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Sea Voyages & Early Writing Success

‘Moby-Dick’and Other Works

Herman Melville was a celebrated American writer who wrote the sea adventure novel ‘Moby-Dick,’ before he turned to poetry.

SynopsisHerman Meville was born on New York City’s streets in 1819. His experiences as a crewman on various vessels began in 1839. These inspired his early, successful novels Typee (1846), and Omoo (1847) Melville’s other books, which included his masterpiece Moby-Dick in 1851, were not well received. By the early 1860s he was turning to poetry. In 1891, Melville died in New York City. He was posthumously considered one of the greatest American authors.

Early LifeHerman Melville is the son of Allan Melvill, and Maria Gansevoort Melvill. Maria changed the name to Melvill after the death of her husband. Herman Melville became ill in mid-1820s with scarlet virus. Although he recovered soon after, his eyesight was permanently damaged. Allan Melvill, a successful high-end merchant and importer, had made the family prosperous for many years. The family fortune suffered a major blow after Allan moved his family upstate in Albany to attempt to enter the fur business. Allan’s sudden death in 1832 caused the family’s finances to plummet. Gansevoort Melville was the oldest son of Allan and took over his father’s furs and caps business in New York. Herman Melville was a bank clerk to help him make ends meets. In the early 1830s, Melville attended Albany Academy as well as Albany Classical School. There he studied classical literary texts and began to compose poems, stories and essays. In 1837 he moved to Massachusetts to teach, but soon returned home to New York. Gansevoort ceased to operate his fur and hat business in 1837. This left the Melvilles with a difficult financial situation. Herman enrolled in Lansingburgh Academy and studied surveying. The family moved to Lansingburgh to work on the Erie Canal.

Sea Voyages: Early Writing SuccessesUnable to land a high-paying job, Melville accepted Gansevoort’s recommendation to join a boat crew. Melville signed up as a cabinboy for the St. Lawrence in 1839. The ship traveled from New York City, England to Liverpool and back. Melville’s second voyage began in 1841 after he was hired as a cabin boy on the Acushnet whaling vessel. Melville’s second sea voyage, which began in 1841, was an adventure that would inspire his later literary career. Melville escaped the Acushnet and with another crew member, he deserted it and was soon captured by the local cannibals. Melville received a good treatment, but after four-months on another ship, Lucy Ann, he was arrested for mutiny. He was eventually stranded in Hawaii. After a trip back to Massachusetts, he took the USS United States. Melville began writing down his experiences immediately.

Typee’s A Peep in Polynesian Life (1846) was a blend of his stories and imaginary events. It was noted for its detailed descriptions and plot which seemed impossible to believe. In 1847, the author published a sequel that was equally popular.

Omoo: a Narrative Of Adventures In The South Seas Melville began his career in 1847 by marrying Elizabeth Shaw, the daughter the chief Justice of Massachusetts. They had four more children.

‘Moby-Dick & Other WorksMelville stayed on the sea-adventure path with Mardi : and a Voyage Thither 1849, Redburn : His First Voyage (also in 1849), and The World in a Man-of-War; or White-Jacket (1850). The writer’s signature work Moby-Dick, originally titled The Whale, was published in 1851. Moby-Dick was a Romantic novel based on Melville’s long experience as a whaler and the Essex ship disaster. In November 1820 while traveling from Nantucket to South America on the Essex whaleship, a sperm whale attacked and destroyed it. Adrift in small whaleboats the crew had to face storms, starvation, thirst, and sickness. Some even turned to cannibalism. Despite surviving one of history’s greatest open boat journeys, the few survivors found themselves off South America. Melville based his story on the tales of these survivors, which were widely spread in America by the late 19th century. Melville told a tale about a pirate seeking revenge for an elusive killer whale. Melville did not live to see Moby-Dick’s success. The book did not bring Melville any fame or wealth during his lifetime. Early critics did not like the book. In 1851, an article in the Illustrated London News referred to it as Melville’s best and wildest story, and said that his “reckless imagination” was evident.

“Moby-Dick, like subsequent novels such as Pierre; or, The Ambiguities (1852) and Israel Potter: his Fifty Years in Exile (1855), sold poorly. Melville almost gave up writing fiction after The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade was published in 1857. Melville’s later years, death and legacyMelville began his career as an inspector of customs in New York City after delivering a number of lectures during the late 1800s. In 1866, he published a poetry collection entitled Battle-Pieces & Aspects of the War. Clarel is an epic poem and pilgrimage to the Holy Land that he published in 1876. It was based off a previous journey.

Melville, who died on September 28,1891 from a cardiac arrest in New York City had begun writing a second novel. Melville’s early fame was gone by 1891, but his works were reprinted and slowly his name gained traction within the literary community. Melville’s name was already well-known amongst readers and writers by the 1920s. His final novel, Billy Budd, Sailor, had been published in 1924. Herman Melville, one of America’s most celebrated writers, is still regarded today. His 1956 film adaptation of Moby-Dick remains a classic on school reading lists. In the Heart of the Sea (directed by Ron Howard) about the Essex, the film that sparked interest in Melville in 2015 was released.


  • kileybaxter

    I am a 34-year-old educational blogger and student. I enjoy writing about education and sharing my insights and experiences with others. I hope to use this blog as a way to share my knowledge and help others learn more about the subjects that interest me.

Herman Melville’s Biography


I am a 34-year-old educational blogger and student. I enjoy writing about education and sharing my insights and experiences with others. I hope to use this blog as a way to share my knowledge and help others learn more about the subjects that interest me.

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