Two Travelogues; Melville and More

New at Mousehold Words: two travelogues, one a minor masterpiece of American mythology by Hermann Melville; the other a popular Western romance marred by the casual racism and sexism of its time.

Hermann Melville's Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile is Melville's only novel that was originally published as a serial. Based on a real person and the allegedly true stories he tells in his memoir, the novel follows Potter, a veteran of Bunker Hill, through Europe at the time of the Revolutionary War and beyond. Melville recasts Potter's wanderings as an American epic, with Potter cast as Ulysses; along the way, he encounters monumental historical figures such as Benjamin Franklin, Ethan Allen, and John Paul Jones. This is Melville at his most accessible, and its episodic nature makes it perfect for serial reading.

Also new is Overland, a travelogue of the American West written by John W. DeForest, an American writer best known for his civil war romance, Miss Ravenel's Conversion from Secession to Loyalty. Overland, written fifteen years after Israel Potter, is much more dated than Melville's historical epic; ecstatic descriptions of the American landscape, including the little-visited Grand Canyon, are interspersed with a conventional romantic plot and a series of racial caricatures of everyone from Indians to Spaniards to Irishmen, with a comedy subplot about women's rights campaigners thrown in. If you can overlook these, DeForest will give you a fascinating if melodramatic window into the days when crossing the continent by land was a dangerous adventure.