Paradise of Bachelors and Tartarus of Maids and Other Stories Background

Paradise of Bachelors and Tartarus of Maids and Other Stories Background

“The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids” is an example of a form of storytelling alternatively known as a “paired story” or a “diptych” in which two separate and distinct works are connected thematically in some manner. As a literary technique, this form of short story writing reached its apotheosis with the abundance of 19th century magazines publishing short fiction.

The two stories have their genesis in real life events which took place during two separate occasions in which Melville was traveling. In 1849 while in London Melville visited the Temple and the Inns of the Court. Two years later he visited a paper mill in Massachusetts in order to purchase paper for his writing. The London experience transformed into the “The Paradise of Bachelors” while the paper mill became grist for “The Tartarus of Maids.”

Melville initially submitted the completed project which stemmed from his travels to Putnam’s Monthly Magazine. Although the editor found the experimental work—part autobiographical sketch and part exercise in symbolist fiction—engaging, he feared that his deeply religious regional readership might possibly take offense to some of the ideas Melville was suggesting. Ultimately, “The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids” was published--anonymously as most of his short stories would be published--in the April 1855 issue of Harper’s New Monthly Magazine.

Melville was in a profoundly experimental mood during the period in which he produced this work. During the spring of 1854 Melville also completed two other examples of the “paired story” or diptych: “Poor Man’s Pudding and Rich Man’s Crumbs” and “The Two Temples.” Like the masterpiece for which Melville is most famous, none of these experiments in storytelling technique were greeted by contemporary critics as evidence that America had produced its first literary genius. Modern scholarship has situated the other two and most especially “The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids” as ample proof that Melville was working on an elevated level in the production of both long and short-form fiction that he alone inhabited.

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