Herman Melville, 1870. Oil painting by Joseph Oriel Eaton.
August 1, 1819|
New York City, United States
|Died||September 28, 1891
New York City, United States
|Occupation||Novelist, short story writer, teacher, sailor, lecturer, poet, customs inspector|
|Genre||Travelogue, Captivity narrative, Sea story, Gothic Romanticism, Allegory, Tall tale|
|Literary movement||Romanticism and Skepticism|
|Spouse||Elizabeth Knapp Shaw (1822-1906)|
|Children||Malcolm (1849-1867), Stanwix (1851-1886), Elizabeth (1853-1908), Frances (1855-1938)|
Herman Melville (August 1, 1819 – September 28, 1891) was an American novelist, writer of short stories, and poet from the American Renaissance period. 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."
Born in New York City, 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.
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.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Critical response
- 3 Writing style
- 4 Themes
- 5 Legacy
- 6 Selected bibliography
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 Sources
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Born Herman Melvill [a] in New York City on August 1, 1819, to Allan Melvill (1782–1832) and Maria Gansevoort Melvill (1791–1872), Herman was the third of eight children born between 1815 and 1830.[b] Part of a well-established and colorful Boston family, Melville's father, Allan, spent a good deal of time abroad as a commission merchant and an importer of French dry goods.
Both Melville's grandfathers were heroes of the Revolutionary War. Major Thomas Melvill (1751–1832) had taken part in the Boston Tea Party., and his maternal grandfather General Peter Gansevoort (1749–1812) was famous for having commanded the defense of Fort Stanwix in 1777. Melville found satisfaction in his "double revolutionary descent". Major Melvill sent Allan not to college but to France at the turn of the century, where he spent two years in Paris and learned to speak and write French fluently. He subscribed to his own father's Unitarianism. The wife he married in 1814, Maria Gansevoort Melvill, was committed to the Dutch Reformed version of the Calvinist creed that had ruled in her family. The severe Protestantism of the Gansevoort's tradition ensured that she knew her Bible well, in English as well as Dutch,[c] the language she had grown up speaking with her parents.
Almost three weeks after his birth, on August 19, Melville was baptized at home by a Reverend of the South Reformed Dutch Church. During the 1820s Melville lived a privileged, opulent life, in a household with three or more servants at a time. Once in every four years the family moved to more spacious and prestigious quarters, all the way to Broadway in 1828. Allan Melvill lived beyond his means and on large sums he borrowed from both his father and his wife's widowed mother. His wife's opinion of his financial conduct is unknown. Biographer Hershel Parker suggests Maria "thought her mother's money was infinite and that she was entitled to much of her portion now, while she had small children." How well, biographer Delbanco adds, the parents managed to hide the truth from their children is "impossible to know." Things came to a halt in 1830 when Maria's family finally had enough, at which point Allan's total debt to both families exceeded $20,000,-.
Melville's education began when he was five years old, around the time the Melvills moved to a newly built house at 33 Bleecker Street. In 1826, the same year that Melville contracted scarlet fever, Allan Melvill, who sent both Gansevoort and Herman to the New York Male High School, described Melville in a letter to Peter Gansevoort Jr. as "very backwards in speech & somewhat slow in comprehension". His older brother Gansevoort appeared to be the brightest of the children, but soon Melville's developement increased its pace. "You will be as much surprised as myself to know," Allan wrote Peter Gansevoort Jr., "that Herman proved the best Speaker in the introductory Department, at the examination of the High School, he has made rapid progress during the 2 last quarters." In 1829 both Gansevoort and Herman were transferred to Columbia Grammar & Preparatory School, with Herman enrolling in the English Department on 28 September. "Herman I think is making more progress than formerly," Allan wrote in May 1830 to Major Melvill & without being a bright Scholar, he maintains a respectable standing, & would proceed further, if he could only be induced to study more - being a most amiable & innocent child, I cannot find it in my heart to coerce him."
Emotionally unstable and behind with paying the rent for the house on Broadway, Allan tried to recover from his setbacks by moving his family to Albany in 1830 and going into the fur business. In Albany, Melville attended the Albany Academy from October 1830 to October 1831, where he took the standard preparatory course, studying reading and spelling; penmanship; arithmetic; English grammar; geography; natural history; universal, Greek, Roman and English history; classical biography; and Jewish antiquities. It is unknown why he left the Academy in October 1831'Parker suggests that by then "even the tiny tuition fee seemed too much to pay." His brothers Gansevoort and Allan continued their attendance a few months longer, Gansevoort until March the next year. "The ubiquitous classical references in Melville's published writings", as Melville scholar Merton Sealts observed, "suggest that his study of ancient history, biography, and literature during his school days left a lasting impression on both his thought and his art, as did his almost encyclopedic knowledge of both the Old and the New Testaments".
In December Melville's father Allan returned from New York City by steamboat, but ice forced him to travel the last seventy miles for two days and two nights in an open horse carriage at two degrees below zero, with the result that he developed a cold. In early January he began to show "signs of delirium" and his situation grew worse until he - in the words of his wife - "by reason of severe suffering was deprive'd of his Intellect." Two months before reaching fifty, Allan Melvill died on 28 January 1832. Since Melville was no longer attending school, he must have witnessed these scenes: twenty years later he described such a death of Pierre's father in Pierre (bk. 4 ch. 2).
Two months after his father's death, Gansevoort entered the cap and fur business and Maria sought consolation in her faith, and in April she was admitted as a member of the First Reformed Dutch Church. Uncle Peter Gansevoort, who was one of the directors of the New York State Bank, got Herman a job as clerk for $150 a year. The issue of his emotional response to all the dramas in his young life, is a question biographers answer by citing from Redburn: "I had learned to think much and bitterly before my time," the narrator remarks, "I must not think of those delightful days, before my father became a bankrupt...and we removed from the city; for when I think of those days, something rises up in my throat and almost strangles me."
When Melville's grandfather Melvill died at on 16 September 1832, it turned out that Allan had borrowed more than his share of the inheritance. He left Maria Melvill only $20. The widowed grandmother died on 12 April 1833. Melville did his job well at the bank; though he was only fourteen in 1834, the bank considered him competent enough to be sent over to Schenectady on an errand. Not much else is known from this period, except that he was very fond of drawing. The visual arts became a lifelong interest.
Around May 1834 the Melvilles moved to another house in Albany, a three-story brick house. It seems that his older brother Gansevoort served as a role model for Melville. In early 1834 Gansevoort had become a member of the Albany's Young Men's Association for Mutual Improvement, and in January 1835 Melville himself became a member as well.
1839–1844: Years at sea
Shortly before June 1839, when he signed aboard the merchant ship St. Lawrence as a "boy" (a green hand) for a cruise from New York to Liverpool, Melville contributed "Fragments from a Writing Desk" to a weekly newspaper. The heavy-handed allusions reveal his early familiarity with the writings of William Shakespeare, John Milton, Walter Scott, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Edmund Burke, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lord Byron, and Thomas Moore.
He returned on the same ship on the first of October, after five weeks in England. Redburn: His First Voyage (1849) is partly based on his experiences of this journey. At least two of the nine guide-books listed in chapter 30 had been part of Allan Melvill's library. Melville resumed teaching, now at Greenbush, New York, but left after one term. In the summer of 1840 his trip to Galena took place.
On January 3, 1841, he sailed from Fairhaven, Massachusetts, on the whaler Acushnet, which was bound for the Pacific Ocean. He was later to comment that his life began that day. The vessel sailed around Cape Horn and traveled to the South Pacific. Melville left few direct accounts of the events of this 18-month voyage, although his whaling romance, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, probably describes many aspects of life on board the Acushnet. Melville deserted the Acushnet in the Marquesas Islands in July 1842.
For three weeks he lived among the Typee natives, who were called cannibals by the two other tribal groups on the island—though they treated Melville very well. Typee, Melville's first book, describes a brief love affair with a beautiful native girl, Fayaway, who generally "wore the garb of Eden" and came to epitomize the guileless noble savage in the popular imagination.
Melville did not seem to be concerned about the consequences of leaving the Acushnet. He boarded an Australian whale ship, the Lucy Ann, bound for Tahiti; took part in a mutiny and was briefly jailed in the native Calabooza Beretanee. After release, he spent several months as beachcomber and island rover ('omoo' in Tahitian), eventually crossing over to Moorea. He signed articles on yet another whaler for a six-month cruise (November 1842 − April 1843), which terminated in Honolulu. After working as a clerk for four months, he joined the crew of the frigate USS United States, which reached Boston in October 1844. He drew from these experiences in his books Typee, Omoo, and White-Jacket.
The encounter with the wide ocean, seemingly abandoned by God, led Melville to experience a "metaphysical estrangement," Milder believes, and his social thought was influenced in two ways by his specific adventures in the Pacific. First, by birth and breeding Melville belonged to the genteel classes, but found himself not only placed among but also sympathizing with the "disinherited commons." Second, his acquaintance with the cultures of Polynesia enabled him to view the West from an outsider's perspective.
1845-1850: Successful writer
Melville completed Typee in the summer of 1845, while living in Troy, New York. Though based upon his own adventures, the book is not a strict autobiography, if only because Melville's later experiences in Tahiti and the Sandwich Islands are worked into the narrative as well. Neither is it a fictional romance. Instead, scholar Robert Milder calls Typee "an appealing mixture of adventure, anecdote, ethnography, and social criticism presented with a genial latitudinarianism that gave novelty to a South Sea idyll at once erotically suggestive and romantically chaste." After some difficulty in arranging publication, he saw it first published in 1846 in London, where it became an overnight bestseller. The Boston publisher subsequently accepted Omoo sight unseen. Omoo is "a slighter but more professional book." Typee and Omoo gave Melville overnight renown as a writer and adventurer, and he often entertained by telling stories to his admirers. As the writer and editor Nathaniel Parker Willis wrote, "With his cigar and his Spanish eyes, he talks Typee and Omoo, just as you find the flow of his delightful mind on paper". These did not generate enough royalties to support him financially, however.
On August 4, 1847, Melville married Elizabeth Shaw, daughter of Lemuel Shaw, the Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The couple honeymooned in Canada and then moved into a house on Fourth avenue in New York City. Melville wrote a long, philosophical work Mardi, an allegorical narrative that proved a disappointment for readers who wanted another rollicking and exotic sea yarn. Actually the book began as another South Sea story, but as he wrote Melville left that genre behind, first in favor of "a romance of the narrator Taji and the lost maiden Yillah" and then "to an allegorical voyage of the philosopher Babbalanja and his companions through the imaginary archipelago of Mardi."
On 16 February the Melvilles' first child, Malcolm, was born, which may have stirred memories of his own father. The bankruptcy and death of Allan Melville, and Melville's own youthful humiliations surface in Redburn (1849), "a story of outward adaptation and inner impairment." Melville based the book on his first sea voyage, of 1839 to Liverpool, just as he drawn on his experiences of 1844 aboard the warship United States for White-Jacket (1850).
In 1850, the Melvilles moved to Massachusetts. They had four children: two sons and two daughters.
1850-1851: Hawthorne and Moby-Dick
At first Moby-Dick moved swiftly. In early May 1850 he wrote to Richard Henry Dana, also a sea author, saying he was already "half way" done. In June he described the book to his English publisher as "a romance of adventure, founded upon certain wild legends in the Southern Sperm Whale Fisheries", and promised it would be done by the fall. Since the manuscript for the book has not survived, it is impossible to know for sure its state at this critical juncture. Over the next several months, Melville's plan for the book underwent a radical transformation into what has been described as "the most ambitious book ever conceived by an American writer".
In September 1850 the Melvilles purchased Arrowhead, a farm house in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. (It is now preserved as a house museum and has been designated a National Historic Landmark). Here Melville and Elizabeth lived for 13 years. While living at Arrowhead, Melville befriended the author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who lived in nearby Lenox. Melville wrote ten letters to Hawthorne, "all of them effusive, profound, deeply affectionate". Melville was inspired and encouraged by his new relationship with Hawthorne during the period that he was writing Moby-Dick. He dedicated this new novel to Hawthorne, though their friendship was to wane only a short time later.
On 18 October The Whale was published in Britain in three volumes, and on 14 November Moby-Dick appeared in the United States as a single volume. In between these dates, on 22 October, the Melvilles' second child, Stanwix, was born.
1852-1857: Unsuccessful writer
Pierre: or, The Ambiguities, a novel partly autobiographical and difficult in style, was not well received. The New York Day Book on September 8, 1852, published a venomous attack headlined "HERMAN MELVILLE CRAZY". The item, offered as a news story, reported,
A critical friend, who read Melville's last book, Ambiguities, between two steamboat accidents, told us that it appeared to be composed of the ravings and reveries of a madman. We were somewhat startled at the remark, but still more at learning, a few days after, that Melville was really supposed to be deranged, and that his friends were taking measures to place him under treatment. We hope one of the earliest precautions will be to keep him stringently secluded from pen and ink.
On 22 May 1853 Elizabeth (Bessy) was born, the Melvilles' third child and first daughter.
Following this and other scathing reviews of Pierre, publishers became wary of Melville's work. His publisher, Harper & Brothers, rejected his next manuscript, presumed to be Isle of the Cross, which has been lost.
Between 1853 and 1856, Melville published fourteen tales and sketches in Putnams and Harpers magazines. In 1856 a selection of the short fiction, including Bartleby, the Scrivener and Benito Cereno, was published as The Piazza Tales. The title story was especially written for the collection as an introductory story. One of the magazine pieces was a serialized book, Israel Potter, the narrative of a Revolutionary War veteran.
On 2 March 1855 Frances (Fanny) was born, the Melvilles' fourth child. In this period Israel Potter appeared as a book.
In late 1856 he made a six-month Grand Tour of the British Isles and the Mediterranean. While in England, he spent three days with Hawthorne, who had taken an embassy position there. At the seaside village of Southport, amid the sand dunes where they had stopped to smoke cigars, they had a conversation which Hawthorne later described in his journal:
Melville, as he always does, began to reason of Providence and futurity, and of everything that lies beyond human ken, and informed me that he 'pretty much made up his mind to be annihilated'; but still he does not seem to rest in that anticipation; and, I think, will never rest until he gets hold of a definite belief. It is strange how he persists—and has persisted ever since I knew him, and probably long before—in wandering to-and-fro over these deserts, as dismal and monotonous as the sand hills amid which we were sitting. He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other. If he were a religious man, he would be one of the most truly religious and reverential; he has a very high and noble nature, and better worth immortality than most of us.
On April 1, 1857, Melville published his last full-length novel, The Confidence-Man. This novel, subtitled His Masquerade, has won general acclaim in modern times as a complex and mysterious exploration of issues of fraud and honesty, identity and masquerade. But, when it was published, it received reviews ranging from the bewildered to the denunciatory.
To repair his faltering finances, Melville was advised by friends to enter what was, for others, the lucrative field of lecturing. From 1857 to 1860, he spoke at lyceums, chiefly on Roman statuary and sightseeing in Rome. Melville's lectures, which mocked the pseduo-intellectualism of lyceum culture, were panned by contemporary audiences.
Turning to poetry, he gathered a collection of verse, but it failed to interest a publisher.
In 1863 he and his wife resettled in New York City with their four children.
As his professional fortunes waned, Melville had difficulties at home. Elizabeth's relatives repeatedly urged her to leave him under the belief that he may have been insane, but she refused.
After the end of the American Civil War, he published Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866), a collection of over 70 poems that can be described as "a polyphonic verse journal of the conflict." was generally ignored by the critics. A few gave him patronizingly favorable reviews. The volume did not sell well; of the Harper & Bros. printing of 1200 copies, only 525 had been sold ten years later. Uneven as a collection of individual poems, "its achievement lies in the interplay of voices and moods throughout which Melville patterns a shared historical experience into formative myth."
In 1866 Melville's wife and her relatives used their influence to obtain a position for him as customs inspector for the City of New York (a humble but adequately paying appointment). He held the post for 19 years. In a notoriously corrupt institution, Melville soon won the reputation of being the only honest employee of the customs house. But from 1866, his professional writing career can be said to have come to an end.
In 1867 his oldest son, Malcolm, shot himself, perhaps accidentally.
Melville spent years writing "his autumnal masterpiece," an 18,000-line epic poem entitled Clarel: A Poem and a Pilgrimage, inspired by his 1856 trip to the Holy Land. His uncle, Peter Gansevoort, by a bequest, paid for the publication of the massive epic in 1876. But the run failed miserably in sales, and the unsold copies were burned when Melville was unable to afford to buy them at cost.Tending to outrun the tastes of his readers, Melville's epic-length verse-narrative Clarel, about a student's pilgrimage to the Holy Land, was also quite obscure, even in his own time. Among the longest single poems in American literature, Clarel, published in 1876, had an initial printing of 350 copies. The critic Lewis Mumford found a copy of the poem in the New York Public Library in 1925 "with its pages uncut"—in other words, it had sat there unread for 50 years.
Clarel is a narrative in 18,000 verse lines, with a young American student of divinity for a title character, who travels to Jerusalem to renew his faith. Rolfe is similar to Melville in his younger days, a seeker and adventurer. Scholars agree that the reclusive Vine is based on Hawthorne, who died twelve years before.
1877-1891: Final years
While Melville had his steady customs job, his wife managed to wean him off alcohol. He no longer showed signs of agitation or insanity. But depression recurred after the death of his second son. On 23 February 1886, Stanwix Melville died in San Francisco. Melville retired in 1886, after several of his wife's relatives died and left the couple legacies which Mrs. Melville administered with skill and good fortune.
As English readers, pursuing the vogue for sea stories represented by such writers as G. A. Henty, rediscovered Melville's novels in the late nineteenth century, the author had a modest revival of popularity in England, though not in the United States. He wrote a series of poems, with prose head notes, inspired by his early experiences at sea. He published them in two collections, each issued in a tiny edition of 25 copies for his relatives and friends. Of these, scholar Robert Milder calls John Marr and Other Poems (1888), "the finest of his late verse collections," the other privately printed volume is Timoleon (1891).
Intrigued by one of these poems, he began to rework the headnote, expanding it first as a short story and eventually as a novella. He worked on it on and off for several years, but when he died in September 1891, the piece was unfinished. His widow Elizabeth added notes and edited it, but the manuscript was not discovered until 1919, by Raymond Weaver, his first biographer. He worked at transcribing and editing a full text, which he published in 1924 as Billy Budd, Sailor. It was an immediate critical success in England and soon one in the United States. The authoritative version was published in 1962, after two scholars studied the papers for several years.
Melville died at his home in New York City early on the morning of September 28, 1891, at age 72. The doctor listed "cardiac dilation" on the death certificate. He was interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York. A common story recounts that his New York Times obituary called him "Henry Melville", implying that he was unknown and unappreciated at his time of death, but the story is not true. A later article was published on October 6 in the same paper, referring to him as "the late Hiram Melville", but this appears to have been a typesetting error.
Melville was not financially successful as a writer, having earned just over $10,000 for his writing during his lifetime. After his success with travelogues based on voyages to the South Seas and stories based on misadventures in the merchant marine and navy, Melville's popularity declined dramatically. By 1876, all of his books were out of print. In the later years of his life and during the years after his death, he was recognized, if at all, as a minor figure in American literature.
Melville revival and Melville studies
A confluence of publishing events in the 1920s, now commonly called "the Melville Revival", brought about a reassessment of his work. The two books generally considered most important to the Revival were Raymond Weaver's 1921 biography Herman Melville: Man, Mariner and Mystic and his 1924 edition of Melville's last manuscript, Billy Budd, which he discovered unfinished among papers given to him by Melville's granddaughter. The other works that helped fan the Revival flames were Carl Van Doren's The American Novel (1921), D. H. Lawrence's Studies in Classic American Literature (1923), Carl Van Vechten's essay in The Double Dealer (1922), and Lewis Mumford's biography, Herman Melville: A Study of His Life and Vision (1929).
Starting in the mid-1930s, the Yale University scholar Stanley T. Williams supervised more than a dozen dissertations on Melville which were published as books. His students were prominent in establishing Melville Studies as an academic field concerned with texts and manuscripts, tracing Melville's influences and borrowings, and exploiting archives and local publications. Jay Leyda, better known for his work in film, spent more than a decade gathering documents and records for the day by day Melville Log (1951). In the same year Newton Arvin published the critical biography, Herman Melville, which won the nonfiction National Book Award.
That year, the novella Billy Budd was adapted as an award-winning play on Broadway, and premiered as an opera by Benjamin Britten, with a libretto on which the author E. M. Forster collaborated. In 1962 Peter Ustinov wrote, directed and produced a film based on the stage version, starring the young Terence Stamp and for which he took the role of Captain Vere. All these works brought more attention to Melville.
In the 1960s, Northwestern University Press, in alliance with the Newberry Library and the Modern Language Association, launched a project to edit and published reliable critical texts of Melville's complete works, including unpublished poems, journals, and correspondence. The aim of the editors was to present a text "as close as possible to the author's intention as surviving evidence permits". The volumes have extensive appendices, including textual variants from each of the editions published in Melville's lifetime, an historical note on the publishing history and critical reception, and related documents. In many cases, it was not possible to establish a "definitive text", but the edition supplies all evidence available at the time. Since the texts were prepared with financial support from the United States Department of Education, no royalties are charged, and they have been widely reprinted.
The Melville Society
In 1945, The Melville Society was founded, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the study of Melville's life and works. Between 1969 and 2003 it published 125 issues of Melville Society Extracts, which are now freely available on the society's website. Since 1999 it publishes Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies, currently three issues a year, published by Johns Hopkins university Press.
Melville did not publish poetry until late in life and his reputation as a poet was not high until late in the 20th century.
Melville, says recent literary critic Lawrence Buell, “is justly said to be nineteenth-century America’s leading poet after Whitman and Dickinson, yet his poetry remains largely unread even by many Melvillians.” True, Buell concedes, even more than most Victorian poets, Melville turned to poetry as an “instrument of meditation rather than for the sake of melody or linguistic play.” It is also true that he turned from fiction to poetry late in life. Yet he wrote twice as much poetry as Dickinson and probably as many lines as Whitman, and he wrote distinguished poetry for a quarter of a century, twice as long as his career publishing prose narratives. The three novels of the 1850s which Melville worked on most seriously to present his philosophical explorations, Moby-Dick, Pierre, and The Confidence Man, seem to make the step to philosophical poetry a natural one rather than simply a consequence of commercial failure.
In 2000 the Melville scholar Elizabeth Renker wrote "a sea change in the reception of the poems is incipient". Some critics now place him as the first modernist poet in the United States; others assert that his work more strongly suggests what today would be a postmodern view. Henry Chapin wrote in an introduction to John Marr and Other Poems, a collection of Melville's poetry, "Melville's loveable freshness of personality is everywhere in evidence, in the voice of a true poet". The poet and novelist Robert Penn Warren was a leading champion of Melville as a great American poet. Warren issued a selection of Melville's poetry prefaced by an admiring critical essay. The poetry critic Helen Vendler remarked of Clarel : "What it cost Melville to write this poem makes us pause, reading it. Alone, it is enough to win him, as a poet, what he called 'the belated funeral flower of fame'".
Gender studies revisionism
Although not the primary focus of Melville scholarship, there has been an emerging interest in the role of gender and sexuality in some of his writings. Some critics, particularly those interested in gender studies, have explored the male-dominant social structures in Melville's fiction. For example, Alvin Sandberg claimed that the short story "The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids" offers "an exploration of impotency, a portrayal of a man retreating to an all-male childhood to avoid confrontation with sexual manhood", from which the narrator engages in "congenial" digressions in heterogeneity. In line with this view, Warren Rosenberg argues the homosocial "Paradise of Bachelors" is shown to be "superficial and sterile".
David Harley Serlin observes in the second half of Melville's diptych, "The Tartarus of Maids", the narrator gives voice to the oppressed women he observes:
As other scholars have noted, the "slave" image here has two clear connotations. One describes the exploitation of the women's physical labor, and the other describes the exploitation of the women's reproductive organs. Of course, as models of women's oppression, the two are clearly intertwined.
In the end he says that the narrator is never fully able to come to terms with the contrasting masculine and feminine modalities.
Issues of sexuality have been observed in other works as well. Rosenberg notes Taji, in Mardi, and the protagonist in Pierre "think they are saving young 'maidens in distress' (Yillah and Isabel) out of the purest of reasons but both are also conscious of a lurking sexual motive". When Taji kills the old priest holding Yillah captive, he says,
[R]emorse smote me hard; and like lightning I asked myself whether the death deed I had done was sprung of virtuous motive, the rescuing of a captive from thrall, or whether beneath the pretense I had engaged in this fatal affray for some other selfish purpose, the companionship of a beautiful maid.
In Pierre, the motive of the protagonist's sacrifice for Isabel is admitted: "womanly beauty and not womanly ugliness invited him to champion the right". Rosenberg argues,
This awareness of a double motive haunts both books and ultimately destroys their protagonists who would not fully acknowledge the dark underside of their idealism. The epistemological quest and the transcendental quest for love and belief are consequently sullied by the erotic.
Rosenberg says that Melville fully explores the theme of sexuality in his major epic poem, Clarel. When the narrator is separated from Ruth, with whom he has fallen in love, he is free to explore other sexual (and religious) possibilities before deciding at the end of the poem to participate in the ritualistic order marriage represents. In the course of the poem, "he considers every form of sexual orientation – celibacy, homosexuality, hedonism, and heterosexuality – raising the same kinds of questions as when he considers Islam or Democracy".
Some passages and sections of Melville's works demonstrate his willingness to address all forms of sexuality, including the homoerotic, in his works. Commonly noted examples from Moby-Dick are the "marriage bed" episode involving Ishmael and Queequeg, which is interpreted as male bonding; and the "Squeeze of the Hand" chapter, describing the camaraderie of sailors' extracting spermaceti from a dead whale. Rosenberg notes that critics say that "Ahab's pursuit of the whale, which they suggest can be associated with the feminine in its shape, mystery, and in its naturalness, represents the ultimate fusion of the epistemological and sexual quest." In addition, he notes that Billy Budd's physical attractiveness is described in quasi-feminine terms: "As the Handsome Sailor, Billy Budd's position aboard the seventy-four was something analogous to that of a rustic beauty transplanted from the provinces and brought into competition with the highborn dames of the court."
Law and literature
In recent years, Billy Budd has become a central text in the field of legal scholarship known as law and literature. In the novel, Billy, a handsome and popular young sailor is impressed from the merchant vessel Rights of Man to serve aboard H.M.S. Bellipotent in the late 1790s, during the war between Revolutionary France and Great Britain. He excites the enmity and hatred of the ship's master-at-arms, John Claggart. Claggart accuses Billy of phony charges of mutiny and other crimes, and the Captain, the Honorable Edward Fairfax Vere, brings them together for an informal inquiry. At this encounter, Billy strikes Claggart in frustration, as his stammer prevents him from speaking. The blow catches Claggart squarely on the forehead and, after a gasp or two, the master-at-arms perishes.
Vere immediately convenes a court-martial, at which, after serving as sole witness and as Billy's de facto counsel, Vere urges the court to convict and sentence Billy to death. The trial is recounted in chapter 21, the longest chapter in the book. It has become the focus of scholarly controversy; was Captain Vere a good man trapped by bad law, or did he deliberately distort and misrepresent the applicable law to condemn Billy to death?
One of the chief characteristics of Melville's writing style is its overtones. Melville's imitations of certain distinct styles is responsible for this. The highest praised analytic descriptions of his writing style are those that demonstrate the interrelatedness of his style with literary sources rather than descriptions of his style unto itself. His three most important sources are, in order: the Bible, Shakespeare, and Milton. Scholar Nathalia Wright has identified four stylistic categories of Biblical influence.
First, Melville successfully imitates three Biblical strains: he sustains the apocalyptic for a whole chapter of Mardi; the prophetic strain is a presence in Moby-Dick, most notably in Father Mapple's sermon; and the tradition of the Psalms is imitated at length in The Confidence-Man. Second, Melville adopts Biblical idioms such as "come to pass," "children's children," "the fat of the land." Third, certain Hebraisms are used, such as a succession of genitives ("all the waves of the billows of the seas of the boisterous mob"), the cognate accusative ("I dreamed a dream," "Liverpool was created with the Creation"), and the parallel ("Closer home does it go than a rammer; and fighting with steel is a play without ever an interlude"). Fourth, he paraphrases individual verses: the language of the Ten Commandments in Ex.20 returns in Redburns "Thou shalt not lay stripes upon these Roman citizens" (compare quoteboxes).
Melville's style seamlessly flows over into theme, because all these borrowings have an artistic purpose, which is to suggest an appearance "larger and more significant than life" for characters and themes that are "essentially simple and mundane." The allusions suggest that beyond the world of appearances another world exists, one that "exerts influence upon this world, and in which ultimate truth resides." Moreover, the ancient background thus suggested for Melville's narratives - ancient allusions being next in number to the Biblical ones - invests them "with a certain timeless quality."
Throughout his life Melville struggled with and gave shape to the same set of epistemological doubts and the metaphysical issues these doubts engendered. An obession for the limits of knowledge led to the question of God's existence and nature, the indifference of the universe and the problem of evil.
- In 1985, the New York City Herman Melville Society gathered at 104 East 26th Street to dedicate the intersection of Park Avenue south and 26th Street as Herman Melville Square. This is the street where Melville lived from 1863 to 1891 and where, among other works, he wrote Billy Budd.
- In 2010 it was announced that a new species of extinct giant sperm whale, Livyatan melvillei was named in honor of Melville. The paleontologists who discovered the fossil were all fans of Moby-Dick and decided to dedicate their discovery to the author.
- Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life (1846)
- Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas (1847)
- Mardi: And a Voyage Thither (1849)
- Redburn: His First Voyage (1849)
- White-Jacket; or, The World in a Man-of-War (1850)
- Moby-Dick; or, The Whale (1851)
- Pierre: or, The Ambiguities (1852)
- Isle of the Cross (1853 unpublished, and now lost)
- "Bartleby, the Scrivener" (1853) (short story)
- The Encantadas, or Enchanted Isles (1854) (novella, possibly incorporating a short rewrite of the lost Isle of the Cross)
- "Benito Cereno" (1855)
- Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile (1855)
- The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (1857)
- Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War (1866) (poetry collection)
- The Martyr (1866) one of poems in a collection, on the death of Lincoln
- Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land (1876) (epic poem)
- John Marr and Other Sailors (1888) (poetry collection)
- Timoleon (1891) (poetry collection)
- Billy Budd, Sailor (An Inside Narrative) (1891 unfinished, published posthumously in 1924; authoritative edition in 1962)
- Originally spelled "Melvill", after the death of Melville's father in 1832 his mother added an "e" to the family surname—seemingly at the behest of her son Gansevoort.
- His siblings were Gansevoort (1815–1846), Helen Maria (1817–1888), Augusta (1821–1876), Allan (1823–1872), Catherine (1825–1905), Frances Priscilla (1827–1885), and Thomas (1830–1884), who eventually became a governor of Sailors Snug Harbor.
- This would have been the Statenvertaling of 1637, the Dutch equivalent of the King James Bible.
- Williams (1956), 231
- Levine, Robert Steven (1998). The Cambridge Companion to Herman Melville. Cambridge University Press. pp. xv; 112. ISBN 0-521-55477-2.
- Parker (1996), 23
- Genealogical chart in Parker (2002), 926-929
- Delbanco (2005), 19
- Delbanco (2005), 17
- Parker (1996), 12
- Parker (1996), 7
- Parker (1996), 24
- Parker (1996), 22
- Parker (1996), 39
- Delbanco (2005), 23
- Parker (1996), 52
- Parker (1996), 27
- Cited in Sealts (1988), 17
- Parker (1996), 35 and 38
- Sealts (1988), 17
- Parker (1996), 38-39
- Cited in Parker (1996), 48
- Sullivan 117
- Titus (1980), 4-10
- Parker (1996), 56
- Sealts (1988), 18
- Parker (1996), 56-57
- Delbanco (2005), 24
- Cited in Parker (1996), 57
- Parker (1996), 58
- Parker (1996), 63
- Parker (1996), 67
- Parker (1996), 68
- Parker (1996), 76-78
- Parker (1996), 82
- Parker (1996), 95
- Parker (1996), 97
- See Redburn, pg. 82: "For sailors are of three classes able-seamen, ordinary-seamen, and boys... In merchant-ships, a boy means a green-hand, a landsman on his first voyage."
- Sealts (1988), 16
- Sealts, 20
- Kathleen LaFrank (May 1992). "National Register of Historic Places Registration: Herman Melville House". New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Retrieved 2011-01-13.
- Parker (1996), 185
- Miller, 5
- Milder (1988), 430
- Delbanco (2005), 66
- Milder (1988), 431
- Parker (1996), 614
- Milder (1988), 432
- Delbanco (2005), 124
- Bezanson (1986), 180.
- In an essay on Hawthorne's Mosses in the Literary Review (August 1850), Melville wrote:
To what infinite height of loving wonder and admiration I may yet be borne, when by repeatedly banquetting on these Mosses, I shall have thoroughly incorporated their whole stuff into my being,--that, I can not tell. But already I feel that this Hawthorne has dropped germinous seeds into my soul. He expands and deepens down, the more I contemplate him; and further, and further, shoots his strong New-England roots into the hot soil of my Southern soul.
- Cheever(2006), 196
- Parker (1996), 870-871
- Parker (1996), 131–132
- Parker (2002), 155
- Parker (2002), 243
- Nathaniel Hawthorne, entry for 20 November 1856, in The English Notebooks, (1853 - 1858)
- "Herman Melville On Clarel, Holy Land". Shapell Manuscript Collection. Shapell Manuscript Foundation.
- Robertson-Lorant (1996), 375-400
- Branch (1997), 369ff.)
- Kennedy, Frederick James (March 1977). "Herman Melville's Lecture in Montreal". The New England Quarterly 50 (1): 125–137. doi:10.2307/364707. Retrieved 4 April 2012.
- Hutchins, Zach (2014). "Herman Melville's Fejee Mermaid, or a Confidence Man at the Lycuem". ESQ 60 (1): 75–109. doi:10.1353/esq.2014.0004.
- Milder (1988), 442
- Collected Poems of Herman Melville, Ed. Howard P. Vincent. Chicago: Packard & Company and Hendricks House (1947), 446.
- Leyda, Jay (1969). The Melville Log 2. New York: Gordian Press. p. 730. "quietly declining offers of money for special services, quietly returning money which has been thrust into his pockets"
- Milder (1988), 443
- "Dreamland: American Travelers to the Holy Land in the 19th Century". Shapell Manuscript Foundation.
- p. 287, Andrew Delbanco (2005), Melville: His World and Work. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0-375-40314-0
- Parker (2002), 888
- Milder (1988), 445
- Delbanco (2005), 319
- Parker (2002), 921
- Delbanco, 7
- Delbanco, 294
- Riegel, O.W. (May 1931). "The Anatomy of Melville's Fame". American Literature 3 (2): 195–203. doi:10.2307/2919779. Retrieved 21 April 2012.
- Nathalia Wright, "Melville and STW at Yale: Studies under Stanley T. Williams". Melville Society Extracts, 70 (September 1987), 1–4.
- Lawrence Buell, “Melville The Poet,” in Robert Levine, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Melville (Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 135.
- Renker, Elizabeth (Spring–Summer 2000). "Melville the Poet: Response to William Spengemann". American Literary History 12 (1&2). Retrieved 29 September 2011.
- Spanos, William V. (2009). Herman Melville and the American Calling: The Fiction After Moby-Dick, 1851-1857. SUNY Press. p. 54. ISBN 978-0-7914-7563-8.
- Chapin, Henry Introduction John Marr & Other Poems kindle ebook ASIN B0084B7NOC
- Melville, Herman (1995). "Introduction". In Helen Vendler. Selected Poems of Herman Melville. San Francisco: Arion Press. pp. xxv.
- Serlin, David Harley. "The Dialogue of Gender in Melville's The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids", Modern Language Studies 25.2 (1995): 80–87. Note: These two writings are separate but often read together for the full effect of Melville's purpose. In both these works many phallic symbols are represented (such as the swords and snuff powder which represented a lack of semen in the bachelors.) Not only this, but in the 'Tartarus of Maids' there was a detailed description of how the main character arrived at the 'Tartarus of Maids.' This description was intended to resemble that of the vaginal canal.
- James Creech, Closet writing: The case of Melville's Pierre, 1993
- Rosenberg, 70–78
- see Delblanco, Andrew. American Literary History, 1992
- Sandberg, Alvin. "Erotic Patterns in 'The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids', " Literature and Psychology 18.1 (1968): 2–8.
- Serlin, David Harley. "The Dialogue of Gender in Melville's The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids", Modern Language Studies 25.2 (1995): 80-87
- Melville, Herman. Mardi, ed. Tyrus Hillway. New Haven: College and University Press, 1973. p. 132.
- Melville, Herman. Pierre, New York: Grove Press, 1957. p. 151.
- E. Haviland Miller, Melville, New York, 1975.
- Weisberg, Richard H. The Failure of the Word: The Lawyer as Protagonist in Modern Fiction (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989), chapters 8 and 9.
- Wright (1940), 196 n. 59
- Bercaw (1987), 10
- Wright (1940), 196-197
- Wright (1940), 198
- HERBERT MITGANG (1985-05-12). "VOYAGING FAR AND WIDE IN SEARCH OF MELVILLE". The New York Times. Retrieved 2011-03-15.
- Janet Fang (2010-06-30). "Call me Leviathan melvillei". Nature. Retrieved 2010-06-30.
- Pallab Ghosh (2010-06-30). "'Sea monster' whale fossil unearthed". BBC. Retrieved 2010-06-30.
- Bercaw, Mary K. (1987). Melville's Sources. Evanston, Illinois: Northwestern University Press. ISBN 0-8101-0734-1
- Bezanson, Walter E. (1986). "Moby-Dick: Document, Drama, Dream." In John Bryant (ed.), A Companion to Melville Studies. New York, Westport, Connecticut, and London: Greenwood Press.
- Branch, Watson G. (ed.) (1997). Herman Melville: The Critical Heritage. London and New York: Routledge.
- Cheever, Susan. (2006). American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau; Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work. Detroit: Thorndike Press. ISBN 0-7862-9521-X
- Delbanco, Andrew. (2005). Melville: His World and Work. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
- Leyda, Jay. The Melville Log. A Documentary Life of Herman Melville, 1819-1891. With A New Supplementary Chapter. Two volumes. First edition 1951. New York: Gordian Press.
- Melville, Herman. (1993). Correspondence. Edited by Lynn Horth. The Writings of Herman Melville Volume Fourteen. Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press and The Newberry Library.
- Milder, Robert. (1988). "Herman Melville." Emory Elliott (General Editor), Columbia Literary History of the United States. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-05812-8
- Parker, Hershel. (1996). Herman Melville: A Biography. Volume One, 1819-1851. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-8185-4
- Parker, Hershel. (2002). Herman Melville: A Biography. Volume Two, 1852-1891. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-8186-2
- Robertson-Lorant, Laurie (1996). Melville: A Biography. New York: Clarkson Potter/Publishers. ISBN 0-517-59314-9.
- Rosenberg, Warren (1984). "'Deeper than Sappho': Melville, Poetry, and the Erotic". Modern Language Studies 14 (1). doi:10.2307/3194508.
- Sealts, Merton M., Jr. (1988). Melville's Reading. Revised and Enlarged Edition. University of South Carolina Press.
- Titus, David K. (1980). "Herman Melville at the Albany Academy", Melville Society Extracts, May 1980, no. 42, pp. 1, 4-10. Retrieved 3 December 2013.
- Williams, Stanley T. (1956). "Melville." In Floyd Stovall (ed.), Eight American Authors: A Review of Research and Criticism. New York: Modern Language Association.
- Wright, Nathalia. (1940). "Biblical Allusion in Melville's Prose." American Literature, May 1940, 185-199.
- Bryant, John (1986). A Companion to Melville Studies. Westport: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-23874-X.
- Delbanco, Andrew (2005). Melville, His World and Work. New York: Knopf. ISBN 0-375-40314-0.
- Gale, Robert L. (1995). A Herman Melville Encyclopediae. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-29011-3
- Garner, Stanton (1993). The Civil War World of Herman Melville. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas. ISBN 0-7006-0602-5.
- Horsforth, Howard C. with Lynn Horth (eds). (1989).Herman Melville, Journals. Evanston and Chicago: The Northwestern University Press and the Newberry Library. ISBN 0-810-10823-2
- Horth, Lynn (ed). (1993). Herman Melville, Correspondence. Evanston and Chicago: The Northwestern University Press and the Newberry Library. ISBN 0-8021-3871-3
- Johnson, Bradley A. (2011). The Characteristic Theology of Herman Melville: Aesthetics, Politics, Duplicity. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock. ISBN 978-1-61097-341-0.
- Levine, Robert S. (1998). The Cambridge Companion to Herman Melville. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-55571-X
- Levine, Robert S. (2014). The New Cambridge Companion to Herman Melville. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-68791-2
- Parker, Hershel (1996). Herman Melville: A Biography. Volume I, 1819–1851. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-5428-8.
- Parker, Hershel (2002). Herman Melville: A Biography. Volume II, 1851–1891. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-8186-2.
- Renker, Elizabeth (1998). Strike through the Mask: Herman Melville and the Scene of Writing. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-5875-5.
- Talley, Sharon. (2007). Student Companion to Herman Melville. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-33499-4
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- The Melville Society
- Melville Society Extracts, Archives 1969-2005 Online access to all Issues, No. 1-125.
- Melville's Marginalia Online A digital archive of books that survive from Herman Melville's library with his annotations and markings.
- Hershel Parker, Herman Melville: A Biography, Vol. 1 (1891-1851)
- Arrowhead—The Home of Herman Melville
- Physical description of Melville from his 1856 passport application
- Melville's page at Literary Journal.com: research articles on Melville's works
- Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America: Collecting Herman Melville