Melville and European romanticism: studies on Melville's relations to major European romantic writers

Chai, Leon Christopher, Department of English, University of Virginia

In this dissertation I attempt to discuss Melville's relations to Wordsworth, Goethe, Coleridge, Shelley and Balzac. I begin with the Wordsworthian association of mind and Nature, and trace Melville's reaction against it, in Moby-Dick, Pierre, "The Encantadas," and The Confidence-Man. Melville's assimilation and use of various concepts from Goethe is then touched upon: the "All feeling," the daemonic character (as exemplified in Faust), and the notion of communion with the “noble spiritual company" of great masters.

Melville's relation to Coleridge is subsequently developed in terms of pantheism. I compare the astronomical imagery of Coleridgean pantheism in "Religious Musings" with the universe of Mardi and "The Grand Armada" in Moby-Dick. Next I consider the identity of subjective and objective propounded by Coleridge in the Biographia Literaria. This identity-theory, which Coleridge treats essentially as a phenomenon of consciousness and which appears elsewhere in his poetry, is then traced in the famous "Mast-head" passage of Moby-Dick, where Melville ultimately rejects it.

With Shelley I begin with a description of Shelley's concept of God in Prometheus Unbound as a human idea which tyrannizes over its own creator. Shelley's notion of a higher unknown God is then evoked, and the expression of the two concepts compared with Ahab's pronouncements in "The Candles." In Pierre I attempt to demonstrate the Shelleyan nature of Melville's treatment of immoral impulses, as suggestions which necessarily arise under certain circumstances. The Shelleyan concept of God as a form of energy is then compared to Melville's treatment of the "pantheistic master-spell." Finally, Melville's transformation of Shelleyan motifs in "Shelley's Vision" is explored in an interpretation.

Concerning Balzac, I focus upon two concepts from the Études philosophigues: the theory of the Will, developed especially in Louis Lambert and La Peau de chagrin, and the material-spiritual continuum expressed at length in Séraphîta. These concepts are then traced in Billy Budd, both in terms of parallel images and of more general resemblances between the religious and psychological views of Melville and Balzac.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Melville, Herman, 1819-1891, Influence, European literature, American influences, 19th century, History and criticism, Romanticism, Europe
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