article I wrote here and because he's not as controversial. I'm not up-to-date on Melville studies, so can't comment. I'd try to get a recent Cambridge Companion and see what you can find there - usually the more recent editions include the most up-to-date work and they've started adding essays about the state of scholarship. I believe most the the information in the Hemingway article came from a Cambridge Companion and the info in Pound came from a newly published CC. Best rule of thumb is to follow the sources and then section it out. Victoria (tk) 11:44, 29 March 2015 (UTC)
Recently (2014) there has been published a new CC for Melville as well, a complemet to the first one (1998) by the same editor.MackyBeth (talk) 13:26, 29 March 2015 (UTC)

Revised the lead, paragraphs 2 to 4[edit]

Paragraphs two, three, and four of the lead have been revised with the purpose to improve the organization of the information and present it in a more condensed way. Of course you will notice that its size has not been reduced but slightly expanded. That is because two works were not mentioned in the lead before: Redburn and Israel Potter. This omission has bothered me for some time: while it would be ridiculous to cite all of Faulkner's works in the lead to his article, Melville wrote so few prose works that it looks odd if two titles are just left out of the lead. Some information has been rearranged to see how it works: Clarel is now mentioned when Melville made the trip that was the basis for the book, in 1857, and not in the paragraph about Melville's period as a poet. If other editors feel this order is no improvement, please change it back yourselves, because I will probably not be back here until Friday.MackyBeth (talk) 17:25, 29 March 2015 (UTC)

Put quoteboxes back[edit]

On April 3, two comparison quoteboxes were removed, the editing summary saying that they would be added to the Moby-Dick page. I put them back for two reasons: 1) they never arrived there; 2) the section Writing Style here is well served by having one or two examples of how Melville used his sources.MackyBeth (talk) 16:37, 8 June 2015 (UTC)


What is the literary movement of skepticism? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 02:37, 5 July 2015 (UTC)

Skepticism is more somewhat of a philosophical stance than a literary movement, I think. In the case of Melville, scholars use the word skepticism to denote his view of God and other themes, but not his literary technique or style. Hope this helps.MackyBeth (talk) 19:07, 6 July 2015 (UTC)
MackyBeth's explanation makes sense, that is, "skepticism" is not a literary movement, and no literary movement is mentioned in the article linked in the info box. So shouldn't we remove "skepticism" from the info box?ch (talk) 02:18, 7 July 2015 (UTC)
Yes. Melville prefigured modernism which uses skepticism as a tool—but to call s. a literary movement is a bridge too far. — Neonorange (talk) 04:20, 7 July 2015 (UTC)
I agree with ch's proposal about the infobox. I never gave much thought to that part of the box, but the information there is in need of improvement. Romanticism and Skepticism are mentioned as if both are established literary movements, which is only the case for the first term, and perhaps even that is worth talking about here: should Romanticism not be modified to American Romanticism to accomodate Melville's place? The wikilink to Skepticism does not lead to a literary movement either; the link to Romanticism does. Perhaps for this reason the infobox says Romanticism and not American Romanticism, but I think it is perfectly normal to keep the link to Romanticism but add the word American. I wonder what you think. Also, the infobox cites under "Genre" the term "Gothic Romanticism", which term sounds to me as if it combines a genre (Gothic) with a literary period (Romanticism). More confusing than helpful, and an infobox, like a lead, is a place where one would expect to fine clear information and terms that are common usage in Melville scholarship.MackyBeth (talk) 16:02, 8 July 2015 (UTC)

feel free to delete this comment whenever you want, I just wanted to let you know as someone who came here to learn a bit more about Melville, this is a great article. It covers the basics but with some great semi-obscure details, includes interesting commentary about his style & content, & has piqued my curiosity about his later poetry. thanks for all your hard work; it's resulted in a very readable, engaging summary of Melville's life & writing.

Well, thanks for such a nice compliment! I worked hard on this article, and on Moby-Dick, until I got discouraged by users who happen to pass along, then insist on making one modification I disagree with, and then leave without ever contributed anything substantial. It's one thing to reach consensus with editors of the page, but I found it unbearable to have to accomodate non-editors time and again. But it's nice to see that someone appreciates my work.MackyBeth (talk) 17:33, 20 January 2016 (UTC)
Thanks, MackyBeth for accepting this compliment on behalf of the rest of us! 😁 ch (talk) 16:36, 21 January 2016 (UTC)
Well, after three weeks it was about time somebody accepted the compliment. Nevertheless I should have said that I can only accept the compliment for the "Writing Style" and "Themes" sections, because the work on HM's poetry and "Critical Response" are admittedly predominantly yours, ch. No offense intended.MackyBeth (talk) 17:07, 21 January 2016 (UTC)
Please reconsider your complaint—editors who come to an article once are valuable contributiors. Editors who disagree with you are valuble contributor. Editors who practice collegiality are valuable contributors. — Neonorange (talk) 05:57, 22 January 2016 (UTC)
Complaint reconsidered, but I stand by it after re-reading the discussion at the Moby-Dick TP on wikilinking "blank verse". But indeed, editors do practice collegiality are valuable.MackyBeth (talk) 17:28, 22 January 2016 (UTC)

Thoughts on the lede[edit]

It's great to reconsider the lede from time to time, since improvements come when we look with a fresh eye. MackyBeth's sparked me into a few more such revisions, e.g. questioning whether "the main characteristic" of HM's style was "probably pervasive allusion." Sealts (below) says allusion is one characteristic, not that it was the "main" one. It also struck me that MD needed a few more words (Billy Budd adaptations were not more important than MD), that there was no need to mention the Customs Inspectorate twice, and a few other minor edits for (talk) 00:55, 13 March 2016 (UTC)

With thoughtful edits and considerations like these the lede is bound to develop into a condensed, well written introduction. The remark about the allusive characteristics of his writing style was written when I had not yet read about as many aspects of his style as I have now, so I feel I am now more up to the challenge of producing a more comprehensive yet concise description for the lede. How about thinking up a somewhat more informative way to describe MD canonical status than using the word "classic"? Something like "the obvious first choice for an example of The Great American Novel" perhaps? MackyBeth
Yes, indeed! The lede is now more informative and enticing, though perhaps other editors will want to chime in.
A few points, though.
  • I've wondered for a long time as to whether we couldn't find a quote that was more informative and clearer about HM than the one from Williams, a wonderful scholar but otherwise unknown authority who will not carry much weight with readers. But for the moment, shouldn't he at least get the last word in the paragraph?
  • I made a tweak or two in the nice new sentences on style, cutting a few adjectives and adverbs that pushed things a little too far ("highly" ""rich"). Probably the word is "bent" rather than "bend"?
  • The Manual of Style on linking cautions against Overlinking, especially "everyday words understood by most readers in context." These readers probably won't need links to Wikipedia articles for even "baroque," especially since the article doesn't discuss literary style. "Compounds," "vocabulary," "myth," "ironical," and "visual arts" shouldn't be problems.
  • "Centennial": the applicable advice from the policy page on links is rather than linking, "try to provide an informal explanation." So if the word is unclear enough to need a link, it seems better to simply add "1919 ."
  • Nice question as to the brief characterization of MD. The whole concept of GAN strikes me as a can of worms; Buell, our authority in the article, shies away from saying that MD is one. As I recall, when I read the book as a whole (a good read, BTW), he was more interested in the popular belief that there is a "GAN" than in defining what one would be if there were such a thing. "Classic," to be sure, is only a little better, but at least it's only one word (the works in question have, however, appeared in the series "World Classics.")
Cheers! ch (talk) 22:00, 13 March 2016 (UTC)
It's not easy to decide what terms should be linked or not. Funny how that Williams quotation keeps coming up, we just are not going to agree on this one. I find it wonderfully illuminative and still regret the adjustment of it, really. But eventually we may stumble across something that everybody finds terriffic, you never know. Maybe MD should be called a classic of world literature, then? The word classic alone is a bit, well, not saying much specific. What I meant to communicate by saying "rich imagery" is that Melville's imagery establishes a sustained thread of related images, so that a kind of web is formed, as in the monastery motif in Benito Cereno or the way that in the first chapter of MD the prairie is described in terms from the sea etc. But how to express this characteristic briefly? Ay, there's the rub. Best wishes MackyBeth
Yes, much to (talk) 22:51, 13 March 2016 (UTC)
Looking at the style description again, I noticed that yesterday's revision introduced some unfortunate wordings. The subtle but imo real difference between saying "sense of rhythm" or "rhythmic sentences" seems to me that the latter refers to some linguistic rhythm and the former to the more artistic use of rhythm of, for instance, a sentence rhythm that imitates in language the rhythm of the waves on the sea. The other thing that bothered me was that the mention of allusions was attached to the sentence in a grammar that suggests allusions belong to the category of imagery, and while it is possible to employ allusion to reinforce imagery, just as the vocabulary can be used for this purpose, allusion can be used for other purposes as well and is not a subcategory under imagery. Hope this clarifies the matter. Cheers MackyBeth

Question on need for citation of each quote[edit]

Many thanks to Curly Turkey for a sharp eye and a conscientious energy. But in reading WP:CITEDENSE I see that it suggests that when a paragraph deals with a single subject and is cited from the same source, a single citation is fine. I don't see that each quote from the same source needs to be cited, especially if they are in the same sentence. The object is to let the reader know the source of a statement without unnecessary clutter. Is there policy on this that I have missed? I'd be grateful to have it pointed out.

I also wonder if CT disagrees with the other, admittedly minor proofreads that were undone, such as "one sixths" to "one sixth," "echoe" to "echo," and whether there is any objection to adding the source of the quotes to Mathiessen in the text, as "Mathiessen points out..." ch (talk) 05:24, 16 March 2016 (UTC)

I don't object to those other things that were undone—sorry about that! I've added them back (and the "Mathiessen points out" stuff), with the exception of "echoe"—could you explain that? I can't even find that as an alternate spelling in the dictionary.
With quotations the common practice is to include a citation for each, which is the standard expected at FA. Personally, I'd cut back on the quotes, though—the article is positively dense with quotes that could easily be paraphrased or dropped entirely to make for smoother prose. Curly Turkey 🍁 ¡gobble! 05:37, 16 March 2016 (UTC)
Thanks for the quick reply! I agree that there are too many quotes, and specifically the paragraphs on Shakespeare's influence and Bible, which simply string quotes together. A lot of work went into them, however, so out of respect for that editor I have not interfered. Perhaps we now should reconsider, however. In addition, there are more recent sources that should be tapped.
As to "echoe," I took it for a typo and changed it to "echo." Does that seem wrong?
The question remains of the need for a separate citation for each quote, even if it is one sentence. In looking at another article, H.L. Mencken, which faces some of the same challenges as this Melville article, I see a number of places where there are quotes without citations and even some paragraphs with no citations at all.
Hope that you will find time to do more work on this article. ch (talk) 05:54, 16 March 2016 (UTC)
"echoe"—sorry, I misread the diffs. I thought you added the "e" rather than removed it.
If you want to remove the citations for the quotes, I'm not going to fight it, but there are those at FA and GA who will insist on them, if you all want to take the article that far. Either way, while I sympathize about respecting the work that's gone into the content, in the end we want an article that's easy for the reader to navigate and digest. Often quotes get in the way of that goal.
If Mencken's missing citations, they'll have to be tracked down and added. Someday, anyways. Curly Turkey 🍁 ¡gobble! 06:34, 16 March 2016 (UTC)
It's stimulating to have some input by someone who is going through the whole article instead of just insisting that one minor detail be altered. CH, you probably missed the discussion on my talk page, but that density of citations is because of my initial misunderstanding of the attribution - needed tags, which I took for citation requests while it merely means that the source should be acknowledged by some introduction in the prose of the article. Actually, I deliberately used so many direct quotations to enable other editors to help paraphrasing, so that we can always go back to the original quotation in the edit history in case some disagreement comes up either between editors or during some peer review which I still hope we can submit either this or the MD article to in the not too distant future. For that same purpose, if you want to remove some of the citations, it is okay by me provided that you will be careful to avoid any sourcing issue at GA review. So go ahead if you feel like doing a round of supplying paraphrases for smoother reading. It's a tricky matter, though, to paraphrase a scholar's description of someone's writing style in such a way that the meaning of the description remains the same: even the "Writing style" section at Ernest Hemingway looks like a string of quotations, and that article is in the FA-Class. I do appreciate your consideration, ch, and I have been irritated at times, but I have also recognized that opposition from other editors simply is a test to see if one's edits are defensible. In one edit summary, Curly Turkey asks whether Melville should not be Melvill because the e was added later. Maybe a policy for such problems exists, but if not, we will have to follow what the Melville biographers do, if they show agreement on this at all. Initially, I thought about mentioning his name at birth only once and then refer to him with his familiar name henceforth, but that is obviously going to cause confusion in the early years were family members occur who never added the e to Melvill. This article could indeed use some more recent sources, I agree. But for the moment I plan to improve Benito Cereno some more. Cheers, MackyBeth
It looks like you've solved the "Melvill(e)" issue with an endnote.
As for "paraphras[ing] a scholar's description", I think that's an issue with a lot of articles: a forest vs trees thing. Scholars have some interesting things to say, but they're not always aimed at Wikipedia's target audience and can thus come across as opaque. When discussing style—especially with a writer as written-about as Melville—we want to keep things as general and direct as possible.
Aside from the readability issues so much quoting introduces, there's also the issue of such specific and attributed quoting coming off as less general than they really are. Okay, so Bezanson says Melville has an "immensely varied style". Is this his opinion, or his expression of a general consensus? Given the wording, it suggests it's perhaps his alone, which we know is not the case. If it were his opinion alone (which may be the case with other quotes) then up comes the question of whether the quote is perhaps WP:UNDUE weight. Given the shelves and shelves of books available on Melville, we want to be careful that the summary of his style etc reflects a general consensus, and represents it as so. We also want to make sure—keeping the target audience in mind—that the descriptions are straighforward as is reasonable and as much as possible not ambiguous.
Of course, quotes have their place. It would be hard to imagine a summary of Joyce that didn't include a quote about his "cloacal obsession"—though on Wikipedia we'd want an appropriate explanation of such a quote. Curly Turkey 🍁 ¡gobble! 00:16, 17 March 2016 (UTC)

Further organization of the article[edit]

As you can see in the list of footnotes, the biographies of Hershel Parker and Andrew Delbanco are the basis for this article's biographical content until 1841, when Melville went on a whaling voyage. After that, the biography part is not a systematically developed text but composed of cherrypicking bits and pieces from various sources. The tags added by Curly Turkey prompted me to work ahead, so to speak, and I ask you: what do we do with his writings? Looking at FA-rated articles for Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, and Ernest Hemingway, it looks like a variety of structural organization is possible, but in each case in the biographical part of an article not much more is said about the works than their publication dates, for of course you can click on the title to see the article for any individual work. In Melville's case, it seems reasonable to contemplate if not a short remark on how each work was generally reviewed is in place, because the shape of his career is so famous for its sudden slide into obscurity that this seems more relevant to cover than is the case for writers with a more stable trajectory in that respect. Curious to read what editors think.MackyBeth (talk) 16:27, 16 March 2016 (UTC)

How long is Toby in the Typee Valley?[edit]

I see that the rephrasing is going on, but rephrasing from the article itself and not having the sources with you can lead to unintended digressions from the source. The time in the Typee Valley is based on two sources that both appear in the References with links to their online texts. Of those sources, Olsen-Smith says in his Chronology that Toby has already left the island when Melville boards the Lucy Ann. So how much time has Toby spend there with Melville? Since this was not clear from either chronology (Levine is silent on the matter), I figured I would follow Olsen-Smith in only saying that Melville spend 3 to 4 weeks and change it later if I stumbled across Toby's situation in a biography. So the revision of the sentence to include Toby too seems to introduce an assertion not covered by the sources. So please, go ahead and paraphrase whatever you feel needs rewriting, but the best way to make sure that paraphrasing does not amount to introducing your own assumptions is to check the sources when they are online. Cheers MackyBeth (talk) 17:35, 16 March 2016 (UTC)

The information on Typee does now include a concise account of Melville's use of his source, including the sentence "which he presented as his own observations." Since Typee is narrated by Tommo, the wording implies that Wikipedia editors are confusing the fictional Tommo's observations with Melville's.MackyBeth (talk) 18:19, 16 March 2016 (UTC)
Good points, well put. Will fix -- am about to add a little tiny bit more on HM's return home and the dashing figure he cut telling his romantic tales. Parker has much (too much?) colorful detail. But the text needs to set up Toby's return and his confirmation of the basic truth of HM's (talk)
You are right about that. I recently worked on The Piazza Tales and apparently "The Encantadas" was much praised because it reminded reviewers of his first two books--ten years after they were first published. Also, on the title page of his later works it was not printed that he was the author of Moby-Dick, but the author of Typee. Those things make it legitimate to say that the context of Typee should be painted fuller in the article than that of his other books, because it influenced his life and reputation so much more, and certainly more than one would think from today's point of view. Cheers, MackyBeth (talk) 19:23, 16 March 2016 (UTC)
A few remarks about today's additions. Information on Pierre has been added, and looking at the surrounding sentences those must have been added years ago and might perhaps be removed. Generally, it is safe to assume that any unsourced material in the article was not supplied by the current editors. The reason I bring this up is that adding sourced material to a passage already contaning unsourced material could give the impression that the references also account for the unsourced stuff. Second, the now added sentence that Melville enjoyed the feminine companionship in the Typee Valley strikes me as just the kind of thing that is going to be tagged with a citation-needed template, so it's best to supply a reference directly behind that sentence. Third, in some of the notes links have been added to the online texts of Parker's two volumes. These links are also supplied in the list of References. Given the importance of this biography for this article--many more citations from it will come with future edits, you can count on that--it may be reasonable to provide a link with the notes as well, but if that is indeed the idea I would suggest to link only at the first appearance of a reference to his work, and for Vol.2 we don't yet know where that first reference will appear because that biographical part of the article is far from finished. Finally, assuming our ambition is still to prepare the article for GA-rating, I think that, really, virtually every sentence needs to be sourced, because the references not only account for the information supplied but also ensure an unambiguous delineation or limit to how far surrounding references account for the material. Cheers MackyBeth
You'll find that inline cites for every sentence is not a requirement, but there is a minority of editors who insist on doing so (for political or war articles, in my experience). The strongest objection to that would be on grounds of aesthetics and readability, but no guideline prohibits it. Curly Turkey 🍁 ¡gobble! 11:13, 18 March 2016 (UTC)
I agree with Curly Turkey that inline cites for every sentence, much less for every clause, are not a requirement! Too many notes make the page look crowded, like laying barbed wire across it! Likewise, we are in danger of mentioning one scholar after another to the point that they are mentioned more often than Melville. As Curley Turkey commented above, there are already too many quotes (presumably the ones from scholars). Look at WP:CITEDENSE for a guideline.
As to the suggestion about linking or not linking the first appearance -- I'm afraid I do not follow what the suggestion is or what policy it is referring to. Could you rephrase it more clearly for my poor tired brain? Many thanks!ch (talk) 05:23, 19 March 2016 (UTC)
Yeah, I don't quite follow what that's referring to, either, MackyBeth. Could you clarify? Curly Turkey 🍁 ¡gobble! 05:33, 19 March 2016 (UTC)
Our mid understanding seems to be a conflation of three different issues. First, as I wrote above,my addition of notes to many separate clauses was not done because I myself or anyone else found that necessary, but because I simply misunderstood the meaning of the attribution-needed tag. In other words, these notes will have to be removed again. We agree on this point. Second, it is indeed not necessary to introduce so many scholars in the text and many of those sentences may be rewritten so that the names disappeared and just the information remains. My assertion that a reference needs to be supplied with, well, not every sentence but the majority of them is not a matter of my own taste but just what I conclude from looking at FA-rated articles on other writers, please take a look at Edgar Allan Poe and Ernest Hemingway and count how few sentences there have no reference. Third, I noticed that material from Parker was added and that the citation did not just consist of a page number but also of a link to the online text. I didn't understand why, because that link is already supplied with Parker's entries in the list of References. So I figured, if it really seems necessary to link in a note as well, then it is logical to do so at the first reference to that book. But I don't think it is necessary at all. Hope this clarifies things. MackyBeth


This article is awfully long: 60kb of readable prose. Per WP:TOOBIG that puts it at the point where splitting of sections into subarticles whould be considered, but I don't think that's the answer—a lot of the detail really doesn't belong in the main Melville article, but rather to the articles on his individual works. I'm talking about lines like these:

  • For his first book, Typee, he borrowed so heavily from other books that it cannot be called a fictionalized account of his life among Polynesian natives without qualification
  • In 2009 it was revealed that not only events in the valley but even the several days' walk to the valley as told in Typee is derived from another's book. Therefore, scholar Mary K. Bercaw Edwards finds it possible that Melville never entered the valley: "Instead, he may have lived, as many deserters did, with the tribes along the beach."

That's awful minute detail, and at this scope is just distracting. I suspect the length of the article could be drastically reduced by moving these kinds of details to the appropriate articles. Curly Turkey 🍁 ¡gobble! 06:31, 19 March 2016 (UTC)

You are of course right here and feel free to edit those details out again. I should have brought this up here at Talk instead of putting it in the article, on second thoughts. The thing is that even recent Melville biographies accept that Melville lived in that valley, for which no evidence exist. So for this article, I feel that we would do wise to keep our discussion of these weeks from his life as brief and general as possible, since there is not much fact to report anyway. As for the general length of the article, over the last few days I have been looking at some FA-rated articles for other literary figures such as Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe and Ernest Hemingway just to develop a good sense of what kind of conciseness we should be aiming at. And that's a lot more concise than I thought, because in the biographical sections of the articles really not much more is said about the literary works than the year of publication. So it seems to me to be a sensible approach that all editors of this page look at those FA-rated articles just mentioned or others, and that we review the article with those model articles in mind as a criterion, and decide what elements need to be cut down in size. I do of course not mean to have it inferred that we imitate the other articles length-wise, but apply the criteria Melville's case. Poe died at 40, Melville at 72, so the biographical section would be longer for Melville than the section for Poe. Likewise, Hemingway's writing style is known as simple or sparse, Melville's as complex, so a optimally concise writing style section for Melville would be lengthier than the one for Hemingway is, because an accurate description of complex style reasonably takes more space than for a simple, vernacular style. MackyBeth
Well, the length of a person's life isn't going to determine the length of their biography—(a) Felipe Alfau lived until he was 97, but his bio is unlikely to reach the length of Poe's, because his life was rather uneventful from the perspective of a Wikipedia article. (b) Some people's lives are eventful enough that subsections of their biography can be spun off into articles of their own, thus reducing the length of the bio in the main article. We should be concerned with length insofar as a particularly long article may be tiresome to read or difficult to navigate (or may be a symptom of excessive verbiage and trivial detail), but otherwise the length should be determined by the amount of detail deemed appropriate: how much in the article is giving proper context to the reader, and how much is trivia? digressional? For example, look at the three paragraphs on Melville's befriending of Hawthorne. That could perhaps be handled adequately in a few sentences.
I imagine a style section on Melville would be longer than one on Hemingway, but if gets too long (which it easily could) it could be spun off into a subarticle (where lots of detail would be appropriate) and leave a brief overview in the main article. Not saying that should happen, but it is an option to keep in mind. That goes for events in people's biographies as well—check out, for instance, Canadian drug charges and trial of Jimi Hendrix, which is an FA and 20kb of readable prose all by itself. If there's a lot of literature out there on Melville's travels or his friendship with Hawthorne, perhaps they warrant their own articles, which could relieve and focus the main article. Curly Turkey 🍁 ¡gobble! 14:06, 19 March 2016 (UTC)
As far as my own contribution to the biographical section goes, I developed the early years part by reading Parker and Delbanco's books up to 1841, just starting at page 1 and read through it. That has yet to be done for the rest, and though I added some material there as well, I planned to pay special attention at how much space other biographical articles reserve for discussing the books as soon as my reading of the bios would arrive at Melville's writing years. Since it's common procedure to say virtually nothing about the books--nothing on composition, content or reviews--I consider the section on Hawthorne and Moby-Dick as something that will have to be reorganized from scratch, basically. I would be very interested in writing the article on the Hawthorne - Melville friendship, so that this can be covered from both a Melvillean and a Hawthornian perspective. An abundance of publications for this exists well worth bringing together. Melville is the model for a character in one of Hawthorne's novels and scholars agree Hawthorne is the model for the Vine character in Clarel and this information is also worth bringing together in one article, methinks. MackyBeth
But to address your main point some more, the article is obviously too lengthy, especially if you take into account that the actual biography is far from finished. Moving the information on the literary works to the articles about them seems the logical thing to do. MackyBeth

Very little information on the literary works should be included here, actually[edit]

After I wrote here that I agreed that Typee is so essential to Melville's reputation that it should be described more fully, I noticed by looking at some FA rated articles that it is actually not usual at all to say anything about a writer's work in the biographical part of the article. So I corrected my earlier mistake here on the Talk page. Material on the novels now present in this article, may be moved to the articles for those novels, including what has just been added on Typee. But before doing that, you might want to look at those articles for Mary Shelley, Poe and Hemingway to get a sense of what information about the novels should be left here. MackyBeth

In the spirit of the whalers reducing whale oil by "trying out," I have "tried" some passages. For instance, MackyBeth found an important article by Mary K. Bercaw, which I read with much thanks. Bercaw summarizes the current thinking on the relation of what HM wrote to what actually happened. Great reasoning. This reference should stay, but I hope that I caught the essence of what most readers will need without going into great detail.
But more than with the authors MackyBeth usefully mentions above, the arc of HM's life depended on what he wrote and how much it succeeded. His life after 1846 or so was pretty dull. So we need to prune but keep enough to show what he was attempting. This does not involve plot summary as much as characterization of what his writing was trying to accomplish.
BTW, I finally realized after seeing it so many times that the characterization of Typee in the lede should be changed from "sea adventure." ch (talk) 20:15, 19 March 2016 (UTC)
When I read Bercaw's essay I realized that even on the most widely accepted facts major revisions are still possible. CH is not the only one to have overlooked for quite some time that Typee indeed is no sea adventure. I made some additional revisions, improving the accurateness of the Typee description. My impression is that most of the times when CH and I would phrase things differently, it boils down to a difference in our respective backgrounds: in literary studies you are taught to be careful not to identify narrators with their authors. I bring this up because I feel we are currently experiencing constructive collaboration, and if we have a clear understanding of this underlying context, that may help us to avoid feeling irritated with each other as we did in the past. Cheers MackyBeth

What should the lead say about the books?[edit]

The lede is quiet lengthy and now that information has been added about the reception of the works it seems a good idea to ask ourselves what the lede should say. Stating the year of publication, a very brief indication of what kind of book it is and if it was based on his own experiences should be enough, I feel. The reception or (lack of) succes should,I believe, only be mentioned at career turning points, of which there are two: the immediate enormous succes of Typee and the slide into obscurity starting with Pierre. Point 2, I just read in the lead that Mardi was not well received, "nor" was Redburn. Please tell me what source was used to describe the unfavorable reception of Redburn with. Branch 1974, (Melville: The Critical Heritage) says, after a few quotations, "Despite these various reservations, the reviewers in general welcomed Redburn as a return by Melville to his best area--the simple, straightforward tale of nautical adventure--perhaps not as interesting or novel as Typee and Omoo but certainly an improvement over Mardi" (21). Also, see the Reception at Redburn. MackyBeth (talk) 09:58, 23 March 2016 (UTC)

Again, good points, well put. I've made emendations accordingly. The lede is now ever so slightly shorter than before -- 640 words compared to 659 at here. I agree that it may still be too long and will try to try-out a little more and to make the book characterizations (which I still think are essential) even more pointed, pithy, and perhaps (talk) 19:55, 20 March 2016 (UTC)
I agree that some characterization of the books are essential, because it makes no sense to only state the publishing year, which would add nothing to a mere listing. It may also be worth to look at the Lede from a smartphone--user point of view. Accessing this article with such device, the lede, with the concise characterizations of the reception, really looks like a handy thumbnail biography. MackyBeth (talk) 09:58, 23 March 2016 (UTC)

Acushnet Crew List image copyright status[edit]

A Google search for "Acushnet Crew List" turns up quality scans of the item, published on various websites but not on Wikimedia Commons. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable about copyright issues knows if we can use this item as an illustration in the article. It would be a meaningful illustration and offer something different than just pictures of Melville (family members). To cover this item in the article in any case, I made footnote c which has a link to the crewlist. I am also curious to hear if fellow editors find this worth adding to the Moby-Dick page as well. CheersMackyBeth (talk) 14:34, 26 May 2016 (UTC)