Pierre is the first novel by Melville I have ever read and thus I was very much intimidated by the ornate language of Melville. When I was reading it, I had to constantly looking up adjectives used in the book to envision the scene Melville is trying to depict. It was a tough read to say the least, But i do not think it is so bad that I would not read it again.
This novel portrayed a rather morbid relationship between the novel’s main character Pierre Glendinning Jr. and his half-sister Isabel Banford, focusing on the psychological portrait of the mental struggle Pierre went through and the ever increasing tension between his family due to his decision of marrying Isabel. Reviewers universally condemned its morals and its style, criticizing its unorthodox topic and pedantic language. However, I found these two points rather understandable if the fact that Melville put a lot of personal experience into the creation process of the characters is taken into consideration. I believe what Melville was trying to accomplish here is to use Pierre as a means of self-expression. The recurrent psychological activities actually stems from Melville’s confusion and frustration towards his friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne. This is probably the reason why a lot of the flashbacks seemed coming out of nowhere and hard to follow, it is because they are not from the natural progression of the character rather than the writer himself. Every time Melville think of something, he just add the snippet of thoughts into the story. And this is probably also an explanation to why Pierre’s character seems somewhat inconsistent, the sudden becoming of an author: Melville was trying to use him to speak out, but somewhere along the writing, the line between the character and the writer is blurred which made this novel all the more fascinating. There are certain things, you have to experience it in order to realize it. This is the reason why Pierre seemed very hard to be empathized with.
And I can understand why Melville chose the incestuous relationship between Pierre and Isabel as the topic of this novel, the focus of this novel is the psychological process Pierre went through. So you need a truly moral dilemma for the main character otherwise there won’t be any struggle necessary. I think this topic was perfect for the sake of plot development and the build up of tension between different characters. You need a compelling antagonist to create a truly realistic protagonist.
So, although it might not appeal to the general public’s taste, i found Pierre: or the ambiguity a very interesting book. It is one of those kind of book, i thought i would never read, but it turned out to be quite rewarding. Although, to be fair, the book could have easily be more accessible if Melville could just organize his thought a little bit more before he wrote the whole thing.