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The Divine Magnet:
Herman Melville’s Letters to Nathaniel Hawthorne

edited with an introduction by Mark Niemeyer

foreword by Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Paul Harding


105 pp.
ISBN 978-0-9906917-5-4 (paper, $18.00)
ISBN 978-0-9906917-6-1 (e-book, $9.99)
Distributed to the trade by Itasca Books
1-800-901-3480 /


“The divine magnet is in you, and my magnet responds. Which is the biggest? A foolish question—they are One.” —Melville to Hawthorne


If you don’t know Melville’s letters to Hawthorne, you don’t know Melville. These letters are full of passion, humor, doubt, and spiritual yearning, and offer an intimate view of Melville’s personality. Lyrical and effusive, they are literary works in themselves. This correspondence has been out of print for decades, and even when it was in print it appeared in scholarly volumes of Melville’s complete correspondence, aimed at the academy. The Divine Magnetwill provide the general literary public as well as the college classroom with a reliable and beautifully produced volume of Melville’s letters to Hawthorne, along with supplemental material, highlighting the relationship between these luminaries of American letters.


“The 10 letters collected in this volume, all written between 1851 and 1852, chronicle, albeit one-sidedly, one of the most consequential relationships in American letters. Herman Melville had met Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850 and recognized him instantly as a literary soulmate. Melville’s letters (Hawthorne’s have been lost) show a rapport and intimacy that go beyond simple mutual respect. Anticipating a visit by his correspondent—who at the time lived only six miles away in Massachussetts’s Berkshire Mountains—he chortles, ‘We will have mulled wine with wisdom, & buttered toast with story-telling & crack jokes & bottles from morning till night.’ Having just read The House of the Seven Gables, published in 1851, he insightfully lauds Hawthorne’s skill at rendering ‘the tragicalness of human thought in its own unbiassed, native, and profounder workings.’ Melville, then at work on ‘my Whale’—Moby-Dick, which he would dedicate to Hawthorne—is also uncommonly frank, in a letter from May 1851, about the literary renown that eludes him: ‘I have come to regard this matter of Fame as the most transparent of all vanities.’ The appendices, which include Melville’s review of Hawthorne’s story collection Mosses from an Old Manse and two poems by Melville thought to be about Hawthorne, enhance this portrait of friendship between two literary titans.”
Publishers Weekly


“[Orison Books’] new edition of Melville’s letters to Nathaniel Hawthorne provides a timely service to literature. Packaged for a broader audience of readers, writers, and lovers of books, this slim volume of ten letters and accompanying pieces invites a new generation to go in quest of Melville’s fiction and poetry while sending an older generation back for more. [. . .] The Divine Magnet is lovingly and elegantly put together, short enough to be read in several sittings and expansive enough to occasion revisits again and again.”
Sean Ford, Pleiades


“Here is Melville at his most inspired and numinous; every perfervid yet finely honed paragraph is a philosophy, recalling Shelley’s essays. [. . .] Niemeyer’s probing and nuanced introduction dissects the controversies over Melville’s feelings toward Hawthorne and situates the letters and the other works within this unresolved context. [. . .] Niemeyer’s volume provides an invaluable reminder of Melville’s philosophical fecundity, seeded by Hawthorne’s inspiring and enigmatic influence.”|
David Greven, Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies


“Melville’s letters to Hawthorne remain a rich source of information and possess a literary and philosophical quality on par with their great fiction, all of which Mark Niemeyer highlights in his recent collection, The Divine Magnet: Herman Melville’s Letters to Nathaniel Hawthorne. . . . [. . .] The Divine Magnet, therefore, has much to offer the readers of Religion and the Arts. It has the potential to generate a refreshing crosswind for those looking for material to help them chart new courses beyond the waters of post-structuralism and into the confluences of literary studies, theology, and explorations of religious experience. Or, for those already there, the collection can offer a variety of intimations about the depths that both Melville and Hawthorne dove into during a period of profound literary productivity, but which have yet to be fully sounded.”
Scott Reznick, Religion and the Arts


“Niemeyer’s lovely edition of Melville’s letters and Paul Harding’s generous, thoughtful foreword are clearly works of love as well as of scholarship. Their essays provide a worthy setting for these unabashed testimonies to the life-giving joy to be found when one human being recognizes in another a reflection or refraction of divine light.”
Marilyn McEntyre, the Ruminate blog




Mark Niemeyer is professor of American literature and American history at the Université de Bourgogne in Dijon, France. His research focuses on nineteenth-century writings of the antebellum period and is frequently concerned with questions related to cultural nationalism and national identity. He has published numerous articles and is co-editor of several editions of works by Herman Melville, including the French “Folio Classique” edition of Mardi (2011), the Norton Critical edition of The Confidence-Man (2005), and the French “Pléiade” editions of Mardi (1997) and Moby-Dick (2006). He has also served as a contributing scholar on the Northwestern-Newberry editions of Moby-Dick (1988) and Clarel (1991). He is co-editor of Literature on the Move: Comparing Diasporic Ethnicities in Europe and the Americas (2002) and co-author of an American and British history textbook for French students, Repères de civilisation: Grande-Bretagne, Etats-Unis (2003). Niemeyer has also published illustrated works of general interest including Water: The Essence of Life (2008) and Wonders of the World: World of Man (2010).


Paul Harding is the author of two novels about multiple generations of a New England family: Tinkers (recipient of the 2010 Pulitzer Prize) and Enon. A graduate of the University of Massachusetts, he was a drummer for the band Cold Water Flat before earning his MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Harding has also received a Guggenheim Fellowship and was a fiction fellow at the Fine Arts Center in Provincetown. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife and two sons.

The Divine Magnet: Herman Melville’s Letters to Nathaniel Hawthorne

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