Literature and Moral Reform: Melville and the Discipline of Reading

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"Persuasive, instructive, and revisionary. Serves as complementary, complicating, or corrective to much of the scholarship on Melville, especially to very recent scholarship. . . . I will never teach or discuss Melville's texts in exactly the same ways again."--Jamie Barlowe, University of Toledo

By delineating the connections between nineteenth-century penitentiary reforms and the narrative structures and strategies of Herman Melville's fictions, this book explores the ways literature reflects and refracts ideas...

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Overview

"Persuasive, instructive, and revisionary. Serves as complementary, complicating, or corrective to much of the scholarship on Melville, especially to very recent scholarship. . . . I will never teach or discuss Melville's texts in exactly the same ways again."--Jamie Barlowe, University of Toledo

By delineating the connections between nineteenth-century penitentiary reforms and the narrative structures and strategies of Herman Melville's fictions, this book explores the ways literature reflects and refracts ideas about the influence of reading on moral rehabilitation. The author shows that Melville, who engaged often and profoundly with reform issues, reacted against the reading-as-discipline approach recommended by penal reformers.

Carol Colatrella's approach is highly original not only in its historicizing of Melville's treatment of penitentiaries, reform, and rehabilitation of moral character but in its consideration of reading in relation to reform. Her book is the first to explore the ideological, literary, and rhetorical relationships of fictional narrative, authors, law, and social institutions to disciplinary literacy and to theories of readership.
 
No other study so richly connects thematic and cultural analyses to evaluate how Melville's narrative strategies challenge 19th-century ideas of social injustice, particularly stereotypes of class, ethnicity, and deviance. Colatrella has done so with exceptional erudition, and in detail. For example, noting Melville's deep interest in reforming patriarchal systems, she shows how reform-movement women's writings function as intertexts to Melville's personal writings and literary works. Colatrella situates each of Melville's fictions in relationship to sociopolitical forces, demonstrating how they reconfigure narrative themes and strategies related to 19th-century ideas about moral rehabilitation and reading. The result is a book that encourages its readers to think differently, not just about Melville, but also about the complex relationship among authors, readers, and cultural contexts/sociopolitical forces.

Carol Colatrella is associate professor of literature studies and codirector of the Center for the Study of Women, Science, and Technology at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813025681
  • Publisher: University Press of Florida
  • Publication date: 12/28/2002
  • Edition description: First
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.36 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 1.08 (d)

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