Herman Melville's Retirement
Leviathan: A Journal of Melville studies
John Hopkins University Press
© 2016 The Melville Society and Johns Hopkins University Press
This essay provides an alternative account of Melville’s later career, one that resists the implicit Romantic privileging of literary labor over other forms of work and complicates the familiar late-Melvillean narratives of disillusionment, withdrawal, nostalgia, and transcendence. Contrary to any perceived professional disappointments, Melville the writer and retired District Customs Inspector continued to experiment across a variety of formal approaches, personas, and geographical settings, working through his retirement to develop late writings that were not solely reacting to the indifferent world “out there,” but actively engaged in responding to the contingencies of his immediate social and political environment. Melville approached literary composition and revision, in his later years, as an extension of (rather than a release from) other forms of work, an approach that makes his writings remarkably imbricated and coextensive with one another. Emerging from these later works is not any programmatic political or aesthetic testimony or attitude, but rather a sustained experimental exploration of alternative textual interdependencies, of an ongoing and vital entanglement in the world.
This is the final version of the article. Available from Johns Hopkins University Press via the DOI in this record.
Vol. 18, No. 3, pp. 112-128