David Herd
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Herman Melville
in Enthusiast!

As he was writing Moby-Dick, from February 1850 to November 1851, as he composed the book he felt certain was his greatest work, Herman Melville understood himself to be inspired. This understanding is evident wherever during that period Melville catches himself in the act of composition. Critics have long since understood Moby-Dick in terms of American religion. In American Renaissance Peter Matthiessen understood its presentation of the ongoing crisis in American religion to be central to the novel's achievement. To build on the story sketched out in the introduction, Quakerism, from its inception, was understood as one form among many of religious enthusiasm. One way of thinking about enthusiasm against the religious background being sketched into this chapter is as a coming or speaking through. Melville's language can be thought of in terms of a coming through, his writing itself as being, in some sense, enthusiastic.

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Essays on Modern American Literature


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