Herman Melville

Most famous for writing the seafaring novel Moby Dick, American novelist, short story writer And Poet, Herman Melville sadly died 28 September 1891. Born 1st August 1819, in New York City. He wrote mainly during the American Rennaissance Period and His first three books, including Typee and Moby Dick, gained much contemporary attention, with Typee, becoming a bestseller). He was the third child of a merchant in French dry-goods, with Revolutionary War heroes for grandfathers. Not long after the death of his father in 1832, his schooling stopped abruptly. After having been a schoolteacher for a short time, he signed up for a merchant voyage to Liverpool in 1839. A year and a half into his first whaling voyage, in 1842 he jumped ship in the Marquesas Islands, where he lived among the natives for a month. His first book, Typee (1846) became a huge bestseller which called for a sequel, Omoo (1847). The same year Melville married Elizabeth Knapp Shaw; their four children were all born between 1849 and 1855.

The bulk of his writings was published between 1846 and 1857. Best known for his whaling novel Moby-Dick (1851), he is also legendary for having been forgotten during the last thirty years of his life. Melville’s writing is characteristic for its allusivity. “In Melville’s manipulation of his reading,” scholar Stanley T. Williams wrote, “was a transforming power comparable to Shakespeare’s.” In August 1850, having moved to Pittsfield, he established a profound friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne, though the relationship lost intensity after the latter moved away. Moby-Dick (1851) did not become a success, and Pierre (1852) put an end to his career as a popular author. From 1853 to 1856 he wrote short fiction for magazines, collected as The Piazza Tales (1856). In 1857, while Melville was on a voyage to England and the Near East, The Confidence-Man appeared, the last prose work published during his lifetime. From then on Melville turned to poetry. Having secured a position of Customs Inspector in New York, his poetic reflection on the Civil War appeared as Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866).

In 1867 his oldest child Malcolm died at home from a self-inflicted gunshot. For the epic Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land (1876) he drew upon his experience in Egypt and Palestine from twenty years earlier. In 1886 he retired as Customs Inspector and privately published some volumes of poetry in small editions. During the last years of his life, interest in him was reviving and he was approached to have his biography written, but his death in 1891 from cardiovascular disease subdued the revival before it could gain momentum. Inspired perhaps by the growing interest in him, in his final years he had been working on a prose story one more time and left the manuscript of Billy Budd, Sailor, which was published in 1924.

The novel Moby Dick features the crew of a doomed whaling vessel called the Pequod, sailing from Nantucket and captained by one legged Captain Ahab, who becomes obsessed with the idea of hunting down and killing a White Whale named Moby Dick, who bit off his leg during a previous encounter. Despite dire warnings from a Native American crew member named Queequay, who foresees doom and the efforts of various crew members, who try to prevent the voyage, their efforts come to no avail and Ahab’s obsession has disasterous and tragic consequences and ends up costing many lives and sinking the ship.

Sadly after a fast-blooming literary success in the late 1840s, his popularity declined precipitously in the mid-1850s and never recovered during his lifetime. When he died in 1891, he was almost completely forgotten. It was not until the “Melville Revival” in the early 20th century that his work won recognition, especially Moby-Dick, which was hailed as one of the literary masterpieces of both American and world literature. He was the first writer to have his works collected and published by the Library of America. Melville sadly passed away on September 28, 1891 but has left behind some great literature including Moby Dick and many others. Moby Dick has also been adapted for film many times, once with Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab and once with Patrick Stewart in the same role.

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