Melville
Saturday, June 30, 2001
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(GK: Garrison Keillor; TK: Tom Keith; SS: Sue Scott: TR: Tim Russell; ER: Erica Rhodes)

GK: In the summer of 1850, Herman Melville bought an old farmhouse near Pittsfield, about six miles from Lenox, where Nathaniel Hawthorne lived, the famous author of The Scarlet Letter. Melville's books, Omoo and Typee, had not been as successful as he had hoped and he was starting on yet another book about whaling.

The two authors met for the first time in Stockbridge on August 5, 1850, on a picnic excursion up Monument Mountain. There is no conclusive evidence that says that Emily Dickinson could not have joined them.. She lived in Amherst and she would have been 19.
(OUTDOOR AMBIENCE)

TR: Hey. You must be Melville, I'm Nathaniel Hawthorne. Call me Nath.

GK: Hi --- my wife.

SS: I'm Elizabeth Melville. Thank you so much for inviting us.

GK: Thanks. Well, everybody certainly is talking about your book, the Scarlet Pimpernel. You must be tickled pink.

SS: I loved your book.

GK: She loved it.

SS: I read it twice. I kept thinking, if only Herman were able to write like this, we could buy new sheets and tablecloths.

TR: Well---- I guess we should head up the hill. I see you brought sandwiches----

GK: Sandwiches and champagne. I hope you like whale blubber, Mr. Hawthorne. It's good with mustard.

SS: We also brought along some cucumber and egg salad.

TR: Good. Well---- here we go---- watch out for snakes----(FOOTSTEPS CONTINUING, GRAVEL, OCCASIONAL BRUSH, GRASS SFX. BIRDS HIGH OVERHEAD)

SS: Such a relief to get out of the house. Herman's been working on his new novel morning, noon, and night.

TR: Oh? What's it about?

GK: It's about a great white whale.

SS: Another whaling story. I told him, I said, "Why not a romance? Women are not going to read some endless saga about man and the sea. Oh well…..

GK: She wants me to write women's fiction. Sort of like yours.

SS: "Omoo" was the title of his first one. I told him, I said, "Omoo?? People are going to think it's about a cow! Why not call it South Sea Odyssey. But no, it had to be Omoo. Well, what can you do?

TR: How's the writing going?

GK: Slowly. Not easy to get the peace and quiet a person needs around the home, but----

TR: Chestnut trees look nice………Tops all white……..Looks like raspberries over there.

SS: Who's that----- the girl in the white dress sitting under the tree? The girl with the dog. Friend of yours, Mr.Hawthorne?

TR: Never saw her before in my life. Hello!! Fine day today!!

ER (OFF): Mr. Hawthorne?

TR: Yes? (FOOTSTEPS STOP. TR GETS HIS BREATH.) I'm Nathaniel Hawthorne----

ER: I'm Miss Emily Dickinson. I sent you some of my poems. (DOG WOOFS) I never heard back so I came out to make sure you got em.

SS: I'm sure Mr. Hawthorne gets reams of poems from would-be poets every week----

ER: He'd remember mine. Mine are different. Little tiny poems tied up in bundles with colored string.

TR: Were yours the ones with all the dashes and the capital letters?

ER: You got it!

TR: I remember.

ER: So---? What'd you think?

TR: They were interesting.

ER: Interesting!!!??? (DOG SNARLS) Down, Jack. (DOG GROWL) Easy. ---- I didn't write those poems to be interesting, Mr. Hawthorne. I wrote them to take your scalp off.

TR: Well, I'll have to take another look at them, I guess.

ER: Good. I brought a bunch of them along.

GK: Come and join us. We're hiking up there to have a picnic. We've got plenty of sandwiches, Miss Dickinson. And some champagne.


ER: I taste a liquor never brewed
A sandwich never cut.
I hope to never see you nude
Cause you're a horse's butt.

SS: I beg your pardon----

GK: It's a poem. She's a poet.

SS (DITHERING, OFF, SHOCKED)

TR: Come, Mrs. Melville----- let's head for the summit---- (OFF) Watch out for snakes-----

GK: How long have you been writing poems, Miss Dickinson?

ER: Ever since I was twelve and I started hearing voices. ----What do you do, Mr. Melville?

GK: I write unreadable novels, Miss Dickinson. Mostly about whaling.

ER: Whole novels about people weeping and moaning?

GK: About people hunting whales. Leviathan.

ER: Oh. Why write about whaling?

GK: Well, having little or no money in my purse, and nothing in particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. ---- That's a line from my book.

ER: Cool. ---- You a friend of Mr. Hawthorne's?

GK: Not really. But I got tired of my wife telling me I ought to look him up, so I did. (FOOTSTEPS SLOW AS THEY NEAR THE OTHERS, WHO ARE WAITING FOR THEM)

TR: Mr. Melville----

GK: Yes, Mr. Hawthorne?

TR: I just remembered---- this lovely pond here in the clearing----- would you ladies be so good as to withdraw and allow Mr. Melville and I to bathe in this pond?

SS: You want to----- Oh----(SLIGHT VICTORIAN TREMOR)----well, of course---- (FADING) Come, Miss Dickinson. Let's go sit in the trees.

TR: Thank you, ladies.

GK: That Dickinson is a spunky one. (QUIET SFX OF UNDRESSING, CLOTHING SLIPPING OFF) Nice to have a little originality in the 19th Century. --- Is that silk underwear?

TR: It is.

GK: I guess you did pretty well with Scarlet O'Hara, huh?

TR: The name of the book is The Scarlet Letter.

GK: Oh, right. (SLIGHT SPLASHING AS THEY WADE INTO WATER) I wish I had your talent with titles, though. "Twice Told Tales" --- "The Crimson Tide" ----- those are great.

TR: Scarlet Letter.

GK: Right. (SPLASHING STOPS) ---- It's a delicate moment when you're in the water up to your thighs and you have to take that big next step.

TR: Indeed.

(SPLASH. THEY BOTH SHUDDER)

GK: Speaking of which ---- for a book about adultery, yours sure didn't go into much detail.

TR: What sort of detail?

GK: How Hester earned her A. For all you said about it, it could've been an immaculate conception.

ER: Hi there! (SPLASHING, AS THE MEN ARE STARTLED)

TR: Emily! What are you doing there? You were supposed to go with Mrs. Melville!

ER: These are your clothes here?

BOTH: Yes.

ER: Fantastic. Now maybe I'll find out what you think of my poems.

TR: Where is Mrs. Melville?

ER: I gave her a poem and she read it and she ran down the hill screaming.

GK: Very high-strung woman.

TR: You're sitting on my clothes, Miss Dickinson.

(THUNDER)

TR: Can we please come ashore? There's lightning-----! Please.

ER: Be my guest.

GK: I like your poems, Emily. The 19th Century needs somebody like you. (THUNDER, LIGHTNING)

TR: Emily----- I don't like being naked in the pond in a lightning storm!

ER: I'll say! One bolt of that lightning would make a scarlet letter on your rear end, Mr. Hawthorne, and the A wouldn't stand for adultery.

TR: Please----

ER: Because I could not stop for death
He kindly stopped for me.
His little horse, he thought it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near,
He asked if he could have a beer.
I said, You can't hurry love, no, you just have to wait.
But come on, honey, don't be late,
I'll pick you up about half past eight,
The woods are lovely, dark with dew,
Do-wacka-do-wacka-do-wacka-do
And baby----- it's you.

GK: It's wonderful.

ER: You really think so?

GK: For the nineteenth century? It's beautiful!

ER: As good as Whitman?

GK: Better!

ER: Cross your heart and hope to die? (THUNDER, LIGHTNING)

TR: Can we come in now? Please?

(MUSIC)

GK: Herman Melville went on to finish Moby Dick. It started to sell pretty well about the time he died and the copyright ran out, but Melville went to his grave feeling he was a failure. Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote The House of Seven Gables, which had some good tips about home repair, but someone sent him a copy of a high school English textbook with The Scarlet Letter in it and he read the Questions for Further Class Discussion and couldn't answer any of them and felt terribly discouraged . Emily Dickinson became a recluse in Amherst, or wanted people to believe she had: but in fact, she spent her summers in the Berkshires, playing tennis and going to concerts, and like most people who summer here, she had a heck of a good time. (MUSIC OUT)

© Garrison Keillor 2001

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