Interior: White Whale - In homage to Moby Dick
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Herman Melville Synopsis Breviate
Herman Melville was an American novelist, short-story writer, and poet, best known for his novels of the sea, including his masterpiece, Moby Dick. He was the third child of Allan and Maria Gansevoort Melville, in a family that was to grow to four boys and four girls. His forebears had been among the Scottish and Dutch settlers of New York and had taken leading roles in the American Revolution and in the fiercely competitive commercial and political life of the new country. His family plunged from affluence into genteel poverty in 1832 when his father died shortly after the failure of his import business. Melville shipped out to Liverpool in 1839 and in 1841 went on a whaling voyage to the South Seas. He returned in 1844 after serving in the U.S. Navy. In 1847 he married Elizabeth Shaw, daughter of the chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, with whom he had four children. Melville began working as a customs inspector for the Port of New York in 1866. In 1867 his eldest son Malcolm died at 18, probably a suicide. In that same year Melville's wife, suspecting his sanity, considered leaving him to escape his emotional abuse. Melville's popular early novels Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847), while published as travel narratives, actually fictionalized his adventures as a sailor in the South Seas. With Mardi (1849), Melville's wide-ranging reading in literature and philosophy led him to imagine an archipelago of islands, each symbolizing specific ethical, social, and political problems. Melville's deepening power as a social critic became evident in his next two novels. Redburn (1849), based on his first voyage, vividly portrayed Liverpool's poverty. White-Jacket (1850), drawn from Melville's experiences in the navy, compellingly condemned the practice of flogging, and may have influenced its outlawing. These early novels give hints of the rich symbolism, stylistic range, and depth of human insight that make Moby Dick (1851) a masterpiece of world literature, although it was a critical and commercial failure when published. Turning to the short story, Melville produced such masterpieces as Bartleby, the Scrivener (1856). Under family pressure and showing signs of psychological stress, Melville turned to poetry. His Civil War verse, collected in Battle-Pieces (1866), was his last commercial publication. The great novella Billy Budd, Sailor, discovered in unfinished form after Melville's death, was first published in 1924. Melville's literary reputation began to revive in 1919, the centennial of his birth, and grew steadily in the decades that followed. However, at the time of his death in 1891, he had fallen into obscurity. His New York Times obituary called him Henry Melville.