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Novel by Melville, published in 1852. It is considered to be semi-autobiographical.

Pierre Glendinning, only son of an affluent and haughty widow, is engaged to Lucy Tartan, daughter of another prominent family in upstate New York. He accidentally meets Isabel, discovers that she is his illegitimate half-sister, and feels that it is his duty to protect her in opposition to his proud mother. To acknowledge Isabel as his sister would disgrace his father's memory, so Pierre pretends to marry her. They seek refuge in New York, and Pierre, poor and without friends, turns to writing a book that no publisher will issue. Lucy, still in love with Pierre, follows him to New York. Threatened by her brother and his own cousin, Pierre kills the latter. Both Lucy and Mrs. Glendinning die of grief, and Pierre and Isabel, now in love with each other, commit suicide in his prison cell. In grappling with the ambiguities of good and evil, Pierre has followed the “chronometrical” standards of ideal Christian conduct, instead of the “horological” standards of contemporary society. He is accordingly undone by his ideals, and becomes “the fool of Truth, the fool of Virtue, the fool of Fate.”

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Herman Melville (1819—1891) American novelist and short-story writer

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