Combining archival research in print and publishing history with close reading, McGettigan situates Melville's works alongside advertising materials, magazine articles, trade manuals, and British and American commentary on the literary industry to demonstrate how Melville's literary practice relies on and aestheticizes the specific conditions of literary production in which he worked. For Melville, the book is a physical object produced by particular technological processes, as well as an entity that manifests social and economic values. His characters carry books, write on them, and even sleep on them; they also imagine, observe, and participate in the buying and selling of books. Melville employs the book's print, paper, and binding—and its market circulations—to construct literary figures, to shape textual form, and to create irony and ambiguity.
Exploring the printed book in Melville's writings brings neglected sections of his poetry and prose to the fore and invites new readings of familiar passages and images. These readings encourage a reassessment of Melville's career as shaped by his creative engagements with print, rather than his failures in the literary marketplace. McGettigan demonstrates that a sustained and deliberate imaginative dialogue with the material text is at the core of Melville's expressive practice and that, for Melville, the printed book served as a site for imagining the problems and possibilities of modernity.
Hardcover is un-jacketed.
"McGettigan conclusively demonstrates that throughout his writing career Melville remained fascinated by the printing and bookmaking trades. . . . With a sharp eye for literary detail and a compelling sense of the relationship between writer and publishing industry, Herman Melville: Modernity and the Material Text takes us on an absorbing journey in which we discover how that fascination informs and underpins Melville's most ambitious and innovative literature."—Graham Thompson, University of Nottingham