Parker, Hershel 1935-

views updated

PARKER, Hershel 1935-

PERSONAL: Born November 26, 1935, in Comanche, OK; son of Lloyd and Martha (Costner) Parker; married Joanne Johnson (an English professor), June 29, 1963 (divorced, 1979); married Heddy Richter (a librarian), 1981; children: (first marriage) Alison, Sabrina. Education: Lamar State College (now Lamar University), B.A., 1959; Northwestern University, M.A., 1960, Ph.D., 1963.

ADDRESSES: Office—Department of English, University of Delaware, Newark, DE 19716. E-mail— [email protected]

CAREER: Telegraph operator for Kansas City Southern Railway, 1952-59; University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, assistant professor, 1963-65; Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, assistant professor, 1965-68; University of Southern California, Los Angeles, associate professor, 1968-70, professor of English, 1970-77, Bruce R. McElderry Research Scholar, 1977-79; University of Delaware, Newark, DE, H. Fletcher Brown Professor, 1979—.

MEMBER: Melville Society.

AWARDS, HONORS: Woodrow Wilson fellowships, 1959-60, 1962-63; Guggenheim fellowship, 1974-75; University of Southern California Creative Scholarship and Research Award, 1977; Center for Advanced Study fellowship, University of Delaware, 1981-82.



1846 London Journal and Letters from England, 1845, Public Library (New York, NY), 1966.

The Recognition of Herman Melville: Selected Criticism since 1846, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1967.

(With Harrison Hayford) Herman Melville, Moby-Dick: An Authoritative Text (includes reviews and letters by Melville, analogues and sources, and criticism), Norton (New York, NY), 1967, reprinted, 2002.

(And contributor with Harrison Hayford and G. Thomas Tanselle) The Writings of Herman Melville, thirteen volumes, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1968-96.

(With Harrison Hayford) Moby-Dick As Doubloon: Essays and Extracts, 1851-1970, Norton (New York, NY), 1970.

Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade; An Authoritative Text (includes backgrounds and sources, reviews, criticism, and annotated bibliography), Norton (New York, NY), 1971, new edition (with Harrison Hayford and G. Thomas Tanselle), Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 2002.

Shorter Works of Hawthorne and Melville, C. E. Merrill (Columbus, OH), 1972.

(With Harrison Hayford) Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, Norton (New York, NY), 1976.

Norton Anthology of American Literature, Volume 1, Norton (New York, NY), 1979, 4th edition, 1994.

(Series editor) A Reader's Guide to the Short Stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne, G. K. Hall (Boston, MA), 1979.

(With Brian Higgins) Critical Essays on Herman Melville's "Pierre; or, The Ambiguities," G. K. Hall (New York, NY), 1983.

(With Kevin J. Hayes) Checklist of Melville Reviews, revised edition, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1991.

Critical Essays on Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick," G. K. Hall (New York, NY), 1992.

(With Brian Higgins) Herman Melville: The Contemporary Reviews, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1995.

(With Harrison Hayford and G. Thomas Tanselle) Herman Melville, Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1997.

(With Harrison Hayford and G. Thomas Tanselle) Herman Melville, Mardi and a Voyage Thither, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1998.

(With Harrison Hayford and G. Thomas Tanselle) Herman Melville, Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1999.

(With Harrison Hayford and G. Thomas Tanselle) Herman Melville, White-Jacket, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 2000.


Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons: Literary Authority in American Fiction, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1984.

Reading Billy Budd, Northwestern University Press (Evanston, IL), 1990.

Herman Melville: A Biography, Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore, MD), Volume 1: 1819-1851, 1996, Volume 2: 1851-1891, 2002.

Contributor of articles to American Literature, Studies in Short Fiction, New York Historical Society Quarterly, Modern Language Quarterly, Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, Mississippi Quarterly, Studies in the Novel, and other literary journals. Contributor of the Melville chapter to the annual volume of American Literary Scholarship, 1972-80. Guest editor of Studies in the Novel, spring, 1978.

SIDELIGHTS: Considered by several critics as the dean of Herman Melville scholars, Hershel Parker has not only edited numerous volumes of the American novelist's works, but also contributed a well-received two-volume biography. As Parker, a professor at the University of Delaware, related on his school's UD Messenger Web site, the task of assembling the biography began with compiling a daily log of Melville's life, which had been begun by his friend and fellow scholar Jay Leyda. When Leyda became too ill to carry on the project, Parker took over. He spent months at his computer "with a magnifier and perpetual calendar," according to the article, transcribing archival letters, reviews, newspaper pieces, and annotations related to Melville.

Parker described as a valuable find the Augusta Papers that belonged to Melville's sister. The papers, as the article related, were discovered by a schoolteacher in Albany, New York, "in an antiques and junk barn, run by an eccentric, elderly woman." The Augusta Papers offered intimate glimpses of the Melville family, "changing much that had been previously written" about the nineteenth-century author.

Reviewers were quick to respond to this new look at Melville's life. Assessing volume one of Herman Melville: A Biography, Review of Contemporary Fiction critic Jennifer Travis pointed to Parker's depiction of the author's early popularity as a flouter of convention; Melville, according to the book, was surprised to find himself "America's first literary sex symbol," as the reviewer put it. The happiest day of Melville's life, according to Parker, was the day in 1851 when the author presented his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne with a pre-publication manuscript of Moby-Dick. Parker "occasionally indulges in such ex cathedra certainties," commented Phoebe-Lou Adams of Atlantic Monthly, but "he is a sound, sensible biographer" who is so thorough, Adams added, that some readers could accuse him of including "unnecessary detail, such as which cousins attended whose wedding." But to Adams, such details matter, turning Herman Melville into not only the life story of one man, but also "a history of manners, amusements, business methods, politics … and the erratic eccentricities of reviewers."

America critic Mary N. MacDonald likewise held the view that the sheer amount of detail Parker provided was justified. "Few American writers are as compelling as Melville," she noted, adding that the strongest section of the biography deals with "the intellectual and physical circumstances under which Melville wrote Moby-Dick, his visits and excursions with the literati during that period and his friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne." Volume two of Herman Melville takes the author from the 1851 to his death in 1891—"his disappointed later years," as a Publishers Weekly contributor called it. Even his classic Moby-Dick was panned by reviewers on its first publication, and such other novels as Pierre, The Confidence-Man, and One by One also suffered from a lack of reader interest. Dogged by debt, the author who was once the toast of the literary world took a job at the Customs House and faded from public view. The Publishers Weekly critic cited Parker's intense detailing in this volume, saying that while Parker's stylistically long prose "is not for the fainthearted," the author's commitment to "perseverance and painstaking historical detail surely make this biography the last word on Melville, at least for now."

Parker once told CA: "My early education was checkered, even for someone whose half Choctaw and Cherokee father jounced about South Texas oil fields in the Depression and Oregon defense plants during World War II before backtrailing to a farm in Oklahoma. After the eleventh grade I hired out as a railroad telegrapher in Louisiana, where I finished high school and introductory college English courses by correspondence from the University of California and then attended a California junior college for a year. For two years I held a job as night telegrapher in Port Arthur, Texas, while attending Lamar State College of Technology in Beaumont full time. A Woodrow Wilson fellowship got me off the railroad and into Northwestern in 1959. Thereafter my education was conventional. I completed my master's the next year, 1960, and (aided by a Woodrow Wilson dissertation fellowship) my Ph.D. in 1963.

"In the early 1970s in California (far from the eastern archives) my study of Melville's texts and the relationships between textual-biographical evidence and literary criticism led me into a second career as a textual critic and theorist. In the mid-1970s at USC I created a then-unique course in the aesthetic implications of textual and biographical evidence. Later, my relating textual evidence to the creative process and cognitive psychology led to the controversial Flawed Texts and Verbal Icons (1984), in which I brought to bear on literary criticism and theory fresh evidence from the texts of Mark Twain, Stephen Crane, Henry James, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Norman Mailer, and other American writers. This pioneering work into the now-burgeoning field where textual and literary theory merge outraged many because it demonstrated that authors could lose control of meaning; it outraged others because it demonstrated that authors had never been in control of meaning in the first place. For this book I have been identified (or misidentified) as 'textual objectivist,' 'hermeneut,' a 'textual primitivist,' and an 'antiformalist,' and compared to and contrasted with E. D. Hirsch, G. Thomas Tanselle, Jacques Derrida, Jerome McGann, Donale Reiman, Hans Walter Gabler, among others.

"Uniting my work as textual theorist and as Melvillean is my lifelong concern for tangible evidences of the creative process, fascination with the laws of cognitive psychology and human memory, belief that archival research allows a scholar to arrive closer to the truth, and respect for the enlightening and nurturing power of narrative."



America, March 29, 1997, Mary N. MacDonald, review of Herman Melville: A Biography, p. 27.

American Historical Review, April, 1998, review of Herman Melville: A Biography, p. 588.

American Literature, September, 1997, review of Herman Melville: A Biography, p. 627.

Atlantic Monthly, January, 1997, Phoebe-Lou Adams, review of Herman Melville: A Biography, p. 96.

Library Journal, January, 1997, review of Herman Melville: A Biography, p. 50.

New Republic, March 17, 1997, review of Herman Melville: A Biography, p. 29.

New York Review of Books, May 15, 1997, review of Herman Melville: A Biography, p. 18.

New York Times Magazine, December 15, 1996.

Nineteenth-Century Literature, March, 1998, review of Herman Melville: A Biography, p. 529.

Publishers Weekly, March 18, 2002, review of Herman Melville: A Biography, p. 85.

Reference and Research Book News, May, 1997, review of Herman Melville: A Biography, p. 136.

Review of Contemporary Fiction, summer, 1997, Jennifer Travis, review of Herman Melville: A Biography, p. 299.

Spectator, January 4, 1997, review of Herman Melville: A Biography, p. 32.

Times Literary Supplement, February 15, 1985; January 10, 1997, review of Herman Melville: A Biography, p. 3.


UD Messenger, (June 14, 2002), "Hershel Parker's 'Melville' a Whale of a Biography."*

About this article

Parker, Hershel 1935-

Updated About content Print Article