An Inside Narrative
Imprint: Northwestern University Press
587 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: January 2013
Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative is Hershel Parker’s history of the writing of Melville biographies, enriched by a lifetime of intimate working partnerships with great Melville scholars of different generations and by the author’s experience of successive phases of literary criticism. Throughout this bold book, Hershel Parker champions archival-based biography and the all-but-lost art of embodying such scholarship in literary criticism. First is a mesmerizing autobiographical account of what went into creating the award-winning and comprehensive Herman Melville: A Biography. Then Parker traces six decades of the “unholy war” waged against biographical scholarship, in which critics repeatedly imposed the theory of organic unity on Melville’s disrupted life—not just on his writings—while truncating his body of work and ignoring his study of art and aesthetics. In this connection, Parker celebrates discoveries made by “divine amateurs,” before throwing open his workshop to challenge ambitious readers with research projects. This is a book for Melville fans and Parker fans, as well as for readers, writers, and would-be writers of biography.
"Melville Biography is a superb contribution to a fledgling field: the study of the writing of literary lives. To a young academic with even the faintest interest in biography, Mr. Parker's book may come as a revelation, as well as a horrifying insight into the way biographers and biography have been abused. It should also be a call to arms, although I doubt that in the tenure-bound, cliquish world of the academy many will follow Hershel Parker into the breach. —Wall Street Journal
Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative is amazing, and deliciously different from Hershel Parker’s string of non-retirement works—intricately rooted in verifiable facts, precise and reliable as ever, but juicier, braver, and better than anything he has done before now. This Inside Narrative masterfully and entertainingly blends intellectual autobiography, the untold and unexamined history of Melville scholarship, and instructive case studies in the praxis of biography. Research hounds like me, thrilled by Parker’s tales of the hunt, will delightedly follow him on the trail of evidence and savor the joy of discovery. Academics across the disciplines will be challenged by Parker’s insistent and cogently argued distinction between scholarship and criticism. All readers who cherish truth-seeking and truth-saying will be shocked then heartened by Parker’s exposés of bad scholarship, fake scholarship, and the "mutual admiration society" of celebrity critics. As intellectual autobiography Parker’s Inside Narrative is compelling and revealing. In essence Parker demonstrates why his two-volume Melville biography is matchless in scope, depth, accuracy, integrity, and humanity. As the wonderfully intimate autobiography of the biographer and history of the biography, Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative powerfully reveals what you need to acquire, and what you have to give up, to be maestro." —Scott Norsworthy, Bibliographical Associate on The Writings of Herman Melville and author of "Melville’s Notes from Thomas Roscoe’s The German Novelists."
"Hershel Parker's Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative is the capstone to the vital contributions he has made to the stony field of Herman Melville scholarship. The book infuses humor, irony, and scholarly insight to the art of understanding Melville and his entire body of work, along with a sobering survey of Melville scholarship from the past 100 hundred years (both its groundbreaking accomplishments and its more corrosive counterparts). It reshaped my own aesthetic and technique toward literary biography as well as brought new appreciation for Hershel Parker and that ungraspable phantom, the spirit of Herman Melville, that fuels the entire scope of his scholarly cosmos. —Paul Maher, author of Kerouac: His Life and Work and Jack Kerouac's American Journey: The Real-Life Odyssey of "On the Road"
"Melville Biography: An Inside Narrative takes us on an extraordinary journey through the life and mind of Hershel Parker, the world's greatest Melville scholar. From his harvest of hundreds of primary documents, Parker wove their revelations into his authoritative and compelling two-volume biography (1996 and 2002). Parker’s life's work illustrates Beethoven's great maxim, that genius is the art of taking pains. This new book will enthrall not just Melville fans, but all fans of great literature. It is must reading for anyone who aspires to research a credible, fact-based biography. It is also must reading for anyone who cares about creating great art, for in its tales of triumph, conflict, and suppression at long last overcome, can be found all that one puts at hazard in setting out on such an unfashionable voyage. —James Hime, Edgar finalist for The Night of the Dance, author of other Jeremiah Spur mysteries and the Kindle Book, Three Thousand Bridges.