Herman Melville Biography Essay Sample

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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 a huge disappointment and Melville seen his career at a ruins. Near breakdown, his New York Publisher was destroyed by a fire which destroyed most of his books ( Herman Melville bibliography p. 1).

Melville’s writings were always received with mixed reviews. Each book was flavored with his own personal experiences. His first book that established him as a renowned writer and editor was Typee. Nathaniel Parker Willis wrote, “With his cigar and his Spanish eyes, he talks Typpe and Omoo, just as you find the flow of his delightful mind on paper. Typee provoked immediate enthusiasm and outrage, and then a year later Omoo had an identical response. The novels did not generate enough royalties to support him financially. Omoo was not as colorful as Type: readers began to realize that Melville was not producing simple adventure stories. Using the remaining profits from his novels, Melville bough a farm near Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and this is where his most well known novel Moby-Dick was written.

Moby-Dick is a novel with several layers of meaning On the surface, it is the story of the fateful voyage of a whaling ship. On another level, the story is a bitters man’s quest for vengeance and search of truth (the American Experience p.1). Yet on another level it related to humanity’s relationship to the natural world. Moby-Dick was filled with so much depth and thought. The reader’s response to Moby-Dick was unfavorable which flowed over to Melville’s next two novels. The symbolism represented in Moby-Dick is quite complex. The whale is and example of an extremely complex symbol. Only by examining all the meanings suggested and implied, the whale ultimately represents all that is a paradox, unexplained and uncontrollable by nature. Like nature, Moby-Dick is massive but threatening but beautiful and inspiring. Moby Dick is controlled by the laws of nature.

The color of the whale symbolizes in spite of its intentions. The color white represents purity and goodness but at the same time, signifies emptiness and death. Delusional and bitter, Melville turned away from his true desires of writing novels and focuses more on writing poems. Unfortunately, Melville died unnoticed and unappreciated for the true artist he was. In 1920 his works were rediscovered by scholars and received the recognition he deserved. Herman Melville is known as one of the greatest novelist of our time.

Footnotes
Melville’s heritage and youthful experiences were very important in helping to form his artistic vision in his writings.

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 father had passed away and his brother took over the families import business and eventually it went bankrupt. Melville had to help provide for his family so he took a job as a cabin boy on the “St. Lawrence”.

Typee, Melville’s first novel, 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.

Omoo was light hearted in tone, with the mutiny shown as something of a farce, it describes Melville’s travel through the islands accompanied by Long Ghost, formerly the ship’s doctor, now turned drifter.

The fire burned Harper’s stock of Melville’s unsold books which consisted of: Typee, 185; Omoo, 276; Mardi, 491; Redburn, 296; White Jacket, 292 ; Moby-Dick, 297 ; Pierre, 494. Mardi and Pierre, Melville’s two least popular books, had the largest number of unsold copies burned.

Bibliography

Essay: Melville Has Never Looked Better. New York: New York Times Company 2001.

Macmillan, Collier American writers. New York: Macmillian, 1974.

Melville, Herman The Biography Channel Website. Bio True Story. Herman Melville Print: Biography.com 2012.

Melville, Herman Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., 2012.

Melvill, Herman The life and works of Herman Melville. New York: New York Times Company 1991.

Otfinoski, Steven Nineteenth Century Writer. NewYork: An infobase holdings company 1991.

Padilla, David The Biography Channel Website. Internet: Padilla, 2001.

Footnotes
Melville’s heritage and youthful experiences were very important in helping to form his artistic vision in his writings.

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 father had passed away and his brother took over the families import business and eventually it went bankrupt. Melville had to help provide for his family so he took a job as a cabin boy on the “St. Lawrence”.

Typee, Melville’s first novel, 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.

Omoo was light hearted in tone, with the mutiny shown as something of a farce, it describes Melville’s travel through the islands accompanied by Long Ghost, formerly the ship’s doctor, now turned drifter.

The fire burned Harper’s stock of Melville’s unsold books which consisted of: Typee, 185; Omoo, 276; Mardi, 491; Redburn, 296; White Jacket, 292 ; Moby-Dick, 297 ; Pierre, 494. Mardi and Pierre, Melville’s two least popular books, had the largest number of unsold copies burned.

Moby-Dick is a novel with several layers of meaning . On the surface, it is the story of the fateful voyage of a whaling ship.

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