:: Article

Sage of Discord

By Oscar Mardell.

Sage of Discord; or Melville at 200: A Revenge Tragedy in 24 Sections

THEY CALL HIM INSANE. In August 1852, The Boston Post names Pierre — Herman Melville’s seventh, and latest, book — “the craziest fiction extant”. A month later, The Southern Quarterly Review calls him “clean daft” and advises, moreover, “[t]he sooner this author is put in ward the better”. The American Whig Review asserts that “his fancy is diseased” and describes Pierre as “precisely what a raving lunatic who had read Jean Paul Richter in a translation might be supposed to spout under the influence of a particularly moonlight night.” And in The New York Day Book, the headline “HERMAN MELVILLE CRAZY” introduces the view of one “critical friend” — that the book “appeared to be composed of the ravings and reveries of a madman”. The accompanying article only adds insult:

We were somewhat startled at the remark; but still more at learning, a few days after, that Melville really was supposed to be deranged, and that his friends were taking measures to place him under treatment. We hope one of the earliest precautions will be to keep him stringently secluded from pen and ink.

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Sage of Discord


Oscar Mardell

Oscar Mardell works as a schoolteacher in New Zealand, where Herman Melville might have ended up had he, like his friend and fellow deserter Richard Tobias Greene, boarded the Nimrod out of Nuku Heva in 1842. A plaque [in truth, a sheet of xerox paper pinned to a corkboard] in the Butler Point Whaling Museum, Mangonui, commemorates this alternative history.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Thursday, August 1st, 2019.