The Civil War World of Herman Melville
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Contrary to popular belief, Stanton Garner contends, Herman Melville was not intellectually and emotionally detached from the war. In actuality, Melville brooded over the war's enormous brutality and destructive power. At the same time, his passion for writing, which had suffered greatly in the wake of his grand failures of the 1850s, revived. With renewed purpose, Melville saw an opportunity to establish himself as the prophet—poet of a rededicated America. The vehicle for this ambitious, and ultimately unfulfilled, enterprise was to be Battle-Pieces, an epically conceived book of poems that chronicles the war from John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry through Lincoln's assassination.
“A remarkable book.”
“Garner offers an engaging and informative account. He describes the war as seen through a specific family network, at whose center is the silent Melville, who is prompted to meditate toward war's end on its meaning in the poetry of Battle Pieces.”
—Journal of American HistorySee all reviews...
“Garner’s book enriches our knowledge of Melville's life in ways for which we must be enormously grateful.”
“Garner’s book is an exemplary exercise in literary history.”
—American Historical Review
“A splendid achievement and a gift to Melville scholarship.”
—Melville Society Extracts
“Garner succeeds not only in casting a new light on Melville himself but also in presenting a fuller account than previously available of important relatives.”
“Garner’s volume deserves a wide audience. Its portrayal of Melville at this juncture of his life is definitive, and in a larger sense it helps to trace the evolution of the anti-flogging reformer of White Jacket into the legal realist of Billy Budd.”
“An extraordinarily significant contribution to our understanding of the later Melville. It is sure to have a major influence on the interpretation and criticism of Battle-Pieces and the understanding of Melville’s outlook at a major turning point in his own life as well as a time of crisis for his country. Garner has done full justice to Melville’s complex vision and essential humanitarianism. In more than fifty years of engagement with Melville’s life and work I have seen few scholarly books that illuminate a whole segment of his career as well as this book does.”
—Merton M. Sealts, Jr., author of Melville’s Reading
“This is the most important study of a period of Melville’s life since Leon Howard’s biography in 1951 and Eleanor Melville Metcalf’s book in 1953. It contains a tremendous amount of previously unpublished information, mustered so that the reader can grasp it swiftly. Garner is both brilliant and daring in his decision to treat the poems in the chronology of the events with which they deal. A genuinely heroic achievement.”
—Hershel Parker, Associate General Editor of The Writings of Herman Melville
“Garner’s scholarship is daunting, his judgments (literary, historical, and political) seem to me always and uniformly right and convincing, his prose is lucid, and his narrative compelling. I now feel obliged to rethink my own previous attitudes toward Battle-Pieces. In every instance, my appreciation and admiration for both individual poems and Melville’s whole poetic project deepened.”
—Tom Quirk, author of Melville’s Confidence-Man: From Knave to Knight
“In his gracefully written study of America’s most enigmatic literary genius, Stanton Garner shows how Melville truly blended art and life in Battle-Pieces. We are indebted to Garner not only for a new understanding of the poems, but also for a new way of looking at the Civil War.”
—James M. McPherson, author of Battle Cry of Freedom
“This book reveals much about history at the local level, how people lived their lives during the war. Garner links Melville splendidly with the nation's most engrossing and absorbing conflict and applies his subtle artistic genius to enlarging the war's meaning.”
—Phillip S. Paludan, author of A People’s Contest: The Union and Civil War, 1861–1865See fewer reviews...
Drawing upon previously unknown or neglected archival sources, Garner places Melville's experience within the larger contexts of his extended family, social circles, political beliefs, travels, and reading. He establishes Melville's position in the rift among major Northern writers in which Emerson, Longfellow, Lowell, and Whittier were on one side and Melville, Hawthorne, and—to some extent—Whitman were on the other.
By delving into the complexities and apparent contradictions of Melville's personal life, Garner reveals why a man who was diametrically opposed to slavery refused to side with the abolitionists and maintained the anti-administration attitude predominant in his Democratic family while supporting the Union war effort.