Strike Through the Mask: Herman Melville and the Scene of Writing

Overview

Herman Melville was an intense and tortured writer, plagued by writing anxiety, emotional problems, and painful physical ailments. He produced his extraordinary body of work only with great anguish, and he appears to have inflicted great anguish on those around him. According to Elizabeth Renker, we learn much about Melville's fiction if we see how violent and frustrating the experience of writing was for him.

In Strike through the Mask Renker argues that Melville's frustrated ...

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Baltimore 1996 Hardbound 1st Edition New in New DJ; WE SHIP SAME-DAY Scarce first edition in hardcover of "haunting and endurable" themes in Moby Dick, Billy Budd, etc.

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Overview

Herman Melville was an intense and tortured writer, plagued by writing anxiety, emotional problems, and painful physical ailments. He produced his extraordinary body of work only with great anguish, and he appears to have inflicted great anguish on those around him. According to Elizabeth Renker, we learn much about Melville's fiction if we see how violent and frustrating the experience of writing was for him.

In Strike through the Mask Renker argues that Melville's frustrated engagement with the page--characterized by illegible handwriting, chronically bad spelling, and violent manipulations of text--is the most important source of his work's drama and power. She examines the impact on his writing of his struggles with writer's block and depression. And she explores Melville's complex relationship with women, particularly his wife and sisters, on whom he depended to copy and correct his manuscripts.

Renker sees Melville's experience of writing reflected in his haunting and enduring theme of disturbing, impenetrable faces. Ahab's famous desire to "strike through the mask" of the dead, blind "pasteboard" wall echoes Melville's own relentless striking through and rewriting in his private battle with the blank page.

"There is... the uncomfortable suggestion that Melville physically and emotionally abused his wife. One letter reveals that Elizabeth Melville's minister proposed a feigned kidnap to spirit her away from husband and home... Those interested must turn to Elizabeth Renker's... Strike Through the Mask." -- Times Literary Supplement

"Herman relied on [his wife] and his sisters to copy out his illegible manuscripts; those very manuscripts, with hisviolent revisions, displayed his hostility toward them. And this new view of the relationship, [Renker] said, must change the way we view his work." -- Philip Weiss, New York Times Magazine

"A fascinating new perspective on Melville's career. From a meticulous scrutiny of the material and visual features of Melville's manuscripts, Renker develops the connections between Melville's works and his strenuous work of composing them." -- Gillian Brown, University of Utah

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Editorial Reviews

Booknews
Renker (English, Ohio State U.) argues that Melville's difficulties with writing, including his illegible handwriting, poor spelling, and violent manipulations of text, are the source of his work's power. She examines the impact of his struggles with writer's block and depression on his writing, and explores his relationships with women, revealing that he physically and emotionally abused his wife. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780801852305
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/1970
  • Pages: 216
  • Product dimensions: 6.30 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

Elizabeth Renker teaches in the Department of English at the Ohio State University.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Notes on Texts and Manuscripts
Introduction
List of Abbreviations
Ch. 1 Melville's Spell in Typee 1
Ch. 2 Fear of Faces: From Moby-Dick to Pierre 24
Ch. 3 Wife Beating and the Written Page 49
Ch. 4 "Those mere phantoms which flit along a page" in The Confidence-Man 69
Ch. 5 Battle "Pieces" 101
P.S.: Marks in "John Marr" 123
Notes 127
Works Cited 165
Index 177
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