Jonathan Crimmins, "Nested Inversions: Genre and the Bipartite Form of Herman Melville's Pierre" (pp. 437–464)

In this essay I suggest that Herman Melville constructed Pierre (1852) as a diptych, an early example of the form that he later employed in his stories for Harper's and Putnam's magazines. He characterized Pierre's two halves by their settings, countryside and city, and used the locales allegorically to represent the ideological value systems associated with the mode of production of each. Further, I argue that Melville constrained the scope of the mixed form, more freely practiced in Mardi (1849) and Moby-Dick (1851), by carefully aligning the generic elements of Pierre with its bipartite structure: the sentimental and the Gothic with the first half of the novel, the urban and romantic with the second half. subordinating the generic elements to the structure, Melville built a novel in which each half operates according to different laws, each as its own separate stage, enacting the drama of its treasured beliefs and the inescapable hypocrisies of those beliefs. Each half of Pierre presents the justice of its values as natural and the logic of its values as complete. And yet, set side-by-side as a diptych so as to suggest equal measure, the competing claims to totality collapse; while each ideological stage acts as if its value systems are unified and whole, side-by-side they are seen as inverted schematics, as two halves of a single crisis. Melville shows the contradictory dependence of capitalism's ideology of historical contingency and feudalism's faith in an idealist grounding of the historical, offering up the insolubility of the crisis as the empty indicator of a real solution.

This content is only available via PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.