Pierre: or, Bucolic Reading

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Pierre: or, Bucolic Reading

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Editado: Nov 16, 2009, 1:31pm

Dear A_musing and geneg,

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.

To Beauty,

Editado: Nov 16, 2009, 7:51pm

Thanks for setting up the thread. To the Revolution!

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.

New thoughts:

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?

Nov 25, 2009, 1:37pm

Hey um, are you guys still reading this? I will join in if so!

Nov 25, 2009, 1:44pm

I would love to read Pierre, and will someday. For now I am immersed in early 19th Century France, in the village of Digne, and loving it. Don't tell EF. Wait, he reads this?

Nov 25, 2009, 1:56pm

You and your blessed wife must cease and desist immediately in your premature, surreptitious reading or I swear by Jove I'll get an injunction to stop you!

Editado: Nov 25, 2009, 2:00pm

Yup, I am reading and actually enjoying this one. But it's my bed-time reading, so I'm only doing a little bit each night before bed (I'm about 80 pages in). I may try to speed it up over the long weekend.

Nov 25, 2009, 2:05pm

Wisewoman! Help! Where are you?!

How many days are left until we begin reading Les Mis? Something like 5, or maybe 6, right?!

Nov 25, 2009, 2:13pm

5 and counting. *has begun to get dreamy-eyed*

Editado: Nov 25, 2009, 5:28pm

I'm 90 pages in. Melville spends many pages setting up Pierre's reaction to a face (beautiful, olive complection, bordered by a black velvet neckline), his reaction to two portraits of his father and a letter from Isabel which rocks his god-like conception of his father (and mother).

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.

Nov 25, 2009, 6:22pm

The point about convoluted sentences is right. There are an extraordinary number of dashes used in this book. Shades of stream of consciousness?

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....

Nov 25, 2009, 10:27pm

Here is the particular sentence I was thinking of

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

Nov 25, 2009, 10:31pm

Here's a sentence I like:

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

Nov 25, 2009, 10:33pm

I must catch up. Right now I am enjoying a brief respite immersed in Heian literature. I may stay there and not come back. Of course, we could also set up a clandestine group for reading The Tale of Genji. After I finish The Diary of Lady Murasaki, I intend to slum for a bit in the cesspools of bad lit.

Nov 25, 2009, 10:39pm

People simply dont use the semi-colon like that anymore.

Nov 27, 2009, 4:46pm

My book just arrived today. Most likely I will begin this evening after I read at least 100 pages of War and Peacccccccccccccccccce. I cannot believe that as much asssssssssssssssssssssssss I hate the Melville, this group hasssssssssssssssssssssssss gotten me to read two of his works at the sssssssssssssssssssssame time.
Congratulationssssssssssssssssssssssssssss Mother.
And BTW, I love the artwork at the top of this thread. Very nice.

Editado: Nov 29, 2009, 9:54pm

The Tale of Genji must wait. I have quite enjoyed the first part of the Story of Isabel. While some of the first hundred pages got a tad bit turgid and heavily wrought, the brilliance here makes it all start to pay off. I am thoroughly confused. There is a lot of stuff going on.

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?

Editado: Nov 30, 2009, 9:37am

BTW, in talking about the American "aristocracy", Melville at one point references the stream at Hyde Park. I thought I'd let you all see a 19th century view of the outlet of that stream, which now runs through the Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site (the outlet is actually hidden, but you see the general view). I'm not sure whose estate this would have been at the time, but it would have been someone's in that class, and one of the nice things about this painting is it shows it as it was in the earlier part of the 19th century. It's a property I know fairly well, and after the civil war that rutted road and those fields would have become very highly manicured, with specimen trees imported from Europe and Asia and planted across the top of the ridge.

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:

Nov 30, 2009, 12:32am

(Shrug) Melville likes trees. I am more inclined to see the three trees in front of Ulver's cabin, and the three straight pines in France as symbolizing the Three Fates.

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.

Editado: Nov 30, 2009, 10:04am

I think he likes rocks as well, but I promise to stay away from them. Fates works. Looking forward to Book IX. I am almost there.

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.

Nov 30, 2009, 12:25pm

Melville's sarcasm is getting me down already.

Nov 30, 2009, 1:23pm

Huh. I take him as completely sincere. In a moment where Melville the author pokes his head into the narrative he says, "Save me from being bound to Truth, liege lord, as I am now." (Book V, Secton vii).

Btw, I am always a little skeptical when someone talks about truth with a capital T.

Nov 30, 2009, 7:21pm

>21 semckibbin: I don't know, I just note how every hyperbolic lyrical passage ends with something stupid about peach juice or bugles or sinking mine shafts into your lover's eyes (okay, that was from the start of a paragraph, but those are all on the same page) and I think there's no way that's not ponderous mockery.

Nov 30, 2009, 11:39pm

The purple is Melville at his best (or worst, it depends on the reader).
Im halfway through and my take is if you dont appreciate the purple there isnt much to like in this one.

Dez 1, 2009, 3:29am

Well, it has a couple moments. I think there is a good little story about human desires vs. human duty vs. human religion in here, in a Scarlet Letterish vein but with a bit of a gothic tinge. And I can get behind the purple--it just seems to lead to a lot of comic visuals here. I almost spit up my tea laughing at "frozen to a corpse" until I realized it was into a corpse, i.e. frozen to death.

Dez 3, 2009, 12:34am

**Spoiler alert**

Human desires win! All of Pierres's agonizing idealistic talk about having a sister and he boffs Isabel anyway.

Dez 3, 2009, 2:34am

It better be hot, or Melville is getting the crankiest LibraryThing review printed out and slipped under his cabin door. Speaking of which, all the nautical imagery really is shoehorned in, isn't it? Dude should have stuck to stirring stories of adventure.

Dez 7, 2009, 9:46pm

Didn't any of you rebels notice Martin's review of Pierre?

You rebels disapoint me.

Dez 7, 2009, 10:48pm

I saw it, but am refraining from reading it until I finish. The cat must have read 200-250 pages in a day. I'm still on page 200.

Dez 8, 2009, 1:50am

Yeah, I plowed through it. My internet cut out and I was unable to complete any of my important work, so Melville filled the gap. Thanks for the shout out, 'rique!

Dez 8, 2009, 9:13am

Thanks - I've been away from the place so I had not noticed it was up yet. BFA - thumbs up, I think you captured a bunch of what I am seeing here. Though there is one feature of the book I'm expecting to emphasize when I get to a review that I don't think you hit - while there is a sardonic element to much of his writing, I think he does maintain the fundamental nobility of his characters. Even though Pierre may be riduculous and neurotic, Melville's philosophizing takes him quite seriously and the purpleness of the prose dresses him up, and this seems to elevate Pierre from being a mere parody. I think of Laxness in Independent People or Walcott in Omeros as cases where authors pull this off. I'm still figuring out whether Melville pulls it off as well as Laxness or Walcott, and I expect the jury will remain out until I'm done.

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.

Dez 8, 2009, 12:07pm

Is that the Walcott of the famous W.S. Walcott Medicine Show?

Dez 8, 2009, 3:36pm

>30 A_musing: First, I have to ask you about the acronym BFA. My internets don't know what it means.

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.

Dez 8, 2009, 5:42pm

Based on all these excellent points listed above, I've decided in my eminent (or is it imminent?) wisdom to retroactively make Pierre an official salon read.

None of you need fear any further retribution.

Dez 12, 2009, 3:35am

Jeez, Freeque, if it's a club read I better pick up the pace.

Christ is a chronometer.

Dez 12, 2009, 10:49am

I'm just planning on finishing before starting Clarel. But where's Urania?

Dez 12, 2009, 6:22pm

Yeah, no kidding, A_musing. Where O where art thou, Urania #1?

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!

Dez 15, 2009, 12:40am

I have been been engaged in a vigorous course of spring cleaning. I fear I have read little. When spring cleaning utters its siren's call, I drop everything and start dancing about the house desocking and deshoeing it of smelly, antique socks and shoes - Beloved's not mine (I have no smelly, antique socks.). Many of Beloved's most prized (and horribly tacky possessions) have been deaccessioned and presented to Habitat as a gesture of good will. My Christmas present to Beloved. Perhaps since I am so good at picking out suitable Christmas present, I will find a suitable present for you oh beloved dictator (long may you live).

Dez 24, 2009, 9:59am

I have not finished before starting Clarel, and Les Mis, so I'm now quite weighted down with Tomes.

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.

Dez 24, 2009, 1:29pm

>38 A_musing: ha ha, nice. I am (of course) extra pleased that it turned out to be me.

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.

Editado: Dez 24, 2009, 1:37pm

You see, I didn't find it cloying in Pierre, though it is amazing to me that Melville threw off Moby Dick in a little over a year with so many different elements perfectly balanced, so much humor, so much weight, and then in 30 years can't quite get the balance right in Clarel. Though realize I do like Clarel, I just don't raise it to height of an absolute masterwork like Moby Dick.