Northern Illinois University Press

Melville's Protest Theism

The Hidden and Silent God in Clarel

Stan Goldman

"Brings solid scholarly knowledge and disciplined critical imagination to the task of unfolding the intertextual links between Clarel and the Hebrew Bible."—SHOFAR

"Perhaps the best of the books on Melville."—The Year's Work in English Literature

Written over a period of almost twenty years, Clarel is Melville's last major literary work to be published before his death in 1891. Although it represents a lifetime of philosophical and theological speculation, the poem's intimidating length and complex syntax have caused Americanists and even many Melvilleans to overlook its critical role in the interpretation of Melville's thought.

In this groundbreaking analysis of Melville's major poetic work, , Goldman draws on extensive biblical and textual research as well as on his own rabbinical training, to trace the intertextual, dialogical relationship between the poem and the Hebrew and Christian scriptures. Through a close examination of Clarel within biblical, theological, and narratological contexts, Goldman demonstrates how Melville's religious outlook paradoxically combines doubt and faith, despair and hope, anger and love, seriousness and scathing irony.

The first book-length study of Clarel to appear in twenty years, Goldman's work sheds critical light on one of the most vexing questions in Melville studies, the extent of Melville's religious belief. Goldman demonstrates that Melville's theological reflection in Clarel represents "protest theism," that is, an attempt to find or to establish the limits within which faith is possible and existence endures and has meaning. The nonsectarian, nondogmatic faith proclaimed in Clarel, Goldman explains, protests and laments human fate yet also embraces renewed commitment to God.

In reading Clarel intertextually with the Bible, Goldman moves beyond setting, character, plot, and symbol—on which most critics have focused—to illuminate both the narrative voices and the theological complexity of the work. His reading of its mosaic of biblical quotations, allusions, and glosses demonstrates the centrality of biblical literature to Clarel and to our understanding of Melville's mature theology.

(1993) 212 pp.
ISBN: 978-0-87580-174-2
cloth $33.00

Table of Contents

Chapter One: The Hiddenness and Silence of God
Chapter Two: Melville's Lament: The Theodicy Questions
Chapter Three: God-Wrestling: The Thematics and Poetics of "Contraries"
Chapter Four: The Small Voice of Silence: The Narrative Voices
Chapter Five: The Unsatisfied Heart: Protest Theism
Works Cited

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ISBN: 978-0-87580-174-2
cloth $33.00