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Pollock, G.H. (1990). Mourning, Gender, And Creativity in the Art of Herman Melville by Neal L. Tolchin New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988, xviii + 234 pp., $23.50. Psa. Books, 1(4):536-538.

(1990). Psychoanalytic Books, 1(4):536-538

Mourning, Gender, And Creativity in the Art of Herman Melville by Neal L. Tolchin New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988, xviii + 234 pp., $23.50

Review by:
George H. Pollock, M.D., Ph.D.

Some of the most stimulating insights, advances, and confirmations of psychoanalytic thought are coming from scholars and investigators who are based primarily in literature. It is clear from his tributes to Sophocles and Dostoyevsky that Freud knew this. In Neal Tolchin's excellent study we have another illustration of the creative marriage of literature and psychoanalysis. Melville was 12 years old when his father died, and Tolchin very convincingly demonstrates how Melville's lifelong uncompleted mourning shaped the contents of his literary masterpieces. But the Tolchin book does more. It discusses the social history of mourning customs in antebellum American and how social codes regarding the expression of grief affected his life and those around him, especially his mother. Her grief over the death of her husband went on for more than 30 years and influenced Melville's life and work. The emphasis on the cultural influence on what was permitted in mourning behavior is an important contribution, especially when we seek to identify universal reactions and differentiate them from specific responses.

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