The Necessity of a Piazza: The Structure of Perspective in Melville's The Piazza Tales

Young, Morris
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
When the reviews of Herman Melville's The Piazza Tales came out in June of 1856, there was a mix of praise and disappointment over the newly collected works. Included in The Piazza Tales were two long and well-known stories ("Bartleby" and "Benito Cereno"); two shorter and lesser known tales ("The Lightning-Rod Man" and "Bell-Tower"); a series of "sketches" ("The Encantadas"); and "The Piazza," a piece written especially as a preface to the collection. Though all of the tales except "the Piazza" had appeared previously in Putnum's Monthly Magazine, there was some apprehension and confusion on the part of the public as to how they should receive this new collection of "old" works. It was legitimate for the public and critics to view Piazza Tales merely as the re-release of a few short stories with the addition of a new tale or preface. Reviews of Piazza Tales support this attitude: they comment on individual tales but rarely consider the work as a whole. This focus on the individual tales was continued in the 1960's when an enormous amount of Melville criticism was produced. We find dozens of studies about "Bartleby," "Benito Cereno," "The Encantadas," and the other tales, but little attention is paid to The Piazza Tales as a unified work. Even "The Piazza," the stated preface to the collection has been looked at more as a tale in itself, rather than as an introduction and unifier of the five other works that follow it.
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