In the early 19th century, Pierre Glendinning is a young man of luxury who plans to marry quiet, beautiful Lucy Tartan and expects to inherit vast estates in rural New York State. One day he encounters a young woman, Isabel, who claims to be his illegitimate half sister. Pierre is determined to acknowledge and care for Isabel, but realizes his mother would never countenance it, so in order to live with her he pretends to have married her, thereby alienating his mother and fiancee. Pierre and Isabel move to New York City and set up house with another woman who was born illegitimate, Delly Ulver, and Pierre attempts to make a living as a writer. The shock of losing him kills his mother, who wills all his inheritance to his cousin Glen Stanly. Stanley promptly courts Lucy, but she rejects him and comes to join the household in the city, thereby precipitating a tragic denouement. After swinging between popular adventure novels (_Typee_ and _Omoo_) and unpopular psychological and philosophical studies (_Mardi_ and _Moby Dick_), Melville next published this book, which appeared on the surface to be a crowd-pleaser but also lampooned the sentimental romances and gothic novels of the day. It was roundly thumped by reviewers, and to this day critics disagree as to whether it qualifies as a failure or a masterpiece.
This report prepared by David Loftus