Dialogism And Intertextual Codes In H. Melville And J.F. Cooper
This article reveals the intertextual relationships between the literary works of Herman Melville and James Fenimore Cooper. The legacy of William Shakespeare and John Milton can be defined as dominating among the other sources of intertext in the novels of the two writers. Certain attention is given to the approaches the authors apply to address the classics. Impacted by the British Bards and developing American culture, Cooper succeeded by Melville, contributed to the evolution of the genre of the sea-novel which serves as the “bridge” between the British and American belles-lettres. Both writers perceived British literature as a basis for American, and fruitfully used the masterpieces of the classics to add special stature to the portraits of their characters and appeal to the tastes of the reading audience. By analyzing a motley assortment of allusions and quotations functioning as markers of intertextuality in the texts under study, the authors of the present paper tend to believe that while in the novels by Cooper the intertext is mainly manifested through the epigraphs and certain narrative patterns, in Melville’s writings the results of the author’s contact with different epochs is primarily recognized through the employment of actualized subplots and transformed character types.
Keywords: Dialogismintertextualityknowledge transmissionliterary codes
Intertextuality is a crucial element in the attempt to understand “the problem of relationship between reality, thought, language and culture” (Chupryna et al., 2018, p. 125). Being an interdisciplinary phenomenon, it is apparent in different domains of the modernist and post-modernist culture. Recent research attests to the fact that “the theory of intertextuality has its origins in twentieth-century linguistics” (Liu, 2017, p. 10). Despite the relative novelty of the term in question, linguists and literary critics maintain that this phenomenon is as old as human history, and identify this discourse strategy in numerous ancient texts such as the Hebrew Bible, the writings of Aristotle and the works of Hellenistic Greek poets, which contain cases of intertextuality as well as stimulate the occurrence of the new ones. The first contributions to the development of this theory are known to have been made by the Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin and the Bulgarian scholar Julia Kristeva. Although, to our knowledge, the term
Accepting that “the concept of intertextuality points to the relevance of the cultural context and postulates multiple links between different texts” (Turaeva, 2016, p. 34), the authors of the present paper aim to identify this crucial element of poetics in the novels by the nineteenth-century American writers of the Romantic era, the period which as many other ideological trends “was not homogeneous either by its nature or by the chronology of existence” (Levishchenko, 2018, p. 187).
Being the founding fathers of the national literature, James Fenimore Cooper (1789 – 1851) and Herman Melville (1819 – 1891) perceived British culture as a progenitor of American. Despite the significant body of research focusing on various aspects of Melville’s and Cooper’s poetics there has been a paucity of comparative studies investigating the intertextual codes noticeable in their writings. Seen as the author’s interaction with the related works of literature, both classic and contemporary, these discourse strategies are believed to stimulate dialogue with the reader, maintain the preservation of existing cultural and literary knowledge and generate the new one.
The research questions of the present study are the following:
To what extent do J.F. Cooper and H. Melville employ the intertextual potential of pre-existing literature?
What are the common sources of intertext in the works of J.F. Cooper and H. Melville?
What are the examples of particular influences between the two authors?
Purpose of the Study
This article aims at a comparative analysis of the intertexts existing in the literary heritage by J.F. Cooper and H. Melville. The literary works under study include:
The present paper employs a complex system of methods and comes to conclusions about the intertextual codes in writings of H. Melville and J.F. Cooper on the basis of a system of methods usable for literature and language studies including typological and comparative analysis as well as the biographical method, textual analysis and narrative inquiry combined with historical and cultural approaches.
A characteristic feature of Cooper’s personal style was to antedate every chapter of his novels by a line or a quatrain from a poem borrowed from various sources. The number of quotes used by Cooper in his thirty-two novels (each consisting of thirty chapters on average) approximates to a thousand. The analysis of the abovementioned novels convincingly demonstrates the reading preferences of the writer. Significantly, 80% of the total number of borrowings is constituted by the quotations from Shakespeare. The rest of the corpus primarily builds on the heritage of his contemporaries (Burns R., Byron G. G., Dana R. H., Hemans F. D., Longfellow H. W., Scott W., Wordsworth W., and others).
The prevalence of citations from Shakespeare is especially notable in several novels by Cooper. For instance, out of the twenty-nine chapters in
Cooper maintained that both British and American people had equal cultural rights to the literary heritage of the famous Bard. As a result, the allusions to Shakespeare’s plays are so abundant that it seems barely possible to conduct a detailed analysis of them within the framework of this paper. Nevertheless, throughout the corpus under study Cooper’s favourite sources can herein be listed.
Shakespeare’s heritage was not only the source of wisdom for Cooper. Also, the comedy of the Bard served as a model for the American’s own writing. In particular,
The outstanding heritage of another seventeenth-century Englishman should be noted in reference to Cooper’s work. The influence of John Milton and his best-known poem
Of certain interest is the fact that Milton’s poem is not quoted in the abovementioned novel of Cooper. However, direct citations can be easily identified in other works of the writer. For instance, in the book
A quote from a contemporary is hard to find within the corpus of Cooper’s novels. The writer confessed that though it was challenging, he sometimes succeeded in his search for epigraphs in the works of his coevals and was pleased to praise and mention some of them in his literary work (MacDougall, 2009). Multiple among such examples are the allusions to the poems of Sir Walter Scott. The relationships between Cooper and Walter Scott can be characterized as rather controversial. One the one hand, according to M. Phillips, Cooper (2017) referred to Scott as “one of the pleasantest companions the world holds” (Cooper, 2017). The evidence of respect for Scott’s writings can be found in the letter of 1831 where Cooper states: “I have always spoken, written and thought of Sit Walter Scott (as a writer) just as I should think and speak of Shakespeare – with high admiration of his talent, but with no silly reserve, as if I thought my own position rendered it necessary that I should use more delicacy than other men” (Shields, 2016, p. 87). This textual source also ensures us that Cooper did not ever use to think of Scott as a rival.
On the other hand, when Cooper was named ‘American Scott’, he disgusted it. What irritated Cooper the most in Scott’s works was the lax plot of his narratives, which is why it was the development of the captivating plot structure that served as the guiding principle and the stimulus to the development of his own fiction. To put it simply, the works of the Scottish poet inspired Cooper with ideas, he used them in his own writings but filled them with action and moved the setting to his native land. Scott’s
Although the English classics were valuable sources of Cooper’s inspiration, the writer did not neglect the works of his American contemporaries. To illustrate, a letter of praise to Cooper’s talent that the American poet Richard Henry Dana Sr. once wrote after the publication of the first truly national novel
Dana’s inspiration by Cooper’s works, particularly the marine novels, was inherited by his son Richard Dana Junior. Eventually, he was sent to sea to cure his eyes because of too much reading. Obviously, the novels by Cooper were in his library. On his return having obtained some experience of a working seaman Dana Jr. writes
Scholars have repeatedly admitted Melville’s exceptional manner of presenting complex theoretical and philosophical points through his intricate interpretations of canonical literary texts (N. Arvin, S. Foster Damon, E.H. Eby, F.O. Matthiessen and others). As D. Herd emphasizes in his Introduction to the Wordsworth Classics edition of
Indeed, the starting point of the voyage Melville takes us on, is “
Admittedly, “Melville’s tremendous debt to Milton – and to Homer, Virgil, the Bible, and Shakespeare – might be evident to anyone who has wrestled with the moral and intellectual complexity that lends Moby-Dick its immortal heft” (Giraldi, 2013, para. 1). At the same time, it should be pinpointed that Melville’s primary purpose in reading the epic literary works of Western civilization was to learn how to write rather than to accumulate knowledge for its own sake.
Melville came to Shakespeare relatively late in life. In a letter to Evert Duyckinck, his friend and editor, the author of
Interestingly enough, compared to the sheer abundance of explicit references to Shakespeare in Cooper’s writing, identifiable quotations from “the divine William” in Melville are relatively few. Also, while Cooper seems to be primarily engaged with echoes of Shakespeare’s comedies (as demonstrated in the first part of the present paper), Melville’s tone in his dialogue with the Bard is more pessimistic, as he is more interested in dealing with the problems of evil and the tormented human soul.
Even so, half a hundred examples of textual references to the shadows of Shakespeare’s tragedies in the novel about the White Whale can be provided including excerpts from
A close reading of
Ahab’s “madness maddened” might be said to descend from Macbeth’s ambition, Othello’s jealousy or Hamlet’s resolution. The captain of the Pequod is a multi-accentual character with the feelings of pride, obsession, maniacal perseverance deeply embedded in his personality. Still, his scheme of revenge was doomed to failure. Remarkably, the partially erased pencil note that Melville took in the margin of Shakespeare’s
The feelings overwhelming Ahab in his burning desire to beat his foe, to ‘dismember the dismemberer’ in Chapter 130: “
Discussing the intertextual codes in Melville’s
Melville’s enthusiasm for Shakespeare is evident in
The above given excerpt is one of the two direct cases of mentioning the Bard in the novel, alongside the passage which describes Melville’s reflections on the intertextuality of
Whether consciously or subconsciously used by the two American writers, numerous parallels to British and American literature are meant to add symbolic grandeur to the portraits of their characters. However, luckily, there still remain no definitive answers to the questions about the meaning of the above analyzed texts, nor can there be, given the cosmic scope of the authors’ contribution to the corpus of American literature. The texts whose intertextual codes serve as connections between different generations and paradigms of thought have now provoked and are still provoking the emergence of new intertextualities in various domains of contemporary culture including the fields of art, cinematography, and even marketing, which makes them truly iconic products of the two extraordinary minds.
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