The Tartarus of Maids
12/05/2009 § Leave a comment
“Then, shooting through the pass, all alone with inscrutable nature, I exlaimed–Oh! Paradise of Bachelors! and oh! Tartarus of Maids!”
I’m admittedly not as well read on Melville as I feel I (and also the rest of humanity) should be. I’ve read Moby Dick and Bartleby, like every other jerk who went to college. And I’ve wanted to read Typee, Omoo, and Mardi but have yet to actually do so. I certainly will whenever I recieve the book from Library of America but until then I’m sure other things will pop up and seduce my interest.
Recently I recieved a boxed set of American Fantastic Tales. I had been geeking out about it for months and finally broke down and purchased it a few weeks ago. I’m maybe a hundred+ pages into it and have read selections from the likes of Charles Brockden Brown, Washington Iriving, Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville and W.C. Morrow.
The Poe story “Berenice” is a great little nugget about cousins in love and the dude goes crazy and obsesses about old girls teeth.
The W.C. Morrow story is about a guy who has his limbs removed because the Raja thinks he’s bogus, then he plots and stews for a long time and finally exacts his revenge, all while being a quadrapalegic. Really really great stuff.
But the Melville. Ah! That is a real gem, a diamond among costume jewelry (and I love costume jewelry). It is a simple story. And nothing much happens. The quote at the top is actually the end of the story. Let’s just call it the climax, though, there really isn’t a climax. In typical Melville style the story is full of lovely description about isolation and travelling &tc. It’s sort of a slow build that never really picks up steam and then ends abrubtly. It’s like the drone of white noise.
Why is this good and worth writing about? I have no idea. I suppose it’s because when you become accustomed to the white noise and then it disappears, you kind of miss the white noise.
It is really the story of a seed merchant who changes suppliers of envelopes. That’s the hook.
Then he travels in the dead of winter to some distant mountainside paper mill in a place called Devil’s Dungeon. The descriptions are superb and evoke a mood that borders on frightful but never crosses the threshold into horror. Devil’s Dungeon is occupied by nothing but ghost-like maids who float about tending the mill quietly and sullenly. They are watched over by a man they call “Old Bach,” short for “bachelor,” not Bach, and an odd little man who attends other things named Cupid.
The imagery and metaphors are totally obvious but somehow perfect in their own special way. And like I said nothing happens and it never crosses into something more, leaving the reader to draw his own conclusions about basically everything.