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A Passion for Getting It Right

Essays and Appreciations in Honor of Michael J. Colacurcio’s 50 Years of Teaching

Edited By Carol M. Bensick

For 50 years Michael J. Colacurcio has been a leader in the criticism of early and antebellum American literature. In The Province of Piety, New Essays on The Scarlet Letter, Doctrine and Difference, and Godly Letters, as well as editions and often-reprinted reviews and essays, Dr. Colacurcio has continued to defend a rare vision of the political and intellectual depth of America’s serious fiction and the aesthetic power and charm of its religious poetry and prose. In light of many honors such as the Book of the Year Award from the Conference of Christianity and Literature and election in 2007 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, UCLA raised him to the rank of Distinguished Professor. Yet for all his dedication to research, his students know him as an unforgettable teacher, who has continued to win several teaching awards at both Cornell and UCLA. The present volume aspires to celebrate Dr. Colacurcio’s 50 years of transformative teaching through an exciting bounty of original and classic essays by some of his most talented students and eminent colleagues from his very first years at Cornell up to and including his current students at UCLA.
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Pro-Americans, Proto-Americans, and Un-Americans in Melville’s Israel Potter

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LUKE BRESKY

As an historical novel of the American Revolution set predominantly in the European theatre of that conflict, Melville’s Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile (1855) offered unusual gratifications for antebellum audiences interested in what Henry James would later describe as a symptomatic national preoccupation, namely “the question of Americans appearing ‘to advantage’ or otherwise in Europe.”1 Through the hero’s eyes, with some elucidation by the narrator, readers may observe Benjamin Franklin receiving Dukes and Counts in his Paris apartment, for example, or John Paul Jones commanding the Bon Homme Richard in a sublime engagement with the Serapis “in view of thousands of distant spectators crowding the high cliffs of Yorkshire,”2 or Ethan Allen demanding his rights as a prisoner of “honorable war” and provoking sighs from “a bright squadron of fair ladies” at the gates of Pendennis Castle (145). And of course, overshadowed as he comes to be by these three better-known figures, Israel Potter himself accepts transatlantic compliments, first from a humane English baronet, then from a magnanimous George III, then from “Secret Friends of America,” whose obscurely and inconclusively conspiratorial communications with Franklin launch Israel on his ill-fated foreign service career. If lumping the feudal and monarchic instances together with the vaguely Masonic episode that follows them allows no differentiation between the kinds of recognition offered by gracious enemies and secret friends, that may well be Melville’s point. On the grounds that the Americans in this novel all make...

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