“MY GOOD FRIEND!”: HERSHEL PARKER'S KRAKEN EDITION OF MELVILLE'S PIERRE, LUSHLY ILLUSTRATED BY MAURICE SENDAK, AND INSCRIBED BY SENDAK TO A CLOSE FRIEND AND NEIGHBOR
(SENDAK, Maurice) MELVILLE, Herman. Pierre or the Ambiguities. (New York): HarperCollins, (1995). Octavo, original gilt-stamped burgundy paper boards, original dust jacket. $650.
"Kraken Edition" of Melville’s quixotic novel, “the missing link between the literary culture of the Enlightenment and that of Modernism,” radically edited by Melville scholar Hershel Parker and wonderfully illustrated by Maurice Sendak, inscribed on the half title to Sendak's close friend and neighbor: "For Elizabeth Graham, My good friend! Maurice Sendak March '96"
Published only one year after Moby Dick, Melville's Pierre confused many, causing one reviewer to call the novel, "the dream of a distempered stomach" (NY Herald), while another review appeared under the headline—"Melville is Crazy." As appreciation for Melville's genius grew, however, scholars such as William Spengemann noted the novel's importance in providing "an otherwise missing link between the literary culture of the Enlightenment and that of Modernism," and others have defined its importance in revealing "Melville's deconstruction of the Ahabian element in himself… a relentless questioning in which Melville lays bare not only his hero's pretension to greatness but his own" (Milder, "Melville and the Avenging Dream"). Throughout his life, Sendak was a devoted fan of Melville's work. In a 2005 interview with Bill Moyers, Sendak said, "Art has always been my salvation. And my gods are Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, Mozart. I believe in them with all my heart… I've had my success. God willing, it should have happened to Herman Melville who deserved it a great deal more, you know?… Nothing good happened to Herman Melville." Published after the tremendous critical and commercial failure of Moby Dick, Pierre proved to be a continuation of the disappointment Melville encountered during his lifetime. Though he had expected to earn the publisher's standard author royalties of 50 cents on the dollar, Melville was forced to accept 20 cents. Then, after writing a cohesive 360-page manuscript, Melville tacked on an additional 150 pages full of angry, sarcastic, and thinly veiled criticism of those in the literary community who had wronged him. The Kraken Edition, edited by Melville scholar Herschel Parker and illustrated by Sendak, attempted to wrangle Pierre into its original form, including by eliminating the 150 pages at the end. Sendak, despite being an artist, was so respected for his understanding of Melville that he was thanked by scholars in the acknowledgments of other Melville works. Thus, the Kraken Edition was able to present a version of Pierre that was as well-founded in scholarship as it was revolutionary. Pierre offers the most erotic work ever published by Sendak, full of the illustrations depicting objectified, Adonis-like men and muscular women, both often in a state of dishabille if not outright eroticism—artistic interpretations often regarded as homoerotic despite the heterosexual nature of the relationships in the novel. Hanrahan A144. The former owner of this inscribed book was Maurice Sendak's neighbor, Andrew, from Ridgefield, Connecticut. Sendak bought a home and studio in Ridgefield in 1972 with his longtime partner, Eugene Glynn, and lived there until his death. Andrew first encountered Sendak in 1975 during one of his daily dog walks. (Sendak owned many dogs throughout his life, and they often starred in his books.) Andrew was immediately taken with Sendak, who reminded him of his recently deceased father. One day, Andrew called Sendak at home and asked if he could join him on his walks. Andrew and Sendak thus embarked on a 37-year friendship that also included the Andrew's mother, Betty, as well as Andrew's brother. Sendak went on long walks and hikes with Andrew and his family regularly, discussing general life events, opera, and books. He also invited them into his studio to show off works in progress. Andrew's mother, Betty, was an avid reader and collector and she and Sendak would talk late into the night about books. Sendak offered Betty advice about how to find and authenticate rare children's books, which she used to build her collection. Additionally, he frequently bartered for autographs (i.e. a cake for an inscribed drawing featuring the cake). Sendak often referred to Betty as "Elizabeth" in inscriptions as he felt that "Betty" was too common a name. The many inscribed drawings, along with first editions, signed books, and other valuable items grew into one of the country's premier Sendak collections.
A fine inscribed copy.