The subversive sentimentality of Herman Melville and Fanny Fern
Cady, Adam David
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This study examines how Herman Melville and Fanny Fern redefine the sentimental mold through the use of subversion in their texts. Focusing on Fern's Ruth Hall: A Domestic Tale of the Present Time and Melville's Pierre, or The Ambiguities and "Bartleby, The Scrivener,“ this study highlights how the authors use the loneliness and solitude of the main characters to either further their production or to deny it entirely. In all three stories this production comes through the act of writing. Fanny Fern allows Ruth Hall to become successful, where Pierre and the lawyer in "Bartleby" are further separated from society. The reception of their production is fueled by the placement of sentimentality as a narrative method and not as a genre of fiction. This subversion enhances the bond between the author and the reader, who are both wholly aware of the sentimental connection. In these works, Melville and Fern are exposing both the strengths and limitations of this reliance. This reliance is assisted by the similar plot threads in all three stories. Ruth Hall, Pierre and "Bartleby" all deal with the alienation of the city. The walls that rise around the main characters disconnect them from human relationships. Each story deals with the unpredictability of strangers, and the strangeness of the self. This construction of claustrophobia contributes to enhanced solitude, but in this solitude Ruth Hall uses this placement as an inspiration to write. Through her writing she is given a creative outlet that makes her continuous production enormously successful. Bartleby and Pierre are denied this production, and are stifled with death. All three stories use the framework of sentimentality and apply to it a subversion of form that enhances the bond between the author and the reader. It is through this bond that the impact of the texts are sustained, and their discussions become universal.