According to Laurie Robertson-Lorant's 1996 biography, Herman Melville was bisexual. Robertson-Lorant writes:
In successive drafts of this biography, I have struggled to craft a language for talking about Melville's sexuality without force-fitting him into the Procrustean bed of theory. Gay critics claim Melville as a gay writer, but I feel it is restrictive to reduce Melville's writings to coy sexual disclosures, or his life to an elaborate lie. Individuals for whom intellect and sensuality form one strong erotic current may form passionate attachments to persons of both sexes that are not necessarily sexual. Although his writings reflect a deep longing for emotional intimacy with other men, Melville does not seem to have been actively homosexual, according to twentieth-century definitions of the term. He lived a very different life from Walt Whitman, Charles Warren Stoddard, or Oscar Wilde. Whereas Whitman openly proclaimed his preference for men and lived with a male lover, refusing to marry despite proposals from women admirers, Melville lived a heterosexual life, as far as we know. After escaping the forced homosexuality of the forecastle and the multiple seductions of the rover's life in the South Seas, he married and fathered four children." (Robertson-Lorant, Laurie. Melville: A Biography. New York, Clarkson/ Potter/ Publishers: 1996. p.618)
©Charles Osgood (1809-1890)/Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Massachusetts. Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1840 (©4)
One of the great literary friendships of the nineteenth century was that shared by New England writers Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. On August 5, 1850, the two met at a picnic in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. When a sudden thunderstorm came up, they were forced to seek shelter among the rocks of Monument Mountain; the two hours spent alone in conversation sealed their relationship. Melville, the younger man, immediately formed "a reckless emotional attachment" to the 46-year-old Hawthorne, a father figure but, "more than handsome, so darkly gorgeous.“
Elsewhere, Robertson-Lorant distinguishes Melville's handling of sexuality in his art with Whitman's:
Whereas his contemporary Walt Whitman would celebrate the phallus openly in his poetry, Melville expressed himself covertly through puns, jokes, and allegories. He embraced transgressive fiction to reclaim sexuality for serious literature, and when his own ambivalence, combined with heavy cultural and familial repressions, doomed his quest to failure, he went underground. (Ibid., 111)
As a sailor, and as a sojourner in the South Seas, Melville undoubtedly experienced sexual behavior unmentionable in Victorian drawing rooms and genteel novels. When his preconceptions and prejudices about sexuality were challenged by these experiences, he explored new definitions of masculinity in his books, and channeled his anxiety into bursts of bawdy and burlesque. In Moby-Dick, the language itself conflated seafaring sex, so puns on semen and seaman, sperm and spermaceti, came naturally to wordsmith Melville. In A Squeeze of the Hand, Melville daringly transforms a description of whalers squeezing case into a vision of men working not in competition with one another, but in cooperative homosocial bliss that completely defies the official sexual ideology:
Squeeze! squeeze! squeeze! all the morning long; I squeezed sperm till I myself almost melted into it; I squeezed that sperm till a strange sort of insanity came over me; and I found myself unwittingly squeezing my co-laborers' hands in it, mistaking their hands for the gentle globules. Such an abounding, affectionate, friendly, loving feeling did this vocation beget; that at last I was continually squeezing their hands, and looking into their eyes sentimentally; as much as to say . . . Come; let us squeeze hands all round; nay let us squeeze ourselves into each other; let us squeeze ourselves universally into the very milk and sperm of kindness.
By abbreviating the word spermaceti to sperm, Melville conflates the waxy substance taken from the head of the sperm whale with the image of men dreamily squeezing one another's hands, which clearly signify their sex organs. Melville's ribald description of sailors squeezing sperm not only subverts the pronouncements of preachers and ministers, it also deconstructs bourgeois ideas of masculinity and dissolves gender boundaries, as Ishmael and his shipmates squeeze sperm until it turns into the milk of human kindness. (Ibid., 285-286)
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
Amazon (Paperback): http://www.amazon.com/dp/1500563323/?tag=e
Amazon (Kindle): http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MZG0VHY/?tag=e
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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