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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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Melville’s Comedy of Gender: The Battle for Domesticity in “I and My Chimney”

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ALICE HENTON

Analyses of Melville’s short story “I and My Chimney” (1856) often begin with the problem of message. What lurks beneath this seemingly straightforward tale of domestic absurdity? What kind of meaning is Melville attempting to pack in to the “doll-house proportions” of “I and My Chimney?”1 Where, in this comic edifice, is the “secret closet” containing the real significance of the narrative? Numerous critics have pointed to threads of autobiography, political commentary, gendered logic, and metaphysical questioning within the story.2 All of these valences exist in the text: the house which is the focus of the tale is an ostensibly humble country dwelling whose timbers invoke allusions to Versailles and Ancient Rome, while the narrator’s power struggles with his wife unfold in equally grand and cosmopolitan scope. He is Charles the V, Cardinal Wolsey, and Holofernes, engaged in marital spats that are nothing less than pitched battles over regency and abdication. In the confined space of the domestic sphere, the layers of allusion and metaphor overlay each other so closely that they at times threaten the structural integrity of the piece, a kind of metaphorical insecurity that, like the chimney itself, dwarfs the domestic edifice that supposedly contains it. At stake, ultimately, is ownership of this richly signifying space—just who rules over the domestic edifice capable of containing so many multitudes?3 Ultimately, it’s the debate, rather than the answer, that drives the story and provides its comedy.

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