Frederick Douglass and Herman Melville3.33 · Rating details · 3 Ratings · 1 Review
Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) and Herman Melville (1819-1891) addressed in their writings a range of issues that continue to resonate in American culture: the reach and limits of democracy; the nature of freedom; the roles of race, gender, and sexuality; and the place of the United States in the world. Yet they are rarely discussed together, perhaps because of their diffeFrederick Douglass (1818-1895) and Herman Melville (1819-1891) addressed in their writings a range of issues that continue to resonate in American culture: the reach and limits of democracy; the nature of freedom; the roles of race, gender, and sexuality; and the place of the United States in the world. Yet they are rarely discussed together, perhaps because of their differences in race and social position. Douglass escaped from slavery and tied his well-received nonfiction writing to political activism, becoming a figure of international prominence. Melville was the grandson of Revolutionary War heroes and addressed urgent issues through fiction and poetry, laboring in increasing obscurity.
In eighteen original essays, the contributors to this collection explore the convergences and divergences of these two extraordinary literary lives. Developing new perspectives on literature, biography, race, gender, and politics, this volume ultimately raises questions that help rewrite the color line in nineteenth-century studies.
Elizabeth Barnes, College of William and Mary
Hester Blum, The Pennsylvania State University
Russ Castronovo, University of Wisconsin-Madison
John Ernest, West Virginia University
William Gleason, Princeton University
Gregory Jay, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Carolyn L. Karcher, Washington, D.C.
Rodrigo Lazo, University of California, Irvine
Maurice S. Lee, Boston University
Robert S. Levine, University of Maryland, College Park
Steven Mailloux, University of California, Irvine
Dana D. Nelson, Vanderbilt University
Samuel Otter, University of California, Berkeley
John Stauffer, Harvard University
Sterling Stuckey, University of California, Riverside
Eric J. Sundquist, University of California, Los Angeles
Elisa Tamarkin, University of California, Irvine
Susan M. Ryan, University of Louisville
David Van Leer, University of California, Davis
Maurice Wallace, Duke University
Robert K. Wallace, Northern Kentucky University
Kenneth W. Warren, University of Chicago
The contributors are Elizabeth Barnes, Hester Blum, Russ Castronovo, John Ernest, William Gleason, Gregory Jay, Carolyn L. Karcher, Rodrigo Lazo, Maurice S. Lee, Robert S. Levine, Steven Mailloux, Dana D. Nelson, Samuel Otter, John Stauffer, Sterling Stuckey, Eric J. Sundquist, Elisa Tamarkin, Susan M. Ryan, David Van Leer, Maurice Wallace, Robert K. Wallace, and Kenneth W. Warren. The editors are Robert S. Levine and Samuel Otter.
Paperback, 475 pages
Published March 1st 2008 by University of North Carolina Press
R E V I E W ROBERT LEVINE AND SAMUEL OTTER, EDS. Frederick Douglass & Herman Melville: Essays in Relation Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2008. 475 pp. F rederick Douglass and Herman Melville? As Robert S. Levine and Samuel Otter recognize, many readers will find their title’s “and” counterintuitive. Douglass and Melville lived in the same historical moment and shared, along with millions of other Americans, concerns about certain issues preoccupying nineteenth-century society (e.g., slavery), but is there any substantive basis for positing a more particular connection? At first glance, the backgrounds, ambitions, and careers of Douglass and Melville could hardly have been more divergent. Black/white, Republican/Democrat, optimist/pessimist, believer/skeptic, engaged activist/withdrawn artist—for the uninitiated, these are the sorts of oppositions that may come to mind making Levine and Otter’s conjunction seem doubtful and odd. The volume, however , overcomes such doubts, offering a convincing portrait of the “relation” between Douglass and Melville. Important distinctions do not disappear but instead dovetail with various important similarities and connections, and the back and forth consideration of difference and similarity produces a more complete and complex understanding of both authors and their era. As Kenneth W. Warren notes in his “Afterword,” by putting Douglass and Melville “in relation,” this collection of essays produces a salutary “displacement and surprise” in our sense of these figures and their era (440). The volume’s eighteen essays cover a wide variety of topics and take a number of different approaches. Race, politics, music, religion, sexuality, art, imperialism, history, and law are some of the key issues taken up by the contributors. The collection is divided into three sections. The first and largest section, “Literary and Cultural Geographies,” features pieces situating the Douglass and Melville in relation to each other and their era. The essays in the “Manhood and Sexuality” section consider the import of gender and sexuality in Douglass’s and Melville’s work. And the contributions in the last section, “Civil Wars,” analyze Douglass and Melville in relation to the Civil War and its various consequences. C 2008 The Authors Journal compilation C 2008 The Melville Society and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 112 L E V I A T H A N R E V I E W In addition to separating the essays into three groups, Levine and Otter have, where possible, paired the essays so that they speak to each other. For example, John Ernest’s opening paper questioning the practicability and benefit of imagining a relation between Douglass and Melville is ‘answered,’ so to speak, by Robert K. Wallace’s essay. With satisfying historical specificity, Wallace charts the triangular relation that existed between Douglass, Melville, and Melville’s father-in-law, Lemuel Shaw, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, showing how Douglass’s and Melville’s formulations of justice and freedom were pivotally influenced by certain key legal decisions by Chief Justice Shaw. Elisa Tamarkin’s analysis of Douglass’s and Melville’s idealized visions of England is appropriately book-ended with Rodrigo Lazo’s description of each writer’s efforts to criticize romanticized images of the Caribbean and Central and South America. Examining the risks entailed in masculine sympathy for both writers, Elizabeth Barnes emphasizes the prominence of violence in Douglass’s and Melville’s depictions of masculine identity. Hester Blum looks instead at the erasures of sexual violence in Douglass’s and Melville’s writing, finding in these lacunae a critical view of the way Victorian norms of polite discussion impeded a fulsome and honest discussion of such violence. Russ Castronovo and Dana Nelson find in Douglass and Melville a shared political reaction to the Civil War, but Carolyn Karcher and Gregory Jay see the two authors as moving in markedly different directions after the war. These pairings give the impression of an on-going conversation or critical /scholarly chain-letter in which a particular position or set of information is tried out and which, in turn, generates a connected but different analytic perspective and an alternative array of evidence. While there is not room here to discuss all of the essays in any detail, I would like to describe...