Pierre: Or the Ambiguities

Pierre: Or the Ambiguities

Paperback Penguin Classics

By (author) Herman Melville, Introduction by William C. Spengemann

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  • Publisher: PENGUIN CLASSICS
  • Format: Paperback | 416 pages
  • Dimensions: 128mm x 196mm x 20mm | 299g
  • Publication date: 30 May 1996
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 0140434844
  • ISBN 13: 9780140434842
  • Edition statement: Reprint
  • Sales rank: 145,518

Product description

'Ambiguities indeed! One long brain-muddling, soul-bewildering ambiguity (to borrow Mr. Melville's style), like Melchisedeck, without beginning or end-a labyrinth without a clue - an Irish bog without so much as a Jacko 'the' lantern to guide the wanderer's footsteps - the dream of a distempered stomach, disordered by a hasty supper on half-cooked pork chops." So judged the "New York Herald" when "Pierre" was first published in 1852, with most contemporary reviewers joining in the general condemnation: 'a dead failure,' 'this crazy rigmarole,' and "a literary mare's nest."

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Author information

Herman Melville was born in August 1, 1819, in New York City, the son of a merchant. Only twelve when his father died bankrupt, young Herman tried work as a bank clerk, as a cabin-boy on a trip to Liverpool, and as an elementary schoolteacher, before shipping in January 1841 on the whaler Acushnet, bound for the Pacific. Deserting ship the following year in the Marquesas, he made his way to Tahiti and Honolulu, returning as ordinary seaman on the frigate United States to Boston, where he was discharged in October 1844. Books based on these adventures won him immediate success. By 1850 he was married, had acquired a farm near Pittsfield, Massachussetts (where he was the impetuous friend and neighbor of Nathaniel Hawthorne), and was hard at work on his masterpiece Moby-Dick.Literary success soon faded; his complexity increasingly alienated readers. After a visit to the Holy Land in January 1857, he turned from writing prose fiction to poetry. In 1863, during the Civil War, he moved back to New York City, where from 1866-1885 he was a deputy inspector in the Custom House, and where, in 1891, he died. A draft of a final prose work, Billy Budd, Sailor, was left unfinished and uncollated, packed tidily away by his widow, where it remained until its rediscovery and publication in 1924.William C. Spengemann is the Hale Professor in Arts and Sciences and Professor of English Emeritus at Dartmouth College. He edited the Penguin Classics edition of Nineteenth-Century American Poetry.William C. Spengemann is the Hale Professor in Arts and Sciences and Professor of English Emeritus at Dartmouth College. He edited the Penguin Classics edition of Nineteenth-Century American Poetry.

Back cover copy

"Ambiguities indeed! One long brain-muddling, soulbewildering ambiguity (to borrow Mr. Melville's style), like Melchisedeck without beginning or end - a labyrinth without a clue - an Irish bog without so much as a Jack o' th'-lantern to guide the wanderer's footsteps - the dream of a distempered stomach, disordered by a hasty supper on half-cooked pork chops". So judged the New York Herald when Pierre was first published in 1852, with most contemporary reviewers joining in the general condemnation: "a dead failure", "this crazy rigmarole", and "a literary mare's nest". Latter-day critics have recognized in the story of Melville's idealistic young hero a corrosive satire of the sentimental-Gothic novel, and a revolutionary foray into modernist literary techniques. As William Spengemann writes in his introduction to this edition, "For anyone who, being aware of the culture of modernity, is curious about its origins, Pierre ranks with Coleridge's 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner, ' Carlyle's Sartor Resartus, Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter, and the poems of Emily Dickinson as one of the privileged places where the dead past can be seen giving way inexorably to the living present".