Read Herman Melville by Elizabeth Hardwick Online


Known for her masterful critical interpretation and award-winning novelistic talent, Elizabeth Hardwick presents her take on arguably the most important classic American literary figure, Herman Melville. Melville's Moby Dick continues to be the quintessential American masterpiece. Despite the modern-day acclaim Melville has received, much of his work was misunderstood andKnown for her masterful critical interpretation and award-winning novelistic talent, Elizabeth Hardwick presents her take on arguably the most important classic American literary figure, Herman Melville. Melville's Moby Dick continues to be the quintessential American masterpiece. Despite the modern-day acclaim Melville has received, much of his work was misunderstood and badly received at the time of its publication. Hardwick explores the tumultuous career of Melville, from his dangerous days as a whaler off the coast of the South Sea Islands, to his employment as a customs inspector in New York City, his failure to achieve literary success, his ill health, debts, and ultimately, his steadfast refusal to stop writing. Though his masterfully-wrought work was rediscovered in the 1920's, Melville was not to see the fruits of his labor in his lifetime. He died in poverty and obscurity....

Title : Herman Melville
Author :
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ISBN : 9780670891580
Format Type : Hardcover
Number of Pages : 176 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Herman Melville Reviews

  • James
    2019-03-29 22:43

    This short biography successfully integrates Herman Melville's life with his literary works. Following a couple of introductory chapters Hardwick identifies most of the remainder with specific novels or shorter works by the author. While its brevity prevents this biography from the "Penguin Lives" series from being comprehensive it still is worth reading for both the insights of Elizabeth Hardwick and her impeccable prose. With the inclusion of a thoughtful afterword and useful bibliographic suggestions for further reading this book presents a good introduction to Melville or a traversal of familiar territory for others who can read and enjoy the author's portrayal of one of America's and the World's greatest authors.

  • Robin Friedman
    2019-04-06 21:47

    Melville's Sleepless NightsAfter reading Elizabeth Hardwick's lyrical introspective 1979 novel, "Sleepless Nights", I turned to this book to learn how Hardwick viewed one of my favorite authors. Born in Kentucky, Elizabeth Hardwick (1916-2007) was a co-founder of the New York Review of Books and a critic and essayist who had written about Melville's "Bartleby". She also endured a long difficult marriage to the American poet Robert Lowell.It is tempting to see a connection between the reclusive, lonely narrator of "Sleepless Nights" and Melville (1819 -- 1891) himself as Hardwick portrays the man. The subject of many lengthy and perceptive biographies, Melville remains a stubbornly elusive figure, a loner and an outcast of ambiguous beliefs and sexuality as are many of the characters that people his novels. I also thought that Hardwick might be viewing her subject from the standpoint of Melville's long-suffering wife, Elizabeth Shaw. The daughter of an illustrious Massachusetts judge, Elizabeth remained married to Melville for 44 years. She endured her gifted husband's frustrations, long silences, drunkenness, withdrawals and possible violent behavior. She also suffered the suicide of the couple's son Malcolm at the age of 18 and the subsequent early death of another son, Stanwix. At the midpoint of the marriage, Elizabeth thought seriously of leaving Melville. But the marriage endured. Perhaps there are parallels between Elizabeth Shaw's marriage to Herman Melville and Elizabeth Hardwick's marriage to Robert Lowell.Hardwick's biography is part of the "Penguin Lives" series which has the aim of presenting the lives of famous persons from a variety of walks of life in short, accessible formats for busy readers. (Another similar such series is the American Presidents series edited by Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Sean Willentz.) Hardwick's book thus is only 160 pages in length and can be read in an extended sitting or two. Especially for a figure as complex as Melville, a short study must if it is to succeed capture its subject in a few words, present the subject insightfully and provocatively, and encourage the reader to pursue the subject on his own. While Hardwick's book received mixed reviews, I think it succeeds admirably in its aims.Hardwick considers both Melville's life and his writings with an emphasis on the latter. The book is written in a passionate, novelistic style which bears little resemblance to academic or journalistic writing that might be expected in a short biography. The book is in the voice of a writer deeply committed to the work of a fellow-writer, shortcomings and all. The book describes Melville's early life, his marriage, the friendship with Hawthorne, his period of novel writing, and his long "withdrawal" late in life in sufficient detail to give a picture of the man in a short compass. While sympathetic to her subject, Hardwick shows the reader a troubled, enigmatic individual.Melville's life, in Hardwick's account, is intertwined with his novels. She begins with a tough-minded portrayal of life at sea in mid-18th Century America and of how Melville saw such a life. She is drawn to the loners and outcasts that made up seafarers in Melville's day, as she points out the traits Melville shared with his fellow sailors and the ways in which he would differ from them.Hardwick gives selective descriptions of Melville's books. For a short book, she gives an extensive treatment of "Moby-Dick" which helped me think about this difficult American masterpiece. Hardwick also offers good insight into the two other books for which Melville is best remembered: "Bartleby" and the posthumous "Billy Budd". Of the rest of Melville's writings, Hardwick offers praise for Melville's fourth novel, "Redburn", for his first novel, "Typee" and for his final novel, "The Confidence Man." She values "Redburn" especially highly and made me want to revisit the book. I was somewhat surprised by her negative judgment of "White Jacket", of Melville's Civil War poetry, and, perhaps, of "Mardi".Hardwick's book captured something of Melville and gave me a fresh perspective on his life and writings. She made me eager to read Melville, an author I have already read and read about many times. The book makes no pretense of being definitive. But it offers insight into how one author views a great predecessor and thus is more than a simple introductory book. Hardwick has written a valuable short study for readers who wish to engage with Herman Melville.Robin Friedman

  • Alex
    2019-03-23 20:29

    I just can't rate this book higher than a star for a number of reasons. It presents a surface reading of Melville's opus and an unsubstantive account of his life. The author does have a certain gift for language...I would call her style a little florid, a bit brusque, but not necessarily in a bad way. A sentence without a verb seems to be one of her favorite constructions. It doesn't flow easily but her style does cause you to think due to its complexity and unusual constructions.My main problem with this slim volume is the treatment of Melville's life. I was hoping to find out a little about Melville the man. You will find out little about him here. What effect did his son's suicide have on him? Why does he burn much of his work? What great themes preoccupied his spirit? What was the latter part of his life like, after he fell from fame and literary success? What was his home life like? Instead the book is structured in an unimaginative way. Basically most chapters are devoted chronologically to his various works. These are related to the reader as opposed to being discussed. We get an albeit colorful precis of the story with selected quotes. But no exegesis. A case in point would be her superficial treatment of Bartleby The Scrivener. Bartleby to me has always represented something profound, the act of negation as a positive, something the West and the USA has never really understood, with all being skewed to success, money, progress and expansion. The spiritual power of yin, as the ancient Chinese would have realized. Bartleby and Moby Dick and Billy Budd are not that different. But if you just want to be told the story, without discussion of its meaning, then this book might work for you.What one does learn about his life is squeezed in between these twice told tales. The one area of his life she does try to focus on reveals a scurrilous purpose that reminded me of a dressed up tabloid. She tries really hard to cast every insinuation that Melville was a closeted or repressed homosexual. This, she admits in her afterward, is the main part of Melville's life that interested her, along with his admiration for Hawthorne, which she claims is another proof of his homoeroticism. I feel she has substituted sensationalism for scholarship, and what's worse, her case is not convincing or conclusive, as she herself admits.My problem with this is, so what? She admits in her afterward that she has no clue as to what this might mean for his work. So what if Thomas Mann had homoerotic feelings? You can't analyze a writer's true worth from this vantage point. Also, she spent a lot of the biographical part of the book on this subject, and as a result does not analyze much of the rest of his life experience, his marriage, his family, his relation to success and failure, even his themes. I really did not think she did Melville justice or gave his greatness his due.

  • John Pistelli
    2019-03-19 23:47

    A review with, or in, digressions:Elizabeth Hardwick, who died a decade ago at 91, is having a literary revival. Her collected essays are due later this year; articles abound, and will abound. Sentences are offered for our delectation. Sarah Nicole Prickett gives us this observation of Bloomsbury: “Certain peripheral names scratch the mind.” Having written a dissertation chapter on Virginia Woolf while persisting in total indifference even to Leonard and Vanessa, to say nothing of Lytton and Duncan and Dora and Thoby and Ottoline and Roger and Julian and all the rest, I know exactly what Hardwick means. Yet I find the phrase empty, adding a mere simulacrum of the sensuous—the mind, in distinction to the brain, lacks any skin to scratch—to the venerable abstract cliché ("vex the spirits") it so theatrically revises. Brian Dillon gives us this, on Billie Holiday:In her presence on these tranquil nights it was possible to experience the depths of her disbelief, to feel sometimes the mean, horrible freedom of a thorough suspicion of destiny.Perhaps one "of" too many, but I see how the sentence drifts off into polysyllabic abstractions as the singer dispels them with her disbelief, on waves of sound amid clouds of smoke. A stylist, no doubt. Dillon attempts a general characterization:How exactly to describe Hardwick’s singular style? For sure, it is a kind of lyricism, a method that allows her as a critic to bring the reader close to her subject via the seductions first of sound and second of image and metaphor.The lyric as a mode is the expression of sensibility and self, so a lyric style must be a personal one, hence the cultivation of any style at all (plenty of authors, insensible to lyric, do not cultivate style as such). But the essayist on literary and political matters wants to express more than just her self. Literary and political argument cannot be private: they aim at suasion, imagine interlocutors. This is why sentences, no matter how original or arresting, are not enough: why, as Aristotle said, the poet is a maker of plots before a maker of verses. Prickett contrasts Hardwick on just these grounds to Kate Zambreno, who champions subjectivism and gender exclusivity (I confess I somewhat contemptuously ceased to read Zambreno's Heroines somewhere around the place where she pronounced that Woolf and Stein, because they succeeded in their literary aims, were "men"):Zambreno’s revisionism is separatist, making claims to equality specious. She believes that to take “the self out of our essays is a form of repression,” but I have to confess that while Chris Kraus’s epistolary I Love Dick matters hugely in a Moby-Dick world, I no longer care who loves dick. I care that Hardwick spent her life loving Melville and made her study of him, published in 2000, her excellent last work, careful by then to find the feminine in her hero as a better way of saying that there can be heroines—if we are given the time and the space, but also the covert, exacting generosity of higher standards.Which brings me around to Hardwick's little Melville study, an entry in the short-lived turn-of-the-millennium Penguin Lives series and yet not quite a biography. I read it for two reasons: because I'm both reading and teaching a great deal of Melville lately, and because I want to see the Hardwick revival for myself, whether as spirit-moved congregant or skeptical reporter.I like the old Penguin Lives books. They are the right size for literary biography, in my view. I avoid door-stopper biographies of novelists and poets. Once I have been apprised of the basic Freudian and Marxian data about who any given writer slept with and how, and the way he or she made money and how much, the rest is intellectual history. Writers' lives are in their reading and writing; what lives on writers' bookshelves is more important for their work than what happens in bedroom and bank account. Hardwick knows this. Of Melville and the frustrations of biography, she writes:And then, it is unsettling to have Ishamel in Pittsfield coming down to dinner at night when the talk will be of money. More dislocating to find him retiring to the bedchamber to produce, after Malcolm and Stanwix, his daughters, Elizabeth and Frances. The assembled family cannot have had any idea of this reluctant head of the household. Nor can the graduate students with their theses, the annotators, the eyes searching passages marked in his books, the critics, the biographers in long, long efforts and short ones. It must be said about Melville that he earned the mystery of hi inner life.But let us give the Kate Zambrenos of the world their due. Identity—or in the slightly more useful academo-pomo formulation, "subject position"—matters, at least until you insist that it does not. Censuring ressentiment and separatism in others, I feel it in myself, like Dostoevsky dismissing the writing of Tolstoy and Turgenev as "landlord literature" or even Junot Díaz, in the now-obligatory racialist idiom, declaiming that "that shit was too white." All of the above to say that I approach Hardwick, at this stage of my reading life, with a bit, just a hint really, the proverbial soupçon, whatever that means, of suspicion— with apprehensions of fatigue. These days, for me, somehow, the New York Intellectuals, The New York Review of Each Other's Books, have lost their luster. If I don't care about Bloomsbury, why should I care about this even less generally relevant coterie? Their organs have been disintermediated, their politics obsolesced, in the thresher of the twenty-first century. The problem with ressentiment and separatism, though, is that you miss too much of relevance to yourself, because you have artificially constricted your own soul too far in advance of experience. Lady Ottoline Morrell, Barbara Epstein—sure, if you're not in the club, who cares? But you would not want to miss a Virginia Woolf, not even in the twenty-first century: so to Hardwick's Melville I go.Anyway, Hardwick was no more indigenous to that world than I am, and (I do not say "so," my overture to the identitarians two paragraphs above notwithstanding) she is good on the Marx and the Freud of Melville. Melville's family was the American equivalent of decaying aristocracy: they had the names (both Melville and Gansevoort, burnished at the Revolution), but periodically found themselves without the money: "In life it is common," notes Hardwick with irresistibly worldly mordancy, "to find persons in truth absolutely broke, and yet there they are the next day buying the newspapers; and so it went with the Melvilles and their hanging on, bleeding." On the Freud of it all, she admits her interest in and focus on "gay Melville" in her afterword:I admit I have found it of interest and have marked the notes in the various places they are heard. What it means we cannot know. The fair young men have their dreamlike quality that fades at the break of day. And there we leave them.The academics scorn the belletrists because of this "cannot know." I have my academic side. Hardwick, whose bibliography is midcentury-focused and ends with James Wood, can perhaps be excused from the labor (she was then in her ninth decade) of parsing the prose of the late Eve Kosofksy Sedgwick, but all the same, I am broadly persuaded that Sedgwick is right when (if I understand her rightly) she assigns to Melville, as to Wilde, the historical task of re-orienting sentimentality for the later nineteenth century around the figure of the beautiful boy rather than the sweet girl—from Little Eva to Billy Budd. Hardwick is better on Melville's marriage. Her descriptions of Lizzie Shaw, braiding severity and sympathy, are superb:In The Kreutzer Sonata, Tolstoy would write of marriage as "two convicts serving a life sentence of hard labor welded to the same chain," which led the Countess to threaten to jump into the pond. As Elizabeth Shaw labored on a weary evening to bring the skewered, cramped handwriting to legibility, she could read of "the disenchanting glasses of matrimonial days and nights." Well, pass on in the manner of a court stenographer clicking away about heads severed with a hatchet.Eventually—at a mention of Robert Gould Shaw (as perhaps related to Mrs. Melville) that concludes a chapter—I recalled that Hardwick was married, largely unhappily (if I am not mistaken), to the author of "For the Union Dead," (not to speak of "'To Speak of Woe That Is in Marriage'") a tormented genius not entirely unlike Melville, and that Hardwick, like Mrs. Melville, went by "Lizzie." (Making a trio with Lowell and Melville, I am also married to a Lizzy—note the y—but will try not to dwell on the implications.) With Sarah Nicole Prickett above, I admire the feminism that sees the heroine in Melville rather than the feminism that would, to no great purpose at this late date, censure him.This book is less a biography, Hardwick admits, than a "reading of the work," and the reading is impressionistic and appreciative rather than interpretative. This makes for some spells of summary or redescription that seem dithery and perfunctory. Yet those sentences stand out. A useful generalization—Throughout Melville's writing there is a liberality of mind, a freedom from vulgar superstition, occasions again and again for an oratorical insertion of enlightened opinion.—or this more specific rendering of Billy Budd, just for example—Garden of Eden before the Fall, sunlit, happy-go-lucky, blissful ignorance; there lies the brute human temptation to bewilder confidence, to test, like Claggart, the defensive powers of the beguiling, androgynous athlete.She is beautifully withering on Pierre; or, The Ambiguities, even though I think I love it, while she seems not even to like it:The windswept Wuthering Heights had been published in 1847, five years previous to Pierre, and it could be wished, if Melville were drawn to exorcising demons, that he had read Emily Brontë; he had not.And Hardwick renders the greatest service a critic can render: adding a book to one's reading list. I probably never would have even gotten around to the autobiographical Redburn, but she makes it sound irresistible, essential.What did I ever want from New York intellectuals before ressentiment overtook me? What do I want now that I know the literati is not necessarily any more reliable than they were when they, alongside dollars, damned Melville—damned him for a lunatic or a heretic? John Leonard, reviewing his New York Review of Books colleague in where else but The New York Review of Books, praised her thusly, while she lived, almost two decades before she got her posthumous revival:So superior are these sentences to the churlishness that passes for criticism elsewhere in our culture—the exorcism, the vampire bite, the vanity production, the body-snatching and the sperm-sucking by pomo aliens—so generous and wise, that they seem to belong to an entirely different realm of discourse, where the liberal arts meet something like transubstantiation. […] She sends up kites; she catches lightning.When I was a teenager, I would set an alarm on Sunday mornings so I could wake up to watch Leonard deliver his own enthusiastic sentences, all incantatory litanies of incongruities, on some network show, reviewing books, reviewing TV (before the golden age!). It was also before the ubiquity of the Internet; such things as learned men and women on TV were needed; he sent me to Rushdie, to Morrison, to DeLillo. What was it I wanted? Not so much the lightning, not from the urbane belletrists. For the lightning, you need the isolatos, the crazies, the Melvilles, the ones who will not be in the club.After his few years at sea in his twenties, Melville lived among decent, well-bred men and women, all the while knowing much of life they could not have known.And what, we men of resentment, is so great about not being in the club as such? Whence this desire to kill all normies, to take it upon ourselves to judge the landlords' literature (as if Tolstoy were not a genius) and pronounce that shit too white (as if the sentence would not read just the same if one substituted "Jewish" for "white")? The worldly-wise, even the worldly-wife, knows that once or twice one must blame the self-anointed victim:His intelligence and remarkable talent for self-education would have opened any door for him if he had wanted doors to open, as perhaps he did not.I did not just want "oratorical insertions of enlightened opinion" from the New Yorkers either—though Leonard was a past master at that—but something, as well, a bit more jaded, rumpled, a sign, in a word, of experience. No, to the New Yorkers one goes for higher gossip, gossip in the best sense, Jamesian or Proustian or Saint-Simonian (whoever Saint-Simon was; I scarcely know), the efflorescence of the inner life as it bends toward the light of the outer without any Melvillean need for transcendence or ultimacy. The very rhythm in the cultivated sentences of secularity itself:Critics, noting the lonely study of the philosophical questions of the mid-nineteenth century, are too quick to rob [Melville] of a melancholy atheism, the moral intransigence of one acquainted with those damned by life.Whatever form literary culture will take after the disintegration of the culture the NYRB addressed or thought it did, this "moral intransigence" praised by and found in Hardwick is well worth reviving, however one judges this sentence or that.

  • Dwwebber
    2019-04-11 17:42

    Elizabeth Hardwick’s last book, wherein she shares her considerable enthusiasm for Melville. (Her four-page discussion of Bartleby is a revised version of her essay published in 1983.) Of course, in this short, highly readable book (this is in the Penguin Lives Series) you get neither a full biography nor a full critical review – which she’s the first to admit. Her purpose is to promote reading of Typee, Redburn, and The Confidence-Man in addition to the more popular works like Moby-Dick. I certainly agree about that, but wish she had something more to say about Melville’s poetry, and less re-telling of Moby-Dick. It’s interesting that she praises and relies on and even quotes from the first volume of Hershel Parker’s Melville biography (although I take it that Parker does not approve of her book), but at the time she wrote it, the second volume (1852-1891) was not yet published. So I wonder how she might have done things differently had she had the full biography. Includes a selected bibliography, but no index.

  • Sarah
    2019-03-22 17:26

    There's a little more that could be said about the life, and a lot more that could be said about the work (Hardwick freely admits to skipping over Mardi, Pierre, Clarel, some of the short stories and all the poetry that isn't Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War), but otherwise this is fantastic; a genuine sympathy and admiration for how Melville persisted in writing despite everything he suffered, respect for the ambiguity and mystery that still hangs over so much of what we know about him, unsparing clarity of insight (I can get very protective and outspoken over Melville, but I was in agreement with all of this; plus the chapter on Moby-Dick articulates Ahab and Starbuck wonderfully), and every so often, an absolutely gorgeous sentence. The best way to describe her prose is gemlike: luminous, hard-edged, opulent and beautiful.If you've read Moby-Dick and are curious as to what kind of mind makes a book like that, this is the best place to start. (though John Bryant's A Half-Known Life may also be worth looking at, depending on how it turns out.)

  • Bruce
    2019-03-21 22:31

    A short, impressionistic survey of the author’s biography, works, and criticism about them. Hardwick confesses in her afterword to more emphasis on Melville’s most popular prose, Moby-Dick, Billy Budd and “Bartleby the Scrivener," admitting that “critics have found much of interest in,” what she terms, “the forbidding texts:” Mardi, Pierre, and Clarel. “In the matter of biography, I have given space to the obsessive relation with Hawthorne and to the ‘homoerotic’ refrain throughout the books. This recurrent musical theme has not done Melville’s reputation any harm in the present landscape.”This makes the book is a pleasantly idiosyncratic read.

  • Jon
    2019-03-25 17:39

    One of the Penguin Brief Lives, similar in brevity to Nathaniel Philbrick's Why Read Moby Dick? Hardwick outlines Melville's own early experiences at sea, examines his family life (such as it was) and his relations with other writers. She records his sad, long life (in spite of finally writing Billy Budd virtually on his death-bed), never well-known. His New York Times obituary recorded his first name as Henry. She also describes each of his early novels in some detail and wonders at "the fantastic explosion of genius in Moby Dick." She is vivid about his wrestling with Providence and futurity, God and nothingness, in what Hawthorne called his relentless "wandering to and fro over these deserts...dismal and monotonous." She is remarkably skilled at reporting without endorsing many different ways of reading him, finally saying "Melville's pages are the object of wild overinterpretation, even if it must be said that his genius is of such peculiarity, such insistence, discursiveness--or prolixity if the manner doesn't please--that it lends itself to flights of meaning." An excellent introduction to his life.

  • Mick
    2019-04-08 15:46

    Short and interesting, but almost too short. It's a good book for someone not familiar with Melville or his works. Hardwick admits in the afterward to giving both Pierre and Clarel short shrift... the absence of which hurts her attempt to discuss reoccurring themes and motifs in Melville's work. Much was made of the homoerotic elements in his work, beginning in Redburn; but rather than treat this critically, it reads more like gossip.

  • John
    2019-04-02 15:28

    A friend loaned me this short book, feeling I might like it. I hadn't told him that I wasn't at all interested in all those sea-themed books of Melville's, but in looking through it recently I noticed that the biographical sections, not focusing on the stories themselves, seemed readable. Glad I selected it, having skimmed through the lit-crit parts. Definitely recommended for Melville fans, and biography readers in general!(Footnote: he seems to have written a rather campy-sounding novel, Pierre: or, The Ambiguities, which I may look into, so all's not completely lost.)

  • Tim
    2019-03-19 22:36

    As I began reading this Melville biography I enjoyed Hardwick's lush prose and frequent quotation from Melville. The middle chapters brought the written works to the center and Hardwick began to try to balance the personal and the literary. She lost that balance and both became obscured. She is also fascinated by the homo-erotic in Melville, but seems unable to do more than point it out. It is as if she must trot out the idea in every chapter, awkwardly point the reader to it, and then go about her business. What began well for me came to a fairly dreary close.

  • Patrick
    2019-03-31 23:36

    Enjoyable to read, though Melville's life seems like it should have been more interesting. I think the challenge for me is more the subject of the story rather than the effort by the author Hardwick. As compared to so many of the other literary lives I've read, Melville seems so passive and defeated by events throughout so much of his life, despite taking on some very interesting adventures early in life and writing our country's best literature ever - side note: Bartleby the Scrivener and especially Billy Budd are two of my favorite short stories ever.

  • Jean-sylvain Brochu
    2019-04-06 18:27

    Lecture de la vie et de l'oeuvre de l'auteur de «Moby Dick». Cet essai bien écrit nous fait voir le parcours singulier de cet écrivain. Par contre, j'ai trouvé l'idée de savoir s'il y avait homosexualité refoulée dans sa vie, légèrement déplacé. «Qu'importe s'il avait été zoophile !" comme me l'a dit une amie.

  • James (JD) Dittes
    2019-04-17 17:22

    I hadn't studied much of Melville, so this was my introduction to him. I feel like it's a fair take on the man, using his literature to explain so much about his very difficult life. Like Scott, I felt it was a little over-stylized, but then, so is Moby Dick!

  • Jeff Keehr
    2019-04-16 16:48

    The prose is a bit rococo, but the material is worth hearing. Melville's life was even sadder than I had hither to believed: his son committed suicide; his other son died of TB. His marriage was difficult and he was violent at home. Artists are often lousy human beings; I'm still not sure why.