I And My Chimney Essay

The first and third floors of Melville's house can be visited today. The first floor contains a meeting room, museum room and Historical Society archives. There are exhibits relating to local history, including a collection of stoneware pottery from the 1790's to the 1850's and sketches and models relating to shipbuilding. The archives contain a large manuscript collection of local maps, broadsides, letters and town records.

The museum continues in the third-floor attic. There, amid dark, low-hanging original beams and against the original brickwork, is a large collection of goods from Lansingburgh's heyday as a 19th-century manufacturing center. Old brushes, hand tools, oil cloth and ice harvesting tools are on exhibit.

Observing the canal's bustle and promise, Melville decided to prepare for a career. He enrolled, for $5.25 a term, in an engineering surveying program at the Lansingburgh Academy. The Academy is on Fourth Avenue and 114th Street, a few blocks from the Melville home. It is an unusual 1820 brick building with four corner chimneys and a central belfry and is one of the few surviving examples of Academy architecture. Enrollment in the program often led to a successful job on the expanding canal.

While waiting for a canal job that never came, Melville achieved his first publication. ''Fragments From a Writing Desk'' appeared on the front pages of the May 4 and May 18, 1839, issues of The Democratic Press and Lansingburgh Advertiser. The original newspapers are now in the Troy Public Library's extensive collection of Rensselaer County newspapers dating back to colonial times. The library, on Second Avenue, is a large stone neo-classical building of 1897 with wide marble staircases and Tiffany windows.

Late in 1839, Melville traveled, like thousands of youths of his time, to New York City to seek his fortune at sea. He spent the next four years on trading, whaling and United States Navy cruises across the Atlantic and Pacific.

Melville returned to Lansingburgh in 1843. His mother helped him drag a large wooden desk out of the attic and place it in an upstairs window overlooking the Hudson. During the winter of 1844 to 1845, Melville began his first novel. ''Typee,'' ''Omoo'' and parts of ''Redburn'' were written there.

Melville spent most of 1847 to 1850 in New York City, participating in literary life and writing ''Mardi.'' Then, in the summer of 1850, he retreated from busy, distracting city life to his uncle's farm, Broadhall, outside Pittsfield, now the Pittsfield Country Club.

In August 1850, one of Melville's publishers, Evert Duyckinck, visited and set the Berkshire literary community scurrying. He arranged a picnic hike to the top of Monument Mountain in Great Barrington with two of Melville's neighbors, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

On Route 7 north of Great Barrington, the Monument Mountain Reservation overlooks the Berkshires. It is a moderate climb, with some short steep sections, to the rocks on which Melville, Hawthorne and Holmes spread their lunch. On the way up, the group was caught in a sudden storm. They took refuge under overhanging rocks, where Holmes uncorked champagne and passed it around the group. On the summit, Melville leaped onto a sharp rock resembling a ship's bowsprit overlooking the verdant valley below to haul on imaginary rigging as though at sea.

Melville became acquainted with Hawthorne's writings that summer, reading ''Mosses From an Old Manse'' and responding enthusiastically to the man who became his mentor and friend. He produced an essay, ''Hawthorne and His Mosses,'' in which he mentioned the Berkshires' effect on his literary temperament: ''A papered chamber in a fine old farmhouse - a mile from any other dwelling, and dipped to the eaves in foliage - surrounded by mountains, old woods, and Indian ponds - this surely, is the place to write of Hawthorne. I seem to hear him in the songs of the hillside birds that sing in the larch trees at my window.''

To escape city distractions and secure quiet country living, Melville relocated to the Berkshires. With the help of his father-in-law, he purchased a 145-acre farm bordering on Broadhall. In residence with his mother, four unmarried sisters, his wife and a family that would grow to four children, Melville farmed to help support them.

With the first cuttings of his plow, Melville uncovered Indian artifacts. His property had formerly been a hunting ground for the Mohegan Indians. These Indians had been converted to Christianity and renamed the Stockbridge Indians by the missionary John Sergeant, whose 1739 Mission House can still be visited in Stockbridge. The proliferation of arrowheads in the soil led to Melville's naming his farm Arrowhead.

Arrowhead was built as an inn in 1780. Today it is restored to look much as did in Melville's time. Visitors enter the large wooden barn in which Melville kept his cow and horse. In this barn, during Hawthorne's Berkshire residence from 1850 to 1852, Mel-ville and Hawthorne sat in the hayloft for many long evenings discussing Melville's progress with ''Moby Dick.'' There, too, Melville began his literary mornings:

''I rise at eight & go to my barn -say goodmorning to my horse. Then, pay a visit to my cow - cut up a pumpkin or two for her, & stand by to see her eat it. . .she does it so mildly and with such sanctity. My own breakfast over, I go to my work-room & light my fire - then spread my m.s.s. on the table - take one business squint at it, & fall to with a will.''

After the barn, visitors enter the house through the Chimney Room. There, amid a 1700's curved settle and the toy chest and utensils of Melville's daughter, is the 12-foot-square center chimney of Melville's story, ''I and My Chimney.'' Above the wide hearth on smooth wooden panels and inside the chimney, lettered on stone, are quotes from the story that were inscribed there by Melville's brother Allan, who purchased Arrowhead after Melville left in 1863: ''I and my Chimney are settling together'' and ''It is resolved by me and my Chimney that I and my Chimney will never surrender.''

Behind the Chimney Room is the North Parlor, furnished as Melville might have had it. Against one wall is his sofa. Arranged on or against walls are Berkshire craft pieces - an 1807 mourning tapestry, an 1802 banjo clock, a mid-1800's organ and Oliver Wendell Holmes's wind lyre.

The South Chamber upstairs was Melville's bedroom. It contains a heavy wooden bed of the period. Across the hall from the bedroom is Melville's study. He would lock himself in this room, retaining the only key, to escape his busy household. He would work until ''at 2 1/2 P.M. I hear a preconcerted knock at my door which serves to wean me effectively from my writing, however interested I may be.''

In the center of the study is the large library table on which Melville spread his manuscript. There are his spectacles, quill pens and a sample letter. From his chair, Melville would gaze out the north window for a clear vision of Mount Greylock, the tallest peak in Massachusetts. Its double hump breaking through clouds reminded him of a whale surfacing through ocean waters.

While Hawthorne was writing ''The House of the Seven Gables'' in the cottage he named Tanglewood in Lenox, 45 minutes by horseback from Arrowhead, Melville finished ''Moby Dick'' in this room. First editions of the five books Melville completed at Arrowhead are displayed there - ''Moby Dick,'' ''Israel Potter,'' ''Pierre,'' ''The Confidence Man'' and ''The Piazza Tales.'' They were actually written on his cool piazza, or porch, rebuilt in his simple style. Also in the study are his glasses, study key, scrimshaw letter opener and part of his library.

Melville's spirit, both free and troubled at sea, crowded and worried in the city, found in the Berkshires a resting place that created in him the moods that fit his writing needs:

''I have a sort of sea-feeling here in the country. My room seems a ship's cabin; & at nights when I wake up and hear the wind shrieking, I almost fancy there is too much sail on the house, & I had better go on the roof & rig in the chimney.''

Further Melville exploration is available in the nearby Melville Memorial Room at the Berkshire Anthenaeum in Pittsfield. The room houses the largest collection of Melville memorabilia. It includes the desk at which he wrote ''Billy Budd,'' several portraits of the sad-eyed author at various ages, his collection of family portraits and photographs showing Arrowhead through the years. His desk belongings include his candlestick, pincushion, customs house badge from his New York City post of 1866 to 1885, worn quill pens, a pocket dictionary, the pipe he purchased on his honeymoon, an 1857 olivewood cross and blotter he bought in Palestine and his combination compass-tobacco box. Also in the room are books from his library, including numerous accounts of American whaling, fishing and exploring expeditions. The tomahawk pipe and Turkish slippers that hung over the Arrowhead chimney are there, as well as a collection of scrimshaw.

The Athenaeum also houses an extensive collection of the Melville family letters, preserved in vaults but available on request to the visitor, and a research library that includes books Melville consulted while writing ''Moby Dick.''

After ''Typee'' and ''Omoo,'' Melville's literary career faltered. He moved back to New York City in 1863, leaving the country where he had often had ''a most glowing and Byzantine day . . .the heavens themselves looking so ripe and ruddy that it must be harvest-home with the angels.''

He spent the rest of his life in New York City, never regaining the popular audience he had captured with his first two novels. He died in 1891 a forgotten man, just months after finishing ''Billy Budd,'' which he never saw published.

In the rich, multicolored hills and seasons of the Berkshires and the Hudson River Valley of central New York State, Melville had found land congenial to his oceangoing spirit. He was able, for a short but intense period of time, to realize, as he wrote in the ''Lightening Rod Man'':

''In thunder as in sunshine, I stand at ease in the hands of my God. I read in the rainbow that the Diety will not, of purpose, make war on man's earth.'' VISITOR'S GUIDE TO THE SITES A visit to the Melville sites in the Berkshires can be a pleasant one- or two-afternoon excursion. Massachusetts

Arrowhead, 780 Holmes Road, Pittsfield, is open 10 to 4 Monday to Saturday from Memorial Day to Oct. 31. Admission is $3, $1.50 for senior citizens. Tours are conducted every half hour. 413-442-1793.

The Herman Melville Memorial Room is in the Berkshire Athenaeum, Pittsfield's Public Library, 1 Wendell Avenue. The room is open during most library hours and there is no admission charge. Call ahead for specific information. 413-499-9486.

Monument Mountain is on Route 7 between Great Barrington and Stockbridge. It provides a two-hour round-trip hike. At the summit, a spectacular vista overlooks the Berkshires.

Hawthorne's Cottage is preserved in Lenox on the grounds of the Tanglewood Music Festival. It is closed to the public. New York

Melville's Lansingburgh House is also the Lansingburgh Historical Society, at 2 114th Street, 3 miles north of Troy on Route 4, an hour's drive from Pittsfield. The house is shown by appointment only; admission is free. Call the Lansingburgh historian, Warren Broderick, for an appointment. 518-235-4041.

The Lansingburgh Academy, on 114th Street and Fourth Avenue, houses the Lansingburgh branch of the Troy Public Library, and is open during most business hours. 518-235-5310.

The Troy Public Library, at 100 Second Street, houses the Melville newspapers in its periodical room. The library is open during regular business hours. Inquire in the reference room to view the papers, or call ahead. 518-274-7071. E. T.

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This essay explores the connection between architectural tropes and sexual rhetoric in Melville’s short story “I and My Chimney.” The argument focuses on the inversion of conventional hierarchies such as top/bottom, straight/crooked, masculine/feminine, and natural/depraved. These inversions are all centered on the massive chimney of the story, guiding the rhetorical redistribution of unspoken queer desire through inverted parallels and a preoccupation with all things “backwards.” The trope of verticality combines with Melville’s use of different back-turning syntactical devices, such as periodic sentences and hypotaxis, to disrupt the forward motion of the plot. An analysis of rhetorical schemes such as polyptoton further reveals how Melville’s linguistic confusions disrupt the sexual hierarchy of phallus and anus to an extent that compels us to reconsider the phallo-centrism that Melville critics have argued is more or less universal to his style. The “backwardness” of Melville’s rhetoric expresses an inexpressible desire that can only be represented by a prose style turned against itself, which mimics the narrator’s resistance towards normative living arrangements of the mid-nineteenth century.



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