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Hawthorne and Melville:Literary Links - Introductory Page

Literary Links between Hawthorne and Melville: Introduction

Material prepared by:
John W. Stuart, Ph.D., Department of English
Manchester-Essex Regional High School, Manchester, MA

Photograph of Herman Melville, 1861
Photograph of Herman Melville, 1861 (courtesy of Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA)

Melville's "Hawthorne and His Mosses" and Moby Dick

Hawthorne is widely credited with having contributed to Melville's inspiration for transforming the early drafts of the sea adventure The Whale into the massive, eloquent, insightful masterpiece of a novel that is Moby-Dick. The novel's dedication to Hawthorne is one indication of the senior author's role as mentor. Certainly Melville's accolades for his colleague in the review "Hawthorne and His Mosses" leave no doubt about his admiration for Hawthorne's literary talents and his fascination with the New Englander's enigma. The parallels which Melville's review cites between Hawthorne and Shakespeare, and implicitly between himself and Shakespeare, also testify to the genius of the observed writer as well as the observing one. With all these points well-established, a case can further be made that within Moby-Dick at least one oblique reference serves to reiterate them. It is in Captain Ahab's Shakespearean-like "soliloquy" to the whale's head that the conjoined terms "venerable," "mosses," "secret," and "deepest" suggest a second purpose in the speech as another tribute from Melville to Hawthorne.

Melville, Hawthorne, and The Blithedale Romance

Melville's influence upon Hawthorne did not manifest itself in a book dedication or review, but internal evidence in The Blithedale Romance agrees with other sources that the older author, Hawthorne, also valued the younger one highly. Appearing in 1852, one year after Moby-Dick, The Blithedale Romance follows Melville's powerful example of Ishamel's first person narration with that of another young male character who also embarks upon an adventure-- Hawthorne's Miles Coverdale. Just as Ishmael's experience on a whaler reflects Melville's, Coverdale's Blithedale (meaning Happy Valley) similarly recalls Hawthorne's time at Brook Farm. In fact, some of Coverdale's narration comes almost verbatim from Hawthorne's Brook Farm journal. As Coverdale serves to some extent as a "cover" for his creator, the other major male character in Blithedale, Hollingsworth, shares a number of remarkable similarities with Herman Melville; and the relationship between the two characters provides a rich source of speculation about the nature of the relationship between Hawthorne and Melville.

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