HUMS 621
Melville's Major Works: Fact, Fiction, and Metafiction

Charles Baraw          

Course Description
From his first book, Typee, a travelogue based on his own captivity by Polynesian cannibals, to his major works, Moby-Dick and Benito Cereno, Herman Melville drew inspiration for his fictions from both his own experiences and reading historical narratives from which he pilfered at will. For Melville, the boundaries between personal experiences, reading, and writing are as fluid as the formal distinctions between fiction and non-fiction, autobiography and novel, or plot and exposition. In Moby-Dick and elsewhere, Melville represents writing as a mode of reading and both become explicit subjects of the story, inseparable from Ahab's quest for the White Whale. What, then, can Melville teach us about reading itself? Can we become better readers under his guidance and instruction?
We will read Melville's major works, his source materials, and view two 20th-century adaptations of Billy Budd (the opera by Benjamin Britten and the film by Peter Ustinov) to understand how the relation of reading, writing, and experience informs Melville's philosophical explorations and his critique of 19th-century culture.  Papers will include a close-reading (4-5 p.), and one longer (10-15 p.) critical paper, as well as a creative adaptation of one of Melville’s historical sources. If possible, we will take a field trip to Mystic Seaport.
Course Readings and Writing Assignments
September 13

Typee & The First American Literary Sex Symbol: Melville’s Literary Reception
Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life
(1846) & Introduction; “Note on the Text”
“Before Moby-Dick: International Controversy,” (Norton M-D 465-69)

September 20

Typee, Ch. 26-34; “The Story of Toby;” Reviews in Norton (M-D 470-509)
“Benito Cereno”(1855): Reading, Writing, and Race. (Short Novels 145-201)

September 27

“Benito Cereno,” (second reading)
The Narrative of Amasa Delano” (Short Novels 199-228)
Eric Sundquist, “Benito Cereno and New World Slavery” (handout)

October 4

Loomings: Approaching Moby-Dick, Etymology; Extracts; Chapter 1
Sources for M-D in Norton, 549-570.  “Critical Challenges,” Bezanson (Norton 641-656) 669-673);
Hayford (674-96); Paglia (697-702)n

October 11

Ishmael Goes to Sea: Chapters Moby-Dick, Chapters 1-17, 93-4, Epilogue
Paper 1: Historical Fiction; A rewrite of Amasa Delano, et al. 4-5 p.p.

October 18

Enter Ahab: Moby-Dick, Chapters 26-40, 106-9, 127-9
Wenke (Norton 702-712)

October 25 Ahab’s Rebellion: Moby-Dick, Chapters 30, 32, ,37, 44, 99, 119, 132
November 1

Ishmael’s Philosophy: Moby-Dick, Chapters 32, 42, 47, 55-7, 74-5, 87-9, 96-9
Paper 2: Close-Reading, 4-5 p.p.

November 8

Reading the Inscrutable: “Bartleby” & The Confidence-Man Chapters 1-25
Critical Essays (Norton 239- 286)

November 15 Metaphysics & Meta-Fictions: The Confidence-Man
November 29

Billy Budd (Norton 103-170)
Film Screening: Peter Ustinov, “Billy Budd”; Review Pauline Kael, (398-400)

December 6

Billy Budd (second reading)
Opera Screening: Benjamin Britten, E. M. Forster, “Billy Budd”

December 13

Final Paper: Critical Essay, 10-15 p.p.
Opera Screening:  Conclude “Billy Budd” (optional)


Herman Melville, MOBY-DICK (Norton Critical, 2nd Edition, 2001)
Herman Melville, TYPEE: A PEEP AT POLYNESIAN LIFE (Penguin Classics)
Herman Melville, THE CONFIDENCE-MAN (Oxford World's Classics)
Dan McCall, MELVILLE'S SHORT NOVELS (Norton Critical Editions)