Bringing together in one volume the essays of the world's foremost authority on Herman Melville, this collection is both an essential companion and guide to any reading of the American master's work and a model of literary interpretation that is at once precise, judicious, and inspired. The book allows those who (sometimes unknowingly) felt Harrison Hayford's influence to experience firsthand the interpretive force of his critical method and, through his work, to rediscover the compelling mysteries and intricacies of Melville's writing.
Written over many years, these essays retain the power to enlighten and surprise-and often, as Hershel Parker notes in his Foreword, to dazzle. Along with the never-before-published essay from which the book takes its title, Melville's Prisoners includes "Loomings," widely viewed as the single best piece of criticism ever written on Moby-Dick, and "Unnecessary Duplicates," a classic of textual speculation on Melville's methods. Others offer, along with their enduring insights into Melville's work, example after example of a capacious and astonishingly energetic mind at work and at play-a long view of how scholarship at its best is done. In sum, this volume constitutes the finest set of scholarly-critical essays ever written one of America's great writers.