Originally intended as a preface to the French translation of Moby-Dick, Jean Giono's (Hill) Melville evolved into a literary essay, a fictionalized portrait of Herman Melville in the years leading up to the publication of Moby-Dick. Melville, first published in 1941, was a transitional work that bridged the two periods of Giono's creative career--the landscape-driven Pan Cycle and the character-driven Hussard Cycle.

Herman Melville has returned to the U.S. in 1849, after a fortnight in London with an unusual item: "It was an embalmed head... but it was his own." With that opening, Giono steps back in time to London, where a short negotiation on The White-Jacket ("a bitter, blood-soaked book, a book about desperate combat, a renewed attack against the rule of law, against corporal punishment in the United States Navy") has left Melville with nearly two weeks to burn before his return home. Melville swaps out his dress clothes for sailor's gear and hitches a ride on the mail coach to Woodcut on the advice of a stable boy whose girlfriend lives there. He becomes aware of a female passenger, Adeline White, within the coach, and her voice and gestures stir his imagination. They meet face-to-face at an overnight stop and strike up a friendship filled with poetic imaginings and a heartfelt longing for the unattainable.

The marriage of Melville's and Giono's styles results in a skillfully complex melding of two distinctive voices, and becomes a more profound reflection on art and its philosophical relevance to life. In mimicking Melville, Giono exercised his own considerable literary powers and created an inspired work that both celebrates Melville and is itself a memorable achievement. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

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