Call Me Melville

moby-dick-illustrationAugust is a great month to be born. The amount of literary talent born into one of the hottest months of the year is huge and includes everyone from Lord Alfred Tennyson to Mary Shelley. Herman Melville, author of the classic Moby Dick, was born August 1, 1819 in New York City. Well known for writing what is considered to be one of the greatest American novels ever written, there are many less known facts about him.

Born into a well to do, refined family, it became quickly evident that he did not fit in. His own father stated he was “backward in speech and somewhat slow in comprehension.” Sent out to sea as a cabin boy to earn money for his family after they were forced to file bankruptcy, he was unfulfilled with this position. Jumping ship with a friend, he was held for four months as captives by the cannibalistic Typee people in French Polynesia. He turned this experience into his first novel, Typee. This book brought him some success as a best seller but soon lost notoriety and he never recovered in his lifetime.

Melville worked diligently to write Moby Dick and was most likely thrilled when it was published in 1851. However, it proved to be a commercial failure thanks to the critics of the time.

“This is an ill-compounded mixture of romance and matter-of-fact,” wrote  the London Athenaeum.  “The idea of a connected and collected story has obviously visited and abandoned its writer again and again in the course of composition. The style of his tale is in places disfigured by mad (rather than bad) English; and its catastrophe is hastily, weakly, and obscurely managed.”

While he wanted to give public lectures on literature, this too was unsuccessful and needing to make ends meet, he became a customs inspector. This would remain his career until he retired.

Melville was all but forgotten by the literary world at the time of his death, but the 20th century Americans revived his works and Moby Dick is thought of as a masterpiece in world literature.

About The Author

Robert Hatfield hails from mid-western Ohio. Comedy and Adventure stories are his passion. Editing and Reviewing are the fields of work he enjoys. Writing has been an interest for the past 25 years and he now has the time to pursue it. As a Moderator on, he welcomes any questions or requests for help.

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2 replies
  1. Killerelite
    Killerelite says:

    Great article Rob. Took me back to high school when I did a book report on Moby D. Like most high school boys I would’ve much rather been doing a million other things than read…………Until I read the book that is. I lucked out and got the flu the day after receiving the assignment, so I was pretty much quarantined to my room at home. That made reading and doing a report on the book bearable. I read Typee as a freshman in college and never knew it was an excerpt from Melville’s own life. Come to think of it I really know nothing of the man to this day. Moby Dick was such a colossal book when I was in school that it seems a bit backward to think of Herman Melville as anything but one of the greatest authors to pen a novel. Thanks for the info, I enjoyed it……………..

  2. tlhopkinson
    tlhopkinson says:

    Melville’s got some great short works… check out Bartleby the Scrivener: A Tale of Wall Street and The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids. The latter has some incredible symbolism in it… you’ll have to read it to see what about :). And for more fun, check out his buddy Hawthorne, who was at least partly responsible for the more philosophic style Melville produced with Moby… may have been his downfall :). Read Hawthorne’s short stuff tho… The Scarlet Letter is a snoozefest.

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