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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The unity of Melville's Piazza Tales Newbery, Ilse S. M.

Abstract

Herman Melville's Piazza Tales is a collection of short stories which first appeared individually in Putnam's Magazine; subsequently Melville re-edited them, wrote a title story, and had them published as a collection. Hitherto the stories have been analysed individually rather than collectively; this thesis, on the other hand, points out the numerous recurrent features in the tales, and it adduces evidence from the title story to support the view that the collection should be regarded as a unit. This supposition leads to a fresh critical view of the individual tales; it also helps to illuminate Melville's artistic development at a time which shortly precedes his transition from fiction-writing to poetry. After discerning briefly the critical history of the Piazza Tales and the situation which led Melville to adopt the short story as a new medium of writing, this thesis analyses the title story both as a story in its own right and as an introduction to the collection. Since it is Melville's last quest story in prose and is written retrospectively, the nature of the questor's disappointment on the mountain throws a light on the meaning of the collected stories. Thus his retirement to the uninvolved viewpoint from the piazza and the theme of human isolation, captured in the figure of Marianna, emphasize salient features common to the following stories. With these generic features in mind, each story is analysed; the last, chapter evaluates these common characteristics from the viewpoint of Melville's development. Thus, the Piazza Tales not only show inner artistic consistency but appear as an important milestone in Melville's literary career, as an important link between Pierre and The Confidence Man, after which Melville gave up publishing fiction altogether.

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