Pierre: or, Bucolic Reading
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While the rest of the rowdies of this salon go about their usual rowdiness I suggest we begin our discussion of Pierre. I confess I have only read the first few pages. Despite the lovely image of Pierre's youthful courting, I fear all will not be well. The mother/son relationship strikes me as slightly Oedipal. Am I the only one who has noticed this? A_musing, presumably you have read further than I, so you may have a bit more to add to my comment. Geneg, what about you? In the meantime, a toast to the three of us as we embark on our journey with Pierre (not to be confused with Clarel). And in celebration, I offer the following picture for A_musing who requested this on a former thread disrupted by rowdies.
Well, here is my initial reaction on the beginnings of Pierre, copied over from the Clarel thread:
I am in the midst of a read of Pierre or the Ambiguities, which is phenemonal so far! He concludes a chapter that is a completely overboard send up of the British Gothic novel worthy of the cast of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert with a bit of arbor amour as Pierre gets deeply turned on by gazing at a pine tree, imagining "her" branches enfolding him, all with Melville's characteristic philosophical musings on just about everything interspersed.
Now, reading Twit Hershel Parker on Pierre (I've got that scholarly edition thing from NW/Newbury), it appears many don't feel there is a comic tone at the outset. Do others think this is over the top? Especially with the tree eroticism? I mean, he's SO clearly setting us up. Isn't he?
How many days are left until we begin reading Les Mis? Something like 5, or maybe 6, right?!
The mother relation (who of course is beautiful and attractive) while at times depicted as reverential, blends over to Pierre acting like a romantic lover---I think of the scene where he puts a ribbon around her neck and then kisses the ribbon.
And a_musing, I didnt see Pierre being turned on by the pine tree, but rather the pinetree (and hemlock) represents sadness.
And lastly, I find Melville's sentences in this novel to be even more convoluted than Proust's. There is one I will quote when I get back home.
Several of the sentences have been positively delightful, but others have been quite confusing. There have been a couple I've wanted to highlight, too. I'll try to grab some as well.
But I do get the sense that poor Pierre's world is only just beginning to come unraveled. Alas, he starts on top of the world, in a near state of bliss, with nowhere to go but down....
If it be the sacred province and—by the wisest, deemed— the inestimable compensation of the heavier woes, that they both purge the soul of gay-hearted errors and replenish it with a saddened truth; that holy office is not so much accomplished by any covertly inductive reasoning process, whose original motive is received from the particular affliction; as it is the magical effect of the admission into man's inmost spirit of a before unexperienced and wholly inexplicable element, which like electricity suddenly received into any sultry atmosphere of the dark, in all directions splits itself into nimble lances of purifying light; which at one and the same instant discharge all the air of sluggishness and inform it with an illuminating property ; so that objects which before, in the uncertainty of the dark, assumed shadowy and romantic outlines, now are lighted up in their substantial realities; so that in these flashing revelations of grief's wonderful fire, we see all things as they are; and though, when the electric element is gone, the shadows once more descend, and the false outlines of objects again return ; yet not with their former power to deceive; for now, even in the presence of the falsest aspects, we still retain the impressions of their immovable true ones, though, indeed, once more concealed. --- Misgivings and Preparations, Book V
That the starry vault shall surcharge the heart with all rapturous marvelings, is only because we ourselves are greater miracles, and superber trophies than all the stars in universal space --- Presentiment and Verification, Book III
And BTW, I love the artwork at the top of this thread. Very nice.
Back to pine trees and hemlocks. Trees seem to set many stages here. Isabel has three trees (identified as lindens at one point, just described as such elsewhere) whereever she goes - the house she stays in, childhood homes, we shall see where else. Now, usually we know what is referenced by a trinity, but I think the trois here may not be a holy one. Pines and hemlocks are regularly entwined, and looking back at the under the pine reverie, sadness does get rather heavily discussed but I also think eros is present in the scene, and that the two trees convey broader tensions and conflicts. Damn Melville. Keeps making me want to reread to sort such things out. But expect me to pay attention to trees throughout this book. Let me know if you have thoughts on trees. I'm very interested in Melville's flora.
Reading in the back of the book, it seems some have found lots of Dante references all through the first half of the book. Anyone feel like we're taking a journey through the circles?
The whole "American Aristocracy" angle is kind of interesting in itself.
by Johann Carmiencke, though this view was painted or etched by many.
Here's the view from Melville's home, Arrowhead, toward Mount Greylock, for those looking for images of inspiration for Herman:
And I dont know if you need to cheat by reading the back of the book about Dante---Pierre meditates on the Inferno and Hamlet in More Light and More Gloom, Book IX.
Isabel's first interview is quite opaque. For instance, Melville could have Isabel simply say, "I learned to speak both English and French"; but instead he has Isabel talk around it.
BTW, Pierre Glenndinning is neurotic mess.
Why would Melville ever have Isabel say, I learned to speak both English and French? I'm assuming that second language was French, but he does like to leave a bit of ambiguity there, and at least where I am he hasn't come out yet to say it. I have the notion of a very puzzled child for whom even the language she speaks doesn't really matter yet, and am looking forward to see what he does with this.
Is there anyone in this book who is not a neurotic mess? I haven't seen enough yet of Lucy to be sure, but I don't think we have a stable, level headed character in the bunch thus far.
Btw, I am always a little skeptical when someone talks about truth with a capital T.
Im halfway through and my take is if you dont appreciate the purple there isnt much to like in this one.
Human desires win! All of Pierres's agonizing idealistic talk about having a sister and he boffs Isabel anyway.
You rebels disapoint me.
Excellent, thoughtful review, and I'll be interested in whether you disagree with those thoughts.
I'm about where semckibbin is, but am about to head on a trip for a couple days and should have some good reading time.
Yeah, going over the review again, I do take your point. My reviews tend to come out in a rush, as do my papers, and in both cases it's sometimes to their detriment, as I get carried away with an idea or an enthusiasm and it distorts the argument. I agree that Melville sees a core nobility in Pierre--not underneath or despite his, um, vapid youthful depth, but alongside and interpenetrating it. The villain of the piece is really religion and conventional mores, and you feel like Melville is laughing mockingly, affectionately, to keep his heart from breaking a little. I'm not familiar with either of the works you mention (although I'd like to be, of course), but I do feel like Melville would pull it off better if what somebody upthread referred to as "the purple" were less overpowering. I meant to acknowledge the tragic element with my "serious, sad story" and "polemic" and "cruel and hypocritical", but I think you're right, the balance was off and there was more emphasis that intended placed on the satire--in the book and in my review.
None of you need fear any further retribution.
Christ is a chronometer.
Perhaps she's plotting seasonal malfeasance w/the Grinch-like company of tomcat and DavidX in that atrociously uncharming private group I recently ran across, "The Anti-Christmas Society". O, I am aghast!
However, I have to say that among the triumvirate I think Pierre holds up quite well. I enjoy Les Mis, but not as much as Pierre, which I find uncommonly humorous and rich throughout, with quite a bit more going on than in Hugo's work. Yes, Pierre is a bit odd and unlike anything else I can think of, save, perhaps, in some odd ways, Mason & Dixon, though I think Pynchon made more of an attempt to be genuinely anachronistic rather than comically anachronistic in his language. Clarel I am coming to view as a highly ambitious, near-brilliant but tragically flawed work, and while it is deeply interesting, it is not downright fun at the same time the way Pierre is.
I never answered what "BFA" is - it stands for: books fall apart.
I do wonder how much a little comic effusion a la Pierre could have papered over a few of the cracks in Clarel, which tackles similar themes in ways but is so portentous about Rolfe and Vine as noble lions and others as tragic broken figures, and Clarel as wide-eyed innocent. A bit of self-consciousness might have done wonders, much as I found it cloying in Pierre. Apparently there's no pleasing some people.