Herman Melville (1819- 1891): Biography and Famous Works

Herman Melville was born on August 1, 1819, in New York City. He was the third child of Allan and Maria Gansevoort Melvill. His family’s economic status declined, and after the death of his father in 1832, Melville had to leave school to support his family. He worked various jobs, including as a bank clerk and a teacher, before deciding to go to sea at the age of 18.

Melville’s experiences at sea greatly influenced his later writings. In 1839, he joined the crew of the whaling ship Acushnet. His time at sea included adventures in the South Seas and encounters with different cultures, including a period among cannibals in the Marquesas Islands. However, he became disillusioned with the harsh conditions and authoritarian leadership on the ship, leading to his desertion in the Marquesas.

After a brief imprisonment in Tahiti, Melville worked on various whaling ships and merchant vessels. These experiences formed the basis for his first two novels, “Typee” (1846) and “Omoo” (1847), both of which gained popularity for their vivid descriptions of life in the South Seas. In 1847, Melville married Elizabeth Shaw, and they eventually had four children. Financial difficulties led Melville to return to New York, where he started writing novels and short stories to support his family. His third novel, “Mardi” (1849), marked a departure from his earlier works and received mixed reviews.

Melville’s masterpiece, “Moby-Dick” (1851), was inspired by his experiences at sea, particularly a whaling voyage aboard the Acushnet. The novel explores the theme of obsession through the character of Captain Ahab and his quest for the white whale, Moby Dick. Although not well-received during Melville’s lifetime, it is now considered a classic.

Following “Moby-Dick,” Melville published several more novels, including “Pierre” (1852) and “The Confidence-Man” (1857), but none achieved the same level of success. Faced with financial struggles, Melville turned to writing magazine articles and working as a customs inspector in New York City.

Herman Melville’s literary reputation experienced a revival in the 20th century, long after his death on September 28, 1891. Today, he is celebrated as one of the most significant figures in American literature, with “Moby-Dick” recognized as a masterpiece that explores the complexities of human nature and the sea.

Also read; Frantz Fanon (1925-1961): Biography, Famous Works and Influences