ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance
"'The Ugly Socrates': Melville, Hawthorne, and Homoeroticism"
The question of Melville's homoeroticism in his relationship to Hawthorne is deeply problematic--first, because of the chasm of culture, idiom, and ideology separating Melville's time from our own and lending a character of alienness and inscrutability to mid-nineteenth-century psychoerotic experience; and second, because Melville himself seems to have been genuinely uncertain about the nature and source of his feelings, both at the time and in retrospect.The model of Greek love found in Plato's Symposium only complicated matters so far as it could alternatively be used to sublimate, mask, license, or evade homoerotic feelings, or in some combination do all of these things at once.
The first and third sections of my essay explore the Melville-Hawthorne relationship from Melville's side, chiefly through Melville's letters to Hawthorne but also with reference to Clarel and "After the Pleasure Party." The long middle section is a psychobiographical reading of Pierre as (in F. O. Matthiessen's words) the site where we might expect to "find the most evident traces of the interaction of Hawthorne and Melville." The essay engages the homoerotic readings of Melville advanced by Newton Arvin and James Creech, but it takes issue with their separation of the intellectual and sexual themes of Pierre into a version of Freudian "manifest content" and "latent content." I am concerned rather with how Melville came to understand the profound but elusive intermingling of his intellectual life and his sexual/psychological life, particularly with how the departure of Hawthorne from the Berkshires in the fall of 1851 precipitated in Melville a psychic crisis that linked itself to feelings of abandonment consequent upon his father's death years earlier and that led him to reevaluate his emotional investment in Hawthorne and, indeed, the integrity of his life's work. The section makes extended use of Freud's "Mourning and Melancholia," John Bowlby's studies of parental loss, and Heinz Kohut's theory of narcissistic personality disorders; its chief allegiance, however, is to primary materials read closely and speculatively within an exploratory consideration of a subject (Melville's "homoeroticism") that can never be more than conjecturally resolved.