My collection is from Oxford World's Classics.
Look at these lines about "I and My Chimney" from Robert Milder's introduction:
"The remarkable thing about 'I and My Chimney', at any rate, is how wonderfully comic it is, how little it is given to bitterness, self-pity or despair. 1 of the last of Melville's tales, it is also 1 of the most genial, the work of a man who has come to take a virtuoso's pleasure in his craft and thereby, without ever solving the problems that troubled him, slowly to find his way back to the living."I like that. So now I decide to let go, enjoying "I and My Chimney" for what it is and what it does and what it's like without worrying much about what it means and what it represents. As with Kafka. And Gogol.
Anyway, I've been thinking about Melville and Henry James, idly wondering if I'd have enjoyed The Portrait of a Lady if I'd read it a short time after Moby Dick. Probably not. I remember seeing a few years ago someone comparing Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte using the analogy of taste, likening the former to sushi and the latter to barbecue, which means that both are good, but if you eat sushi right after something as strong and rich as barbecue, you can't taste anything at all, it's just raw fish, and as a result, you'll find it bad. I don't know if it's true- haven't tried. Perhaps not, as I like Jane Austen terribly much, with all of her humour, irony and sarcasm, and her stabs at people, whereas Charlotte Bronte I have some reservations against. Perhaps it would work if you replaced Charlotte with Emily, my favourite of the Brontes. In any case, it's a useful, or at least an interesting, concept. The refined, controlled, subtle James would be sushi, and Melville, with his exuberance and intensity, would be barbecue. In James, at least in The Portrait of a Lady and the short works I've read, much is hidden or left out, much is just hinted or suggested, and his greatness is in noticing and capturing the subtleties that easily escape people. I imagine that after reading Melville and enjoying his intensity, his striking images and complex layers of symbols and metaphors, his larger-than-life characters, his rhythmic style mixed with dramatic, hyperbolic or mock-heroic language, one would find James rather dull, as though the strong flavour of Melville kills some of one's taste buds. One would find James limiting, and limited, in his obsession with a perfect form, with harmony and completeness, when Melville tests the possibilities of literature and tries to expand the form of the novel, to make it encompass a lot more, do a lot more.
Luckily, I read The Portrait of a Lady 1st.