22 June 2007

9. Pierre by Herman Melville

This was a book I read for a short-lived English-teacher book club. Three of us agreed to read this virtually unknown book by Melville specifically because it was virtually unknown. Only two of us finished it, and it took me a long, long time (blame the book itself, the boat, and the wooing of the new woman).

It was written right after Melville finished Moby Dick, and was looking to go in a different direction. The historical notes say that he had, "exhausted his supply of experiences from his stint in the U.S. Navy." (How the hell they, or
anyone, knows that, I have no idea.)

Pierre is a privileged, rich kid living on his family's grand estate with his widowed mother. He is a great outdoorsman, has a great mind, dotes on his mother, and is engaged to be married to the local beauty, Lucy Tartan. But he longs to know his long-dead father better and wishes he had had a sister to grow up with.

And guess what happens? From out of nowhere Isabel, a long lost sister turns up with some stories about his father!

And guess what? Pierre is absolutely smitten with her! For real. He comes apart and unseams his life from top to bottom: he breaks the engagement to Lucy, abandons his mother, runs off with Isabel, pretends to be her husband and sets up house in the city. His family abandons him - his cousin pretends to not know Pierre when he arrives in the city seeking lodging, and his mother cuts him out of the will (and then she dies of heartbreak, leaving all of the family's riches to the cousin).

But guess who doesn't abandon him?

That's right, Lucy!

She sends him a letter that she loves him so much, and she has figured he is doing something secret, yet brave, and that because she loves him and his secret project so much she is going to move in with Pierre and Isabel and tend to him with "nun-like devotion."

I won't tell you how it ends, but be assured, you can live without knowing.

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