The Melville Electronic Library
Melville Electronic Library

The Melville Electronic Library

The New Melville:

In some ways it is true that we already know what Herman Melville wrote, and can find it in many bookstores and libraries. But, as with some other authors now being reedited electronically, much has actually lain concealed and can now be revealed. Because Melville's surviving manuscripts show versions and structures not even hinted at in most printed editions; because he himself suggested that print alone could not accomplish his goals; because some of his writing remains unpublished; and because we now look at texts differently than in the recent past—seeing in them evidence of intellectual flux, social construction, and the workings of the marketplace—the writings of Herman Melville call for electronic editing. On the Web we'd be able to see new Melvilles: not just new editorial versions, but also some materially real new texts, including steps Melville took in his creative process. As with other authors (Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, for example) that is essential to understanding the fullness of the art.


Another way to conceive of the "new" Melville is to consider the deep allusiveness of Melville's texts and how a given reader at any level may not be able to dive deeply in them. Many find themselves unsettled by his allusive style—not simply challenged and then inspired—but at times alienated. Electronic annotation, however, can lead readers through pathways of ideas and images to illuminate Melville's use of language, his milieu, his learning, his culture.

For example, who doesn't know Moby-Dick? Yet this masterpiece is so sweeping in its intellectual and imaginative scope that its powerful images and astonishing breadth of allusion are forbidding. That intense intertextuality can, though, be made graspable electronically. Is that whale really so egregious in William Hogarth's "Perseus Descending"? How is the mouth of Hogarth's whale like the Traitors' Gate (in the Tower of London)? Did Melville really see the "original edition" of Francis Bacon's Advancement of Learning (1605), as he implies? The "whales" that he says appear there, do not. Though scholarship has explained many sources and references such as these, readers of Moby-Dick haven't yet seen over 99% of them. Now we can have not simply an illustrated Moby-Dick, but an illuminated one (see Chapter 55, within).


Most literature starts and stays in textual flux, as authors, publishers, audiences, and the production process itself deliberately and unintentionally shape it—as we explain and exemplify in our proposal. The process by which a work comes into being constitutes a textual and biographical picture; these fluid texts can inspire new and deeper critical interpretations. In Melville's case, Typee is probably his most unstable work. From its as-yet unpublished partial manuscript through its variant editions, Typee is a fluid text. We will edit the Typee manuscript to expose readers to its myriad cancellations and insertions in a readable and comprehensible fashion, improving greatly on the dense and forbidding textual records appended to print editions. Given its own special conditions, the same is true of Melville's "Art." This often-discussed poem exists in a working draft manuscript which bears evidence of at least six different versions of the poem as it evolved.

We present here, then, an electronic sketch: some details of the illumination and flux that reside, subtextually, in:

Please note that (because of non-standard behavior in Netscape) some of these texts ("Art" in particular) are best viewed in Internet Explorer.

A Note on the Electronic Texts:

The samples linked above are all from text marked up in the TEI (Text-Encoding Initiative) DTD (Document Type Definition), using an XML (Extensible Markup Language) subset and transformation of that DTD. The HTML (HyperText Markup Language) provided to your browser is produced using XSL (Extensible Stylesheet Language). The Moby Dick example uses stylesheets based on work done by Oxford University's Sebastian Rahtz, and uses James Clark's XT, an XSLT (XSL Transformations) engine written in Java, to effect the transformation from XML to HTML in an offline pre-process. The Typee example uses stylesheets written by Kirk Hastings of the University of Virginia's Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, and produces a dynamic, on-the-fly XML-to-HTML transformation using Xalan (a servlet-based XSLT processor, also written in Java).

In order to show what's actually behind the presentation of this sketch, we also provide:

Finally, although there are place-holders for facsimile page images in Typee, those images are not yet available, pending permission from the library that holds the original: we expect to add these images some time in the week of December 4th, 2000).

John Bryant
Haskell Springer
John Unsworth

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