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The life and literary works of herman melville

Herman Melville, born August 1, 1819, New York City—died September 28, 1891, New York CityAmerican novelist, short-story the life and literary works of herman melville, and poet, best known for his novels of the seaincluding his masterpiece, Moby Dick 1851.

He was the third child of Allan and Maria Gansevoort Melvill, in a family that was to grow to four boys and four girls. His forebears had been among the Scottish and Dutch settlers of New York and had taken leading roles in the American Revolution and in the fiercely competitive commercial and political life of the new country.

When the family import business collapsed in 1830, the family returned to Albanywhere Herman enrolled briefly in Albany Academy. Allan Melvill died in 1832, leaving his family in desperate straits.

Herman joined him after two years as a bank clerk and some months working on the farm of his uncle, Thomas Melvill, in PittsfieldMassachusetts. Though finances were precarious, Herman attended Albany Classical School in 1835 and became an active member of a local debating society.

A teaching job in Pittsfield made him unhappy, however, and after three months he returned to Albany. Wanderings and voyages Young Melville had already begun writing, but the remainder of his youth became a quest for security. A comparable pursuit in the spiritual realm was to characterize much of his writing. The crisis that started Herman on his wanderings came in 1837, when Gansevoort went bankrupt and the family moved to nearby Lansingburgh later Troy.

In what was to be a final attempt at orthodox employment, Herman studied surveying at Lansingburgh Academy to equip himself for a post with the Erie Canal project. The summer voyage did not dedicate Melville to the sea, and on his return his family was dependent still on the charity of relatives. After a grinding search for work, he taught briefly in a school that closed without paying him. His uncle Thomas, who had left Pittsfield for Illinois, apparently had no help to offer when the young man followed him west.

In July Melville and a companion jumped ship and, according to Typee, spent about four months as guest-captives of the reputedly cannibalistic Typee people.

  • Send E-Mail to jmadden melville;
  • More significant was the return to prose that culminated in his last work, the novel Billy Budd, which remained unpublished until 1924;
  • Provoked by a false charge, the sailor Billy Budd accidentally kills the satanic master-at-arms.

Despite intimations of danger, Melville represented the exotic valley of the Typees as an idyllic sanctuary from a hustling, aggressive civilization. He joined a mutiny that landed the mutineers in a Tahitian jail, from which he escaped without difficulty.

On these events and their sequel, Melville based his second book, Omoo 1847. These travels, in fact, occupied less than a month. Six months later he disembarked at Lahainain the Hawaiian Islands. The years of acclaim Melville rejoined a family whose prospects had much improved. Gansevoort, who after James K. The years of acclaim were about to begin for Melville. Library of Congress, Washington, D.

Another responsibility came with his marriage in August 1847 to Elizabeth Shaw, daughter of the chief justice of Massachusetts. He tried unsuccessfully for a job in the U. Treasury Departmentthe first of many abortive efforts to secure a government post. In 1847 Melville began a third book, Mardi 1849and became a regular contributor of reviews and other pieces to a literary journal.

The Life and Works of Herman Melville

Melville resented this somewhat patronizing stereotypeand in her reminiscences his wife recalled him in a different aspect, writing in a bitterly cold, fireless room in winter. When it appeared, public and critics alike found its wild, allegorical fantasy and medley of styles incomprehensible. He also visited the Continent, kept a journal, and arrived back in America in February 1850.

The critics acclaimed White-Jacket, and its powerful criticism of abuses in the U. Navy won it strong political support. But both novels, however much they seemed to revive the Melville of Typee, had passages of profoundly questioning melancholy. It was not the same Melville who wrote them.

This reading struck deeply sympathetic responses in Melville, counterbalancing the Transcendental doctrines of Ralph Waldo Emersonwhose general optimism about human goodness he had heard in lectures. His delay in submitting it was caused less by his early-morning chores as a farmer than by his explorations into the unsuspected vistas opened for him by Hawthorne.

To the cooler, withdrawn Hawthorne, such depth of feeling so persistently and openly declared was uncongenial. The two men gradually drew apart. They met for the last time, almost as strangers, in 1856, when Melville visited Liverpool, where Hawthorne was American consul.

It brought its author neither acclaim nor reward. Basically its story is simple. Captain Ahab pursues the white whaleMoby Dick, which finally kills him. At that level, it is an intense, superbly authentic narrative of whaling. In his private afflictionsMelville had found universal metaphors. Increasingly a recluse to the point that some friends feared for his sanity, Melville embarked almost at once on Pierre 1852. It was an intensely personal work, revealing the sombre mythology of his private life framed in terms of a story of an artist alienated from his society.

His mother he had idolized; yet he found the spirituality of her love betrayed by sexual love. When published, it was another critical and financial disaster. Only 33 years old, Melville saw his career in ruins. Near breakdown, and having to face in 1853 the disaster of a fire at his New York publishers that destroyed most of his books, Melville persevered with writing.

Israel Potterplotted before his introduction to Hawthorne and his work, was published in 1855, but its modest success, clarity of style, and apparent simplicity of subject did not indicate a decision by Melville to write down to public taste. In 1856 Melville set out on a tour of Europe and the Levant to renew his spirits.

The most powerful passages of the journal he kept are in harmony with The Confidence-Man 1857a despairing satire on an America corrupted by the shabby dreams of commerce. This was the last of his novels to be published in his lifetime. He abandoned the trip in San Francisco.

The years of withdrawal Melville abandoned the novel for poetrybut the prospects for publication were not favourable. With two sons and daughters to support, Melville sought government patronage. A consular post he sought in 1861 went elsewhere. On the outbreak of the Civil Warhe volunteered for the Navy, but was again rejected.

By the end of 1863, the family was living in New York City. The war was much on his mind and furnished the subject the life and literary works of herman melville his first volume of verse, Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War 1866published privately.

Four months after it appeared, an appointment as a customs inspector on the New York docks finally brought him a secure income. Despite poor health, Melville began a pattern of writing evenings, weekends, and on vacations. In 1867 his son Malcolm shot himself, accidentally the jury decided, though it appeared that he had quarrelled with his father the night before his death. His second son, Stanwix, who had gone to sea in 1869, died in a San Francisco hospital in 1886 after a long illness.

By then he had been in retirement for three years, assisted by legacies from friends and relatives. More significant was the return to prose that culminated in his last work, the novel Billy Buddwhich remained unpublished until 1924. Provoked by a false charge, the sailor Billy Budd accidentally kills the satanic master-at-arms. In a time of threatened mutiny he is hanged, going willingly to his fate. Here there is, if not a statement of being reconciled fully to life, at least the peace of resignation.

The manuscript ends with the date April 19, 1891. Five months later Melville died. His life was neither happy the life and literary works of herman melville, by material standards, successful. By the end of the 1840s he was among the most celebrated of American writers, yet his death evoked but a single obituary notice. In the internal tensions that put him in conflict with his age lay a strangely 20th-century awareness of the deceptiveness of realities and of the instability of personal identity.

Yet his writings never lost sight of reality. His symbols grew from such visible facts, made intensely present, as the dying whales, the mess of blubber, and the wood of the ship, in Moby Dick.

After the years of neglect, modern criticism has secured his reputation with that of the great American writers.