Sexual Fables

This article accompanies the fable
The Sorcerer's Apprentice


Pierre; Or, The Ambiguities

In the beginning, Pierre was Melville's most hated novel and it was his last commercially. This Gothic parody of 1852 inspired Melville's contemporaries to call him crazy - incest, fornication, madness, suicide! - and now it inspires new generations of literary critics to try to save it. Melville is like Nabokov in this respect: he would have been amused at their efforts and he had the mockery already built in.

For my part I like the novel's satire of philosophers and religious thinkers, who are in pursuit of the "Talismanic Secret" of life which, of course, has never been found and nor will it, if Melville has his way. At times this becomes explicit:

Certain philosophers have time and again pretended to have found it; but if they do not in the end discover their own delusion, other people soon discover it for themselves, and so those philosophers and their vain philosophy are let glide away into practical oblivion.

This quote could as easily damn Joseph Smith as Plato, Goethe, Emerson, the historians and the theologians and, of course, it applies to literary critics writing about Pierre, which hasn't gone unnoticed in academia. More respectful studies of Melville's writing have appeared in recent decades that have abandoned the old psycho theories of the past and they focus on Melville's wrestling with the problems of language and genre and popular appeal.


But enough of that. Back to Joseph Smith who, as we know, did find the Talismanic Secret when he unearthed those golden plates in upstate New York. Cynics like to say that Smith borrowed the idea from E.T.A. Hoffmann's The Golden Pot which was published in 1814 and in English in 1827. But it detracts nothing from Smith to say that he synthesized many stories and myths in creating The Book of Mormon and The Golden Pot was only one ingredient.


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