“Let us keep each other’s secrets.”

Reading all of a writer’s work is super awesome and rewarding not just for the insight into a writer’s “project” or even the excellent reading experience itself, but also for the “Easter eggs,” I’ll call them—the unexpected shiny objects that glint back at you only if you’ve been exploring. Melville recycles so much he’s really wonderful for this, and there are not only many familiar motifs but also reappearing details throughout his work, including in Clarel.

But here my favorite source of such a glint was an allusion to another writer’s work—something else Melville does in abundance, of course. And it was an allusion to something I wrote about on this very blog, something that made me reconsider Hawthorne all on its own, even before I knew he was so respected by Melville:

For Vine, from that unchristened earth
Bits he picked up of porous stone,
And crushed in fist: or one by one,
Through the dull void of desert air,
He tossed them into valley down;
Or pelted his own shadow there (3.5)

In “Foot-Prints on the Sea-Shore,” by Hawthorne, the model for Vine:

There lies my shadow in the departing sunshine with its head upon the sea. I will pelt it with pebbles. A hit! A hit!

And this story of Hawthorne seems strangely relevant, if not to the most central themes of Clarel than to many of the ideas in its orbit. Hawthorne’s narrator and his “we” “have been, what few can be, sufficient to our own pastime—yes, say the word outright!—self-sufficient to our own happiness.” As is Vine—and so few others—in Clarel.


And thus ends my portion of the Unstructured Clarel readalong! I feel like I should thank those still reading for bearing with it, if anything, but I do hope it was a positive experience. It was for me. Now, for the Big Question: will she read it again? While reading it, I would have said no. In fact, I did say several times, aloud, things to the effect of, “Man, I’m not re-reading this one.” But now I would have to say, someday—probably.

Title of this post taken from “Foot-Prints on the Sea-Shore.”

12 comments to “Let us keep each other’s secrets.”

  • A great, novelistic detail, action –> character, revealing Vine’s source of pleasure and his impatience with the talk talk talk of the other characters. And it links to so many other things – like the geologist’s rock collection.

    Thanks again for hosting this. A great pleasure to read along.

  • Yup, totally.

    Yay, readalong success! Here’s to making the next one 50% bigger and at least 50% more awesome!

  • Yes, it does feel like discovering a hidden treasure when you find recurring themes and even scenes in a writer’s set of works. Another author who does this is Haruki Murakami. In his introduction to Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, he explains how some of his short stories eventually turn into his more popular novels, or how he sometimes uses a small scene in a story in another piece of work. If you’ve read his novel Norwegian Wood and his short story Blind Willow Sleeping Woman, you’ll notice the similarities in theme :)

  • Hershel Parker

    Nicole, all hail! It looks to me as if you found something very important that Bezanson missed and that none of the rest of us saw. Bezanson pointed out the passage in American Note-Books about an idle man’s sitting on a cliff throwing stones at his own shadow, far below, but he did not point out the passage in “Foot-prints on the Sea-Shore,” which is much closer to HM’s passage in CLAREL.
    CONGRATULATIONS!

    Nicole, I have a new chapter on Melville and Hawthorne in the nearly complete MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE. In it I deal with the slow stages of learning about CLAREL. I want to cite you in the neatest most professional way, the URL, the blog title, exactly.

    I am not surprised at all that an Internet blogger would come up with something the professionals missed. It will happen more and more often, and everyone will be grateful, I trust.

    Knowing what you know now, do read my CLAREL chapters in the biography and let me know if you see anything else you can help with.
    Hershel

  • Wow, this is amazing! I’ve emailed you privately with some citation information. Certainly the most thrilling thing to happen here at bibliographing.

  • Hershel Parker

    Thank you, Nicole. Last night I drafted a new paragraph for my chapter on WHY MELVILLE TOOK HAWTHORNE ALONG ON THE PILGRIMAGE.

    The academic failure to think! Bezanson did not think to check the timing of the availability of that passage of the American note-books (whether in a pre-publication form in the Atlantic or not available till the book came out in 1868)and it never occurred to me that its availability had anything to do with the dating of work on CLAREL. Of course the fact that the description of Vine’s pelting his shadow comes in the third book seems to make knowing about the availability less important. Nevertheless, we all goofed, as we so often do, blinded by the obvious relevance of the words in the note-books. Now simply by reading more of Hawthorne’s minor pieces Nicole discovers that “Foot-prints” is very likely the true source and that the note-books may or may not have been a supplementary source. And of course Melville had owned “Foot-prints” in his 1842 Munroe TWICE-TOLD TALES which Hawthorne gave him in 1851. So the publication of PASSAGES FROM THE AMERICAN NOTE-BOOKS has no significance at all in dating Melville’s work on CLAREL.

    Academics do the dumbest things. It occurred to only one of us, I think, that Melville might have given NH the copy of MOBY-DICK which he wrote to him about on 17? November 1851. It occurred to a man in the real world, Bill Reese, the New Haven book dealer! What do you do when you dedicate a book to a friend who is about to leave the area? When you get copies you rush off to give him a copy before he goes! And we never knew until we had the account of the meeting at what became the Curtis Hotel, in Lenox. Long live responsible bloggers! May they continue to live in the real world.

  • Since Melville is the patron saint of those of us who write too-long things, Mr. Parker’s biography is on my bookshelf, and after all Melville’s heartbreaking sufferings, I’m glad at least that fate gave him such a respectful biographer.And such a careful reader in Nicole.

  • This is fantastic stuff. Congratulations Nicole.

  • Hershel Parker

    Nicole, copies of MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE have reached the Northwestern University Press office in Evanston. I hope to see a copy soon. Meanwhile, see the 3 blurbs on Amazon. The dust jacket you have seen. I hear that the cloth is black with copper. The designer Marianne Jankowski is a genius, I think.

    What fun it will be to see some of our Internet exchanges in the book!

  • Thanks for the update! How tantalizing–just up the street from me! Can’t wait to see it in January. Thanks again and hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!
    nicole recently posted..Kiwi Bigtree, immigrantMy Profile

  • Hershel Parker

    Nicole, I am focusing belatedly on your saying “just up the street.” If you have time to write a review of MELVILLE BIOGRAPHY: AN INSIDE NARRATIVE on your blog I would think Northwestern University Press would be happy to give you a review copy soon, long before the January date Amazon is using. In the book I talk a lot about the future of book reviewing being in litblogs more than Sunday Book Reviews. You represent one great side of Internet blogging, the careful amateur. I’m convinced that more and more of the important work on American writers will be done on blogs by people who are not academics. Think about it. If you are interested I will email you an introduction to a couple of people at the press and suggest you as reviewer.

  • Hershel Parker

    Nicole, your name is spelled right, and mine too. The book is gorgeous inside and out, I think, altogether the handsomest book I have ever published. And I love getting to celebrate your achievement in your blog! I’m 77 this week, and finding your blog and celebrating it makes me seem right on the cusp of the future. Old but not a fogy! Seriously, I wanted to celebrate the best of litblogs (I really admire Daniel Green, for one) and was already doing so in another chapter when I came upon your discovery. You make my case for what I call in the book “divine amateurs.” Bloggers like you more and more will do the work that academics are failing to do, and do it joyously. As I said many months ago, All Hail, Nicole!

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