Excerpt from Student Companion to Nathaniel Hawthorne
Excerpt from "Hawthorne and Melville," lecture delivered by Dr. David Kesterson, University of North Texas, at the Phillips Library, the Peabody Essex Museum on September 23, 2000 (courtesy of the author)
In this excerpt Dr. Kesterson discusses the links between Melville's Billy
Budd and Hawthorne's story "The Birth-mark."
"Hawthornian influence on Billy Budd has not received major
consideration by scholars, but Miller in his biography of Melville draws some
direct parallels between this novel and Hawthorne's story 'The Birthmark.' This
story is one of the tales in Mosses from an Old Manse that Melville not
only read just before he and Hawthorne met in 1850, but in which he also underlined
a telling passage. In this case, Miller interprets Hawthorne's handling of the
beauty versus destruction motif of 'The Birthmark' as being continued by Melville
in the handsome sailor versus malevolent Claggart dichotomy in Billy Budd.
Miller concludes that 'Melville recognized Hawthorne's identification with both
Georgiana and Aylmer [of 'The Birthmark']; similarly in his last tale he identified
with both Billy and [Captain]Vere' ( M, 367), who must punish Billy for his
deed of killing Claggart, despite Claggart's representation of evil."