Herman Melville Biography

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Herman Melville

Herman Melville was born August 1, 1819 and was the third child of eight. His parents were Allan and Maria Gansevoort Melville’s. The Gansevoort family was socially connected. As a young boy, Herman did not fit the bold of a good, God-fearing, nobl,e and refined child. In 1826 Melville contracted scarlet fever, permanently weakening his eyesight. In 1826 Allan Melville wrote of his son as being “backward in speech and somewhat slow in comprehension…. Of a docile and amiable disposition”. (Melville Biography p.1 ) After the collapse of the family business, the oldest brother took over his fathers business.

In 1839 after his brother declared the family business to be bankrupt, he arranged for Herman to ship out as a cabin boy on the St. Lawrence, a merchant ship sailing in June 1839 from New York City for Liverpool. Melville’s heritage and youthful experiences were a big part in forming Melville’s artistic views and vision (Britannica p. 1). Melville tried to assist the family financially but finding good steady work was difficult. In January 1841 he returned to the sea and sailed on the whaler Acushnet on a voyage to the South Seas.

In June the following year, the ship anchored in the Marquesas Islands. This is where Melville wrote his first novel, Typee (1846). In July, he and a companion jumped ship and spent approximately four months as captives of the cannibalistic Typee people. No one really knew if it was true or not as he was registered on the crew of the Australian whaler Lucy Ann.

Controversy and trouble seemed to follow Melville. When the crew of Lucy Ann reached Tahiti, the crew which included Melville joined a mutiny. The were dissatisfied as they had not been paid for their services. The mutiny ended him in jail which he later escaped. During this time, Melville’s second book was written, Omoo (1847). August 4, 1847 Melville married Elizabeth Shaw, daughter of Lemuel Shaw Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. In 1850 he and his wife moved to Massachusetts and eventually had four children. Melville spent much of his life writing novels. His first novel was Typee. This novel, descries a brief love affair with a beautiful native girl, Fayaway, who generally “wore the garb of Eden” and came to epitomize guileless noble savage in the popular imagination. (Wikipedia p. 2) Upon taking part in a mutiny and being jailed for a brief amount of time, he wrote his second novel Omoo. Omoo was light hearted in tone. The mutiny was shown as something of a farce. It described Melville’s travel through the islands accompanied by Long Ghost, formerly the ship’s doctor, now turned drifter (Melville Biography p. 2). The novel brought to life and revealed Melville’s bitterness against what he saw as the debasement of the native Tahitian peoples by so-called “civilizing” forces.

Melville completed Typee in the summer of 1845. Finding and arranging publication was difficult. His book Typee was published in 1846 in London where it became and overnight best seller (Wikeipedia p.2 ). The Boston publisher subsequently accepted Ommo sight unseen. It was much later in life that Melville wrote his most known work, Moby-Dick. Moby-Dick was originally titled The Whale. Moby Dick was published in 1851. It was categorized as an American Romanticism. Melville eventually bought a farm. This is where he wrote Moby Dick. He had a friend named Nathaniel Hawthorn who was said to inspire his creative energies. His peers say the farm helped shape what is widely considered one of the greatest works of American literature. 3

Moby Dick was finally published in London in October 1851 and a month later in America. Interesting enough, at the time, Moby Dick neither brought Melville acclaim nor reward. This bothered Melville and drew him into a depression and his closest friends feared for his sanity. His next novel written was Pierre (1852). The response to the book was...
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