Date of Award

Spring 2021

Document Type

Open Access Thesis


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

David Greven


Much critical interest regarding incest in Pierre has been focused horizontally on the Glendinning family tree, in terms of the brother-sister relationship forged between Pierre Glendinning and Isabel Banford. But this thesis evaluates incest within Melville’s scheme of creativity and gender in the novel. As Sandra M. Gilbert and Susan Gubar have established, to author a text is to become owner of its subjects—a father of one’s “brain-children” (Gilbert and Gubar 7). So, as Pierre writes Isabel into the Glendinning name, the incestuous relationship between Pierre and Isabel may be viewed through the lens of a father-daughter dynamic between the two “siblings.” In the creative sense, Pierre’s assertion of Isabel’s heritage is an act of paternity— an authorial definition of her character in the aristocratic, patriarchal tradition which cloisters Saddle Meadows and its occupants from an increasingly egalitarian America. Consequently, Pierre’s authorship of Isabel as a means of indirect self-assertion against the line of Glendinnings leaves his own identity vulnerable outside the realm of Saddle Meadows. Having shied away from the chance to define himself through confrontation with his predecessors, he inadvertently perpetuates the aristocratic tradition he seeks to reject. It is in this sense that he fails to achieve a “fortunate fall” through his self-imposed exile, demonstrating the author’s imperative to acknowledge the past within definitions of the future.


© 2021, Kersey Reynolds