LEA FREILICH On:
The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids by Herman Melville
The story below is a diptych that presents the life of two social communities that are far apart just as they are alien to one another, yet they testify on each other in an indirect and strange confrontation. The first part of the story, set in London, describes an intellectual, hedonistic, complacent, all-male elite; the second part, set in America, depicts a world of feminine humility for which the gates of redemption are locked. One fundamental trait shared by both communities – the masculine and the feminine – is the seclusion from the opposite sex and its consequent futility and infertility. Is this a social tract about the suffering of the working class in the industrial era and the beginning of automatic mechanization? Does it reveal the materialistic truth hidden in the cellars of the cultural structure? Does it engage in some sort of separateness between men and women as if they were not of the same race? Or perhaps it illuminates the denied truth, which can not be contained and nevertheless arrives from various corners of the civilized world – of the existence of the likes of Jesus Christ who was left on the cross; like Bartleby, the eccentric clerk in Melville’s renowned story of 1853, and the maids of the paper-mill, in this tale, of 1855?