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Transnational Melville

ENGL 799.301
instructor(s):

After the publication of his early sea tales (Typee and Omoo), Herman Melville was popularly known as the “man who lived among cannibals.”  Writing in obscurity after the 1840s and rediscovered in the 1920s, he was canonized as one of the representative authors of nineteenth-century American literature by the publication of F. O. Matthiessen’s American Renaissance in 1941.  This course asks how a writer so thoroughly immersed in transnational circuits of trade and travel was interpreted by later critics as a quintessential “American” author. We will explore the many transnational dimensions of Melville’s writing, from the 19th century contexts of sailing, slavery, colonialism and revolution to 20th century readings of Melville from postcolonial perspectives, such as C.L. R. James Mariners, Renegades and Castaways (1952). For example, we will consider Melville’s well known interest in the meaning of liberty and freedom in relation to the legacy of the Haitian revolution and 19th century sailor’s revolts. We will Melville’s work along side writing of his contemporaries, such as Martin Delaney, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, and Lydia Maria Child. In addition to Melville criticism, we will also read current critics who are attempting to theorize transnational approaches to literature, such as Wai-Chee Dimock, Natalie Melas and Franco Moretti.  Texts by Melville include Typee, Moby Dick, Billy Budd, “Benito Cereno,” “The Encantadas, or Enchanted Isles,” The Confidence Man, “Bartleby the Scrivener,” and Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land. 

Undergraduates are not permitted to take 700-level courses.