Tamara Treichel: “And So Hell’s Probable”: Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and Pierre As Descent Narratives (Monograph/Ph.D. thesis)

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“I do deem it now a most meaning thing, that that old Greek, Prometheus, who made men, they say, should have been a blacksmith, and animated them with fire; for what’s made in fire must properly belong to fire; and so hell’s probable,” Captain Ahab muses in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (ch. 108). This is exactly what this work proposes: Hell is probable in Melville’s classic whaling novel (1851) as well as in his succeeding novel, Pierre (1852). The descent into hell, or katabasis, is an archetypal motif in tales worldwide. It therefore comes as no surprise that Melville, one of America’s greatest and most productive writers, made extensive use of this motif in his works. However, it is stunning that despite the cornucopia of studies on Melville, this motif has remained largely unrecognized by scholars. And this regarding an author who professed his faith in the Calvinistic “power of blackness” and lived in perpetual fear of hellfire! In a rhapsodic manner, this New England writer stitched together his gloom and doom descent narratives. As this work discloses, his muses were none other than Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Milton. Next to Melville’s sources for his descent narratives, this monograph also examines the figure of the descender, his purpose, his helpers and foes, and the destination of his underworld journey. Finally, it places Melville, a misunderstood maverick, and his apocalyptic descent narratives in the context of America’s nineteenth-century Transcendentalism, industrialism and capitalism, Jacksonianism, and the frontier.

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Release Date



Monograph (Ph.D. thesis)


ISBN 978-3-86821-081-1


Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier


• Ph.D. thesis winner of Dr. Gerhard Ott-Prize
• Ph.D. thesis nominated for Ruprecht-Karls-Prize for outstanding dissertations
• Received publication grant from University of Heidelberg’s Graduate Academy for excellent thesis