The fiction of Hawthorne and Melville reappears in superb new editions; Nathaniel Hawthorne: Novels, edited with chronology and notes by Millicent Bell. New York: The Library of America (distributed by the Viking Press). 1,272 pp. $ 25. Herman Melville: Redburn, White-Jacket, and Moby-Dick, edited with chronology and notes by G. Thomas Tanselle. New York: The Library of America (distributed by the Viking Press). 1,437 pp. $25.
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His last novel, ''The Marble Faun'' (1860), is a moral allegory set in Italy (doubtless based on a summer Hawthorne spent in Florence) about the innocent idealist Donatello's ''education'' in sin and its consequences. Many readers have found in it intimations of Henry James's delicate studies of Americans in Europe. At the very least, ''The Marble Faun'' indicates that Hawthorne was moving beyond concentration on the Puritan conscience.Skip to next paragraph
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Herman Melville, so often perceived as a dark, brooding presence akin to Hawthorne, is, unlike his admired contemporary and friend, a writer both empowered and weakened by his commitment to complex themes and large casts of characters - as this edition clearly shows. It employs the texts of the Newberry Library Edition of Melville's writings. Editor G. Thomas Tanselle's Note on the Texts describes the laborious process of collating differing editions (''Moby-Dick'' alone shows 600 differences between the American and English editions) to produce a definitive text.
The books are altogether worthy of such assiduous scholarship - even if Melville himself dismissed ''Redburn'' (1850) as a potboiler, saying he ''wrote it to buy some tobacco with.'' It's the story of a naive young sailor's realization of the world's, and his own, imperfections, notable for its narrative vigor and its portrayal of the seamy underside of the port of Liverpool. It also contains several explicit foreshadowings of Melville's late masterpiece, ''Billy Budd.''
''White-Jacket'' (also 1850) is an exasperatingly uneven, yet lively tale of another young innocent's coming of age while serving on a man-of-war. The story comes with memorable characters and striking symbolic incidents. It nevertheless staggers under the weight of maritime topics and history. Its repeated condemnations of the practice of flogging ought to be its real center.
No such awkwardness mars the turbulent, complicated, brilliant surface of ''Moby-Dick'' (1851). Melville forged an enormity of technical information about the whaling industry, scattered sailors' tales about a real leviathan (Mocha Dick), and an ingenious allegory of good and evil in which both the pursuing avenger (Captain Ahab) and the object of his pursuit (the creature that had maimed him) are symbolic figures radiating both positive and negative impulses.
Few readers have forgotten this mighty book's powerful scenes and striking characters. What we may not have remembered is the novel's intricate structure: the way its virtually Shakespearean language links men and their actions and the elements together through complex patterns of metaphors; the way the narrative is arranged to rise toward, and fall away from, its great peaks of action. No one who returns to ''Moby-Dick'' will be disappointed - and readers who haven't yet encountered it are in for one of the great experiences that reading can provide.
(The entire Library of America series is also available on subscription from Time-Life Books at $19.95 each.)