The University of Wisconsin Press

Literature & Criticism

Pursuing Melville, 1940–1980
Chapters and Essays by Merton M. Sealts, Jr.
Merton M. Sealts, Jr.

Pursuing Melville collects fourteen representative chapters and essays out of nearly fifty pieces written between 1940 and 1980 by this influential Melville scholar, drawing also on his extensive correspondence of those years concerning Melville and Melvilleans. The selections range from a previously unpublished graduate seminar paper of 1940 through later articles and books to an authoritative study of Melville and the Platonic tradition composed especially for this volume. Presented chronologically, these writings reflect not only the development of Professor Sealts’s own thinking but also the direction taken by Melville scholarship generally over a period of forty years.

The book conveys its author’s evident love of his subject and the enthusiasm with which he has shared his findings, in his classroom and in his publications. A variety of readers can consult it with pleasure and profit—those making their first acquaintance with Melville and his works, more advanced students who are learning the methodology of literary study, and those scholars who deal professionally with American literature, American literary scholarship, and the cultural history of both the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries.

As his Preface observes, Professor Sealts has been an explorer of five recurrent themes: Melville’s reading, first in philosophy and then in general literature; his shorter fiction, from his magazine writing of the 1850s through Billy Budd, Sailor, the fruit of his last years; his three seasons of lecturing between 1857 and 1860; his relations with certain relatives, friends, and early biographers; and, along with all the rest, his distinctive temperament and personality, which are as enigmatic and alluring as the books he wrote.

Merton M. Sealts, Jr. (1915–2000) studied at the College of Wooster and Yale University where he first wrote on Melville and Emerson. He later became Henry A. Pochmann Professor of English. Pursuing Melville is the capstone of a professional career that helped to set the direction of modern American literary scholarship on both Melville and Emerson.

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Portrait of Melville framed in a circle

July 1982

LC: 81-070014 PS
384 pp.   6 x 9
Cloth ISBN 978-0-299-08870-5

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