“The Bell-Tower,” Herman Melvile, 1855

“The Bell-Tower,” Herman Melvile, 1855 – Bannadonna, the architect, the mechanician, attempts to build colossal bell tower and create an automaton, Talus, “an iron slave.”

Comments: See also H. Bruce Franklin’s commentary in Future Perfect: American Science Fiction of the Nineteenth Century.  “Melville’s only complete science fiction, ‘The Bell Tower’ represents an important event in the history of the genre.  For here is what may be the first fully developed story in English about a man-like automaton.  Melville includes all the elements which were soon to become conventional–the automaton as destroyer; the creator as a being cut off from normal organic creation; society as possible beneficiary, possible victim of the automaton.”  Franklin also comments on the story’s relation to the abolitionist movement and portrayals of race; the history of the automaton, the Civil War, and works such as “Der Sandmann”; the figure of the “tower” and sexual symbolism; and the complex layers of allusion which mark the fiction of this period.  Other themes and figures: the Tower of Babel, Prometheus, industrialization, pride.

The Phoenix Pick of Classic Science Fiction, intro notes that Melville pits humans against natural forces, either through science or sheer arrogance; wrote several stories of speculation; his stories resemble Hawthorne in that they attempt to “examine the inexplicable and the limits of human ingenuity.”

Author: Wikipedia: “Herman Melville (August 1, 1819 – September 28, 1891) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet.”


About jennre

Lifelong sf fan, first-time blogger
This entry was posted in 1926 and earlier, automata/robots, hubris/pride, progress/obsolescence, race/civil rights, sex/reproduction/sterility, slavery/human trafficking. Bookmark the permalink.

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