Herman Mellvile Essay, Research Paper
Herman Melville, An American Novelist
Herman Melville is widely regarded as one of America’s greatest and most influential novelists; known primarily as the author of Moby Dick. He belonged to a group of eminent pre-Civil War writers-American Romantics or members of the American Renaissance-who created a new and vigorous national literature. He is one of the notable examples of an American author whose work went largely unrecognized in his own time and died in obscurity. He believed himself to be a failure.
Mr. Melville was born in New York City, a descendant of English and Dutch colonial families, in which he took great pride. His father was a cultured gentleman, underwent financial reverses, entered bankruptcy, and died when Melville was 12 years old. His mother, as portrayed by a portrait by Mrs. Glendinning to be an imperious and unsympathetic woman, was left to raise and care for seven other children left virtually destitute by her husband. Mr. Melville’s education stopped at the age of 15 to help support the family. He worked in a bank, his brother’s fur and cap store, he tried farming and teaching.
Mr. Melville shipped as cabin boy to Liverpool; this was the start of his love affair with the sea. This voyage to him was both romantic and harrowing as described in his work Redburn When he returned from that voyage, he taught school in upstate New York until he sailed on a whaler ship. The 18 month voyage provided factual material for his later novel Moby Dick. He then got tired of whaling, jumped ship while at the port in the South Seas and lived for a month on the islands. He described these experiences in his works Typee,Mardi and Omoo. He continued his voyages on several more whaling ships, sometimes working as a field laborer along the way. When he arrived in Honolulu he enlisted as an ordinary seaman on the frigate United States. His life aboard the man-of-war until his discharge at Boston is the basis of his novel White Jacket
Having completed his education in what he later termed the only Harvard and Yale that were open to him, he returned home to begin writing novels from his experiences and to enter literary society in New York and Boston. He became a member of the Duychinck brothers, who opened a new world of literature to him through their great libraries.
His first two novels Typee and Omoo, drawn from his adventures in the south seas, had considerable success. His third novel, Mardi was a critical and commercial disaster. It was written in an extravagantly wordy style, a product of an author not yet totally in control of his materials. By this time he was married and a father, Melville was compelled to lower his artistic ambitions. He worked quickly to produce Redburn and White Jacket, both written in a straight forward style, written almost entirely for money. These two works restored some measure of his popularity and made him more financially secure.
The family moved to a farm in Massachusetts. Melville formed a friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne, who became his confidant after he outgrew the Duychinck set of New York literati. Melville’s greatest work, Moby Dick, was dedicated to Hawthorne. This book had modest sales, acclaimed by some, the critical response was largely negative.
His next novel was provoked by Melville’s bitterness. Pierre is a dark, eccentric work, written in a strangely mannered style that angered and baffled its few readers. Readers not put off by its style and wild philosophizing were offended by the seeming immorality of its story, which dealt openly with incest and explored with remarkable acuteness those psychological relationships. Although a failure in its own time, Pierre is now regarded as one of Melville’s most important and self-revealing works.
When Hawthorne moved to Concord, Melville lost a great stimulus. He grew farther within himself in his search for a key to the universal mystery. He began to write short fiction-
Israel Potter, a weak historical romance; followed by Melville’s finest achievements, The Piazza Tales. After The Confidence Man, an abortive satire on the commercialism and selfishness of the age, he wrote no further prose.
Melville’s great creative period having perished from public neglect and his own inaction, he attempted to find work by lecturing. After three years in New York, he became a custom inspector, a job he then held for 19 years. He began writing Billy Budd in 1888, it was still in manuscript form when he died in 1891. It was not published until 1924, as a part of the revival of interest in his works.
Herman Melville died in 1891 as a forgotten author. The discovery of the manuscript of Billy Budd and its posthumous publication began the revival of Melville’s literary reputation. By the middle of the twentieth century the significance of his work was recognized, and his novel Moby Dick was viewed as one of America’s literary masterpieces. Melville was desperately trying to find an audience, for he was always short of money and his writing never paid his expenses. Melville, himself, summed up his life in this quote from a letter to his friend Hawthorne: “Dollars damn me…What I feel most moved to write, that is banned, it will not pay. Yet, altogether, write the other way I cannot. So the product is a final hash, and all my books are botches.”
AN AMERICAN NOVELIST
JOHN NAIHE PAIKAI
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