White Lies: Melville's Narratives of Facts

White Lies: Melville's Narratives of Facts

by John Samson
     
 

The narrative of facts—probably best exemplified in the literature of exploration—was an immensely popular genre in mid-nineteenth-century America. In White Lies, John Samson offers full contextual readings of Melville's five major narratives of facts—Typee, Omoo, Redburn, White-Jacket, and Israel Potter. Samson demonstrates that

Overview

The narrative of facts—probably best exemplified in the literature of exploration—was an immensely popular genre in mid-nineteenth-century America. In White Lies, John Samson offers full contextual readings of Melville's five major narratives of facts—Typee, Omoo, Redburn, White-Jacket, and Israel Potter. Samson demonstrates that in these novels Melville critically rewrote the sources on which he drew, in effect making the genre itself a subject of his writing.

In his introduction, Samson discusses Melville's knowledge of the genre and its ideology. He then reads each novel in terms of Melville's confrontation with its sources. In each, Samson says, an unreliable narrator represents particular ideological tendencies in Melville's sources. Melville heightens and extends these tendencies, exposes the contradictions and biases within them, and ends by showing the narrator evading or denying experiences that conflict with his ideology. According to Samson, Melville sees the concept of historical progress as the basis of these biases and evasions.

In these five novels, Melville reveals the conflict between democratic, humanitarian, and individualistic principles, on the one hand, and the forces of racial superiority, religious bigotry, economic determinism, and political conservatism, on the other. Taken together, Samson asserts, these novels deconstruct the intellectual foundations of the form of historical narration endorsed by white patriarchal culture.

Scholars and students of nineteenth-century American literature, specialists in the novel, and other readers of Melville will welcome Samson's provocative reinterpretation of these key works in American culture.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"This is an illuminating examination of a group of novels that Melville tried to market as nonfiction narratives. John Samson shows these texts to be more of a piece with the thematically rich and complex, ideologically conflicted romances—Mardi, Moby-Dick, Pierre, The Confidence-Man—than even some of Melville's best informed readers have thought them to be. Samson has read widely and intelligently in Melville’s sources, he is an alert and informed intertextual critic, and he makes extensive and intelligent use of his knowledge of European and American history, often with eye-opening effect."—American Literature

"Samson's Melville is an attractive figure who stands no nonsense, despises and ridicules all forms of arrogance, and subverts the authority of enlightened scientist and Christian missionary alike. He is a deconstructive figure from a deconstructive pen, clearly drawn, elegantly presented. This is a useful and enjoyable book, which ones almost with relief that a book on Melville is not wholly overshadowed by the magniloquent presence of Moby-Dick."—Yearbook of English Studies

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780801477713
Publisher:
Cornell University Press
Publication date:
09/26/2011
Pages:
260
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.70(d)

Meet the Author

John Samson is Associate Professor of English at Texas Tech University.

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