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"Pierre " is more than a masterpiece.
am 25. Februar 1999
"Pierre," (written shortly after "Moby Dick") is called "The Book that ruined Melville." In fact, he never wrote another novel after "Pierre," but spent his last 40 years either unemployed or working as a customs official. But by the end of the 20th century a new generation of readers and critics had rediscovered him, and today his reputation is at the front rank of American authors. "Pierre" is a superbly controlled exploration of the deepest psychological motivations which underlie all human beha vior. If it is ambiguous, it is meant to be so, not in the sense of vagueness, but in the sense of many meanings. Melville, like Thomas Hardy is a master at depicting country life. And the conflicts in the novel are very much tied to country versus city living. The novel is Freudian, in its questing after the deepest reasons for human behaviors. Like most of us at some point in life, Pierre sees the father he had idolized as human and capable of error. His own values are put into question by the receipt of a note from his long-lost sister. Melville points out that we all walk "on a razor's edge of security.....that what we take to be our strongest tower of delight, only stands at the caprice of the minutest event-the fallling of a leaf, the hearing of a voice, or the receipt of one little bit of paper scratched over with a few small characters by a sharpened feather." Melville does not spare Pierre from disillusion but continues to open him up0 with an "electrical insight" into the character of his mother. He sees how she has been molded by the culture and how her love for him is not unconditional, but based upon his outward beauty and docile behavior. Melville deals with nature versus nurture as he contrasts the honesty of natural growing things with the subtlety of cultural influences. The author is at his best with descriptions like this: "The sounds seemed waltzing in the room; the sounds hung pendulous like glittering icicles from the corners of the room; and fell upon him with a ringing silveryness; and were drawn up again to the ceiling, and hung pendulous again, and dropt down upon him again with the ringing silveryness. Fireflies seemed buzzing in the sounds, summer-lightnings seemed vividly yet softly audible in the sounds. And still the wild girl played on the guitar; and her long dark shower of curls fell over it and vailed it; and still, out from the vail came the swarming sweetness, and the utter unintelligibleness, but the infinite significancies of the sounds of the guitar. The novel ends with a "Romeo and Juliet " death scene worthy of the original..."And from the fingers of Isabel dropped an empty vial-as it had been a run-out sand glass-and shivered upon the floor; and her whole form sloped sideways, and she fell upon Pierre's heart, and her long hair ran over him, and arbored him in ebon vines." The black hair of Isabel which enchanted Pierre at the beginning of the novel, covers his dead body at the end of the story. The ambiguities which began the narrative are unresolved at the end. All of us have many contradictions in our lives and most of us will not solve them. Like the genius that he was, Melville knows this. He digs deeply into the soul of Pierre trying to unravel the threads of his existence. We learn much about Pierre , and ourselves, and how we are the cause of what sometimes is our own destruction. We also learn about fate and the little that we can do to change our destinies. We learn about choices, and how the slightest incident can twist our parths toward other directions. Like Moby Dick, Pierre is Melville, calling out to us to read him. Like "Moby Dick" "Pierre" has been unread for generations. Perhaps this generation will embrace him and have the enriching experience only Melville can give.