‘Male authors fixated on factory women’s sexual identity in an attempt to control their activities rhetorically, but in the process they symptomatized the many ways women’s labor no longer clearly evidenced male dominion.’
Megan M. Wadle, ‘“Rightly Enough Called Girls”, p.55.
The American short story traces the development of women’s role in industrial America. In ‘The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids’ it becomes clear that women are integral to the new, industrial America as they work tirelessly in the paper mill. Over the course of the nineteenth century, women were fundamental workers within the factory. Thomas Dublin notes how they encouraged industrial and capitalistic progress. He says, ‘over the second half of the nineteenth century, employment in New England textiles doubled and cloth production quintupled in value.’ The women’s industrial importance is particularly noteworthy when contrasted to the lives of the bachelors in Melville’s short story. Kevin J. Hayes suggests:
‘the descriptive trappings of a bachelors’ Elysium in “The Paradise of Bachelors” would have been familiar to most of Melville’s readers […] like many nineteenth-century bachelors, he is a flaneur, one who cloaks himself in an identity presaged on leisurely observation.
Against the backdrop of the growing industrial world, which women were so involved in, Melville’s story is a contemporarily relevant way of depicting idleness of men. The bachelor’s behaviour, recognisable to the contemporarily reader, depicts a world in decline. Their lifestyle is rendered obsolete when noted against the economic growth emerging from the mills and factories women worked in. Thomas Dublin highlights the success as he notes, ‘in 1850, cotton and woollen textile mills in New England employed about eighty-five thousand workers producing goods valued at just over $68 million.’ The growing industrial success of the female factory workers further renders the bachelor’s lifestyle and idleness as outmoded. Melville makes reference to the outdated aristocracy of the Templar Knights, an old fashioned European organisation shrouded in mystery and romance. He says, ‘do we understand you to insinuate that those famous Templars still survive in modern London? […] Surely a Monk-Knight were a curious sight picking his way along the Strand’ (p.86) Melville’s constant references to the past hint that the world of the bachelors is a product of fantasy, one which is being romanticised so the men can cling onto an outdated lifestyle. The narrator continues to call them ‘degenerate’ and says, ‘the bold Knights Templars are no more.’ (p.87) The narrator himself sets off the idea of the outdated, anachronistic lifestyle of the Templars. Even the current day bachelors, who he claims have ‘wit and wine […]of sparkling brands’ are depicted as idle. In the story, all they do is eat, drink and take ‘snuff very freely’ before returning to the street to either ‘call a hack’ or ‘be driven snugly to their distant lodgings.’ (p.93) The masculine past that the narrator is clinging to no longer has a place in society. The old, Christian world in London contrasts so greatly to the new industrial present. Kevin J Hayes argues that:
‘at a moment of cultural transition, when gender and sexual categories were solidifying and many Americans had become interested in labelling identities […] he [Melville] styled himself “the last lingerer on a generational threshold.’
Melville’s story recognises a societal change which renders the bachelor lifestyle obsolete. He clings onto an outdated aristocratic lifestyle, knowing that is no longer has a noteworthy place in America. Gender categories were being redefined and Melville’s story is one way to track the process of change in America.
Whilst it becomes clear that the aristocratic male world is in decline, Melville still does not depict the industrial female experience in a positive way. The women live trapped to the patriarchal world and are treated as human machines. The story begins with a description of the bleak landscape, correlating with the bleak experience of the women inside the mill. Melville manipulates the language to dramatize the harsh setting of the story. The mountain the mill is placed on is named ‘Woedolor’. This name immediately introduces the fundamental theme of commerce and transaction in connection with sadness. These themes are then placed in the feminine landscape. The journey the narrator takes in order to arrive at the ‘Devil’s Dungeon’ is described as ‘bleak’, with a wheel-road that is ‘dangerously narrow.’(p.94) The story mediates gender politics through the landscape, particularly since the river is named ‘Blood River.’ Melville connects the hellish, unpleasant and dangerous landscape with blood to evoke images of pain, but also menstruation, an innate female experience. The location of the paper mill is a direct contrast to the ‘paradise’ of the Temple Bar, which is described as being ‘dreamy’ and ‘charming.’ (p.86) Melville depicts the old, aristocratic world of men as idle and outdated. However, the new, industrial female world is likened to hell and described in cold, harsh language. It becomes clear that the gender discourse of new America has not yet been figured out. Martin Schofield argues, ‘the luxury depicted [in the first story] can be seen to depend, economically and psychologically, on the suffering in the second story.’ It seems that old, masculine America needs to depend on female suffering in order to reaffirm patriarchal superiority. The male world needs to reconfirm its own identity within the ever-growing female industrial space. The aristocratic Templars are depicted as outmoded, the new discourse of industry and women workers has not yet been figured out. Megan M. Wadle argues:
‘Male authors fixated on factory women’s sexual identity in an attempt to control their activities rhetorically, but in the process they symptomatized the many ways women’s labor no longer clearly evidenced male dominion.‘
Therefore, in this instance, Melville uses female suffering in order to highlight the fragility of masculine identity within the development of industrial America. Melville’s story depicts the male anxiety of trying to reconfirm an identity in the growing industrial society. The American short story traces the decline of the bachelor’s world and the rising female industrial world. In doing so, it notes the patriarchal response to the continuous growth of capitalist America.
Featured Painting: Gustave Courbet, The Ornans Paper Mill (c.1865), Oil on Canvas, Musée Courbet, France.
Megan M. Wadle, ‘“Rightly Enough Called Girls”: Melville’s Violated Virgins and Male Marketplace Fears’ in American Literature: A Journey of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography (2018) Vol.90 No.1 p.55.
 Thomas Dublin, Transforming Women’s Work: New England Lives in the Industrial Revolution (New York: Cornell University Press, 1995) p.230
 Kevin J Hayes, Herman Melville in Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007) p.g n/a
 Thomas Dublin, Transforming Women’s Work: New England Lives in the Industrial Revolution, p.228
 Herman Melville in The Oxford Book of American Short Stories, ed. by Joyce Carol Oates (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013) pp.86-106 (p.87) All further references are to this edition and are given parenthetically within the body of the essay.
 Kevin J Hayes, Herman Melville in Context p.g n/a
 Martin Schofield, The Cambridge Introduction to the American Short Story, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006) p.50
 Megan M. Wadle, ‘“Rightly Enough Called Girls”: Melville’s Violated Virgins and Male Marketplace Fears’ in American Literature: A Journey of Literary History, Criticism, and Bibliography (2018) Vol.90 No.1 p.55
Written by Sarah Culham.
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