Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Dr. Les Harrison

Second Advisor

Dr. Catherine Ingrassia

Third Advisor

Dr. Terry Oggel


To illustrate Melville’s navigation of editorial politics in the periodical marketplace, this study analyzes two stories Melville published in Putnam’s in order to reconstruct the particular historical, editorial, social, and political contexts of these writings. The first text examined in this study is “Bartleby,” published in Putnam’s in November and December of 1853. This reading recovers overtures of sociability and indexes formal appropriations of established popular genres in order to develop an interpretive framework. Throughout this analysis, an examination of the narrator’s ideological bearings in relation to the unsystematic implementation of these ideologies in American public life sets forth a set of interrelated social and political contexts. Melville’s navigation of these contexts demonstrates specific compositional maneuverings in order to tend to the expectations of a popular readership but also to challenge ideological norms. Israel Potter, Herman Melville’s eighth book-length novel, serialized in Putnam’s from July of 1854 to March of 1855, is the focus of the second case study. This study tracks Melville’s engagements and disengagements with a variety of source materials and positions these compositional shifts amid contemporaneous political ideologies, populist histories, middle-class values, audience expectations, and editorial politics. This study will demonstrate that Melville set out to craft texts for a popular readership; however, Melville, struggling to recuperate his damaged credentials, seasoned by demoralizing business dealings, his ambitions attenuated by the realities of the literary marketplace, undertook the hard task of self-editing his works to satisfy his aspirations, circumvent editorial politics, and meet audience expectations.


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