American novelist, a major literary figure whose exploration of psychological and metaphysical themes foreshadowed 20th-century literary concerns but whose works remained in obscurity until the 1920s, when his genius was finally recognized.
Melville was born on August 1, 1819, in New York, into a family that had declined in the world. In 1837 he shipped to Liverpool as a cabin boy. Upon returning to the United States he taught and then sailed for the South Seas in 1841 on the whaler Acushnet. After an 18-month voyage he deserted the ship in the Marquesas Islands and with a companion lived for a month among the natives, who were cannibals. He escaped aboard an Australian trader, leaving it at Papeete, Tahiti, where he was imprisoned temporarily. He worked as a field labourer and then shipped to Honolulu, Hawaii, where in 1843 he enlisted as a seaman on the US Navy frigate United States. After his discharge in 1844 he began to create novels out of his experiences and to take part in the literary life of Boston and New York.
In 1850 Melville moved to a farm near Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where he became an intimate friend of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who greatly influenced his work and to whom he dedicated his masterpiece Moby-Dick; or The White Whale (1851).
The central theme of the novel is the conflict between Captain Ahab, master of the whaler Pequod, and Moby-Dick, a great white whale that once tore off one of Ahab's legs at the knee. Ahab is dedicated to revenge; he drives himself and his crew, which includes Ishmael, the narrator of the story, over the seas in a desperate search for his enemy. The body of the book is written in a wholly original, powerful narrative style, which, in certain sections of the work, Melville varied with great success. The most impressive of these sections are the rhetorically magnificent sermon delivered before sailing and the soliloquies of the mates; lengthy “flats”, passages conveying nonnarrative material, usually of a technical nature, such as the chapter about whales; and the more purely ornamental passages, such as the tale of the Tally-Ho, which can stand by themselves as short stories of merit. The work is invested with Ishmael's sense of profound wonder at his story, but nonetheless conveys full awareness that Ahab's quest can have but one end.
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Herman Melville biography
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Zdroje: Encarta Encyclopedia