Herman Melville

Herman Melville, 1870. Oil painting by [[Joseph Oriel Eaton]]. Herman Melville (August 1, 1819 – September 28, 1891) was an American novelist, short story writer, and poet of the American Renaissance period. Among his best known works are ''Typee'' (1846), a romantic account of his experiences of Polynesian life, and his whaling novel ''Moby-Dick'' (1851).

Melville was born in New York City, the third child of a merchant who dealt in French dry goods and his wife. Years as a common sailor from 1839 to 1844 were the basis of his early writings. His first book was ''Typee'' (1846), a highly romanticized account of his life among Polynesians. It became such a best-seller that he wrote the sequel ''Omoo'' (1847). These successes gave him the financial basis to marry Elizabeth Shaw, daughter of a prominent Boston family, but the success proved hard to sustain. His first novel that was not based on his own experiences was ''Mardi'' (1849), a sea narrative that develops into a philosophical allegory—but it was not well received. He received warmer reviews for ''Redburn'' (1849), a story of life on a merchant ship, and his 1850 description of the harsh life aboard a man-of-war in ''White-Jacket'', but they did not provide financial security.

''Moby-Dick'' (1851), although now considered one of the great American novels, was not well received, and critics scorned his psychological novel, ''Pierre: or, The Ambiguities'' (1852). From 1853 to 1856, Melville published short fiction in magazines, most notably "Bartleby, the Scrivener" (1853), "The Encantadas" (1854), and "Benito Cereno" (1855). These and three other stories were collected in 1856 as ''The Piazza Tales''. In 1857, he traveled to England and then toured the Near East. ''The Confidence-Man'' (1857) was the last prose work that he published. He moved to New York to take a position as Customs Inspector and turned to poetry. ''Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War'' (1866) was his poetic reflection on the moral questions of the American Civil War.

In 1867, his oldest child Malcolm died at home from a self-inflicted gunshot. ''Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land'' was published in 1876, a metaphysical epic. In 1886, his son Stanwix died, and Melville retired. During his last years, he privately published two volumes of poetry, left one volume unpublished, and returned to prose of the sea. The novella ''Billy Budd'' was left unfinished at his death but was published in 1924. Melville's death from cardiovascular disease in 1891 subdued a reviving interest in his work. The 1919 centennial of his birth became the starting point of the "Melville Revival". Critics discovered his work, scholars explored his life; his major novels and stories have come to be considered world classics, and his poetry has gradually gained respect.
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