A review of Melville’s writing and language in Pierre (2 stars out of 5)

Melville’s writing in Pierre is like the rambling of a small child. Sentences run off in bouts of senseless drivel, meaning obscures itself in language reminiscent of third grade thesaurus abuse, and uninteresting points repeat themselves over and over again. The long and winding sentences made me constantly lose focus. Here are some selected examples that really grind my gears:

“And now, by irresistible intuitions, all that had been inexplicably mysterious to him in the portrait, and all that had been inexplicably familiar in the face, most magically these now coincided; the merriness of the one not inharmonious with the mournfulness of the other, but by some ineffable correlativeness, they reciprocally identified each other, and, as it were, melted into each other, and thus interpenetratingly uniting, presented lineaments of an added supernaturalness.” (IV, V)

“laterally obstructed by insinuated misgivings as to the ultimate utilitarian advisability of the enthusiast resolution that was his” (VI, I)


While often they are overbearing and nonsensical, children sometimes possess a powerful simplicity. They can cut through the crap, and deliver often-overlooked ideas. For example, Hold On by Tom Waits is inspired by this line from his young daughter: “But it’s so hard to dance that way / When it’s cold and there’s no music.” Similarly, Melville sometimes provides direct and meaningful messages with simple language. Here are a few examples of my favorite lines in Pierre:

“For, whatever some lovers may sometimes say, love does not always abhor a secret, as nature is said to abhor a vacuum. Love is built upon secrets, as lovely Venice upon invisible and incorruptible piles in the sea” (IV, IV)

“then Pierre’s enthusiastic heart sunk in and in, and caved clean away in him, as he so poignantly felt his first feeling of the dreary heart-vacancies of the conventional life” (V, I)

“while vaguely to his secret self Pierre revolved these strange revealings; but now he was all attention again as Isabel resumed.” (VIII, IV)

^(I really just like the alliteration here)

“For there is no faith, and no stoicism, and no philosophy, that a mortal man can possibly evoke, which will stand the final test of a real impassioned onset of Life and Passion upon him… For Faith and philosophy are air, but events are brass. Amidst his gray philosophizings, Life breaks upon a man like a morning.” (XXI, II)

The love deep as death—what mean those five words, but that such love can not live, and be continually remembering that the loved one is no more?” (XXIII, I)


I loved Pierre and I hated it. I wished Melville wrote less ambiguously and more directly. Underneath the grotesque word choice and lengthy incoherence, there were a few meaningful and inspiring ideas.