Herman Melville Biography

Herman Melville Biography

Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick, certainly didn't lack for an active imagination, but many of the bawdy, swashbuckling stories that he created actually did stem from his own experiences. Born into a respected colonial family that had come upon hard times, Melville timidly began his adult life as a schoolteacher, but he quickly found that occupation too stifling. Following a dream, he set off to sea, experiencing firsthand the harsh, brutal reality of life on ocean vessels, and he even lived for a time among island cannibals. Upon his return, he embarked on a career as a writer, coloring works such as Billy Budd with details from his adventures. Often unappreciated during his lifetime, Melville is now recognized as one of America’s greatest authors.

Facts and Trivia

  • Melville sailed on at least five different ships—the Saint Lawrence, the Acushnet, the Lucy Ann, the Charles and Henry, and the United States. He ended his service on two of them by deserting.
  • Although Melville enjoyed some success as an author during his life, early novels such as Typee and Omoo were regarded simply as interesting travelogues, not the work of a serious writer.
  • Along with eleven books of fiction, Melville also wrote and published poetry. In fact, his Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land is considered the longest poem in American literature. Some current editions of Clarel are over nine hundred pages!
  • Melville’s most celebrated work remains Moby Dick, but early readers of the novel about the giant whale were not very kind. Here is what one critic had to say in 1852: “If there are any of our readers who wish to find examples of bad rhetoric, involved syntax, stilted sentiment and incoherent English, we will take the liberty of recommending to them this precious volume of Mr. Melville’s.”
  • Fame was indeed a fickle mistress to Herman Melville. When he died in 1891, the New York Times obituaries listed his name as “Henry Melville.”
Additional Content
  • Biography (History of the World: The 19th Century)
  • Biography
  • Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)
  • Biography (Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)
  • Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)
  • Biography (Poets and Poetry in America)
  • Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)
  • Biography
  • Biography (Masterpieces of American Literature)
  • Biography

(The entire section is 8656 words.)