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“The Master-Key of Our Theme”: Master Betty and the Politics of Theatricality in Herman Melville's “The Fiddler”

Collins, Michael James (2012) “The Master-Key of Our Theme”: Master Betty and the Politics of Theatricality in Herman Melville's “The Fiddler”. Journal of American Studies, 47 (03). pp. 759-776. ISSN 0021-8758. (doi:10.1017/S0021875812001259) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:52110)

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In what is by now among the more famous personal histories in American studies, by 1852

Herman Melville was facing bankruptcy and personal ruin after the financial failures of

Moby-Dick and Pierre. Under the guidance of the new editor of Putnam’s Magazine, Charles

Briggs, Melville turned to writing magazine fiction. Building upon work that seeks to show how

Melville in his short stories negotiated the terrain between the riotous world of the popular press

and the sanctified realm of high art, this article looks at a frequently neglected work by Melville

from 1854, “The Fiddler,” as a response to this personal crisis. I show how Melville’s story

resurrects a forgotten transatlantic history (the life of the Irish actor Master William Henry West

Betty) as a means to explore his own search for an aesthetic that could adequately serve both the

demands of the spectacular world of antebellum publishing and his own high literary ambitions.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1017/S0021875812001259
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of English
Depositing User: Michael Collins
Date Deposited: 20 Nov 2015 11:02 UTC
Last Modified: 16 Nov 2021 10:21 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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Collins, Michael James.

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