John Bryant, "Melville Essays the Romance: Comedy and Being in Frankenstein, "The Big Bear of Arkansas," and Moby-Dick (pp. 277-310) This essay argues that romance is not a fixed genre but a process of writing ("romancing") that Melville used at a particular moment in his career to engage in certain "ontological heroics," that is, confront the problem of Being (the mystery of the origins and reality of consciousness). The inadequacy of genre is asserted as the notion is observed to deconstruct in three ways, and it is replaced by six "Notes toward a Supreme Romance," which delineate elements in the process of romancing with examples from Michel de Montaigne's notion of essaying and Nathaniel Hawthorne's own definition of Romance as "careering on the verge." In applying these notes to Melville's romancing of structure and voice in Moby-Dick (1851), the essay first explores the structural framing technique in Mary Shelley's Gothic fiction, Frankenstein (1818, 1831), and its comic counterpart in Thomas Bangs Thorpe's classic tall tale, "The Big Bear of Arkansas" (1854). Both works conceal certain secrets of identity (or mysteries of selfhood and being) through nestings of voices (stories within stories) that culminate in a symbolic being (monster or bear). In Moby-Dick this model of "fictive essaying" is exhibited in "Cetology" (chapter 32), in which Ishmael cons the reader with a joke-within-a-joke structure that sexualizes the whale and thereby allows us unexpectedly to identify with the whale, which in the process also symbolizes the creative roots of Being. By essaying or "romancing" structure and symbol, Melville in effect tricks himself and his reader into a closer relation to the mystery of consciousness.
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