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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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Deceptive Appearances: Anti-Romance and Anti-Travelogue Beneath the Surface in Melville’s Typee

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RICHARD MIDDLETON-KAPLAN

At the second meeting of a graduate Melville seminar at UCLA in Spring 1988, Michael Colacurcio stymied us with one of his characteristically disorienting questions: “Is Typee just an innocent first book that has accumulated a lot of complex critical problems because of the reputation of Melville’s later books?” Twenty-seven years after he posed this question, I would like to venture an answer, or at least a partial one.

Among those critical problems is the question of genre. Typee employs discourses of romance, sea romance, travel narrative, political tract, ethnography, autobiography, picaresque, castaway and captivity narrative, religious and social polemic, and more.1 These fluctuate and co-exist in uneasy tension, and no critical consensus has emerged regarding which genre best characterizes Typee, how much control the twenty-five-year-old tyro writer had over genre, or whether the young Melville was deliberately deploying and deconstructing narrative modes. Certainly in his mature writings Melville frequently subverted the conventions of the novel and popular literary genres. He used a wide variety of strategies for these subversions, from virtually removing elements such as plot and fully developed character in “Bartleby” to replacing the standard elements of the novel with an episodic masque in The Confidence-Man. In fact, from Pierre through The Confidence-Man, a polemic against contemporary fiction, and the systematic undermining of the conventions of the novel, comes to the fore in Melville’s writing, as Melville directly challenges readers to reconsider their reading habits, repeatedly reminding them of the...

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