The vortex of creation: Literary politics and the demise of Herman Melville's reputation

Jeanne Barker-Nunn, Gary Alan Fine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Authors do not create in isolation, but rather write within a social and aesthetic network - a literary field that is in its practice a socio-political institution. While these social worlds may at times be harmonious, they are often factionalized and filled with rivalries, both personal and ideological. These divisions affect an author's reputation among fellow writers and potential audiences. To examine the effects of literary politics on reputation we examine the case of Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick, today recognized as one of the greatest American writers. While Melville was celebrated early in his career, within a decade he was widely scorned and viewed as incompetent. We describe how the literary field of the 1840s and 1850s influenced Melville's self-concept, the content and form of his work, and the changes in his critical reputation. We suggest that all authors are caught within socio-political webs that influence their reputations and the evaluations of their creations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)81-98
Number of pages18
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 1 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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