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Herman Melville: Biography

Herman Melville was an American novelist, essayist, and poet. During his lifetime his early novels were popular, but his popularity declined later in his life. By the time of his death he had nearly been forgotten, but his masterpiece, Moby-Dick, was "rediscovered."

•born in New York as a descendent of Dutch and English. His father was a prosperous merchant until his business failed in an economic depression. Herman attended a private school in Albany but as 12 year-old and after his father’s death he left it and went to work in order to support the family. So his formal school education ended. As 15 year-old he worked as a bank clerk for some time
•1839- he took a job as a cabin boy on a ship bound for Liverpool, later he described his experience in a book called REDBURN
•1839- he was sailor in a big voyage to South Seas, adventurous trip, he was captured by the savages but escaped and went back to America
•His shocking and exotic experience from the voyages served him as the first-hand material for his fiction.
•His sea novels:
TYPEE and OMOO are his most neglected ones. Both the romances are based on his experiences gained from his stay among the cannibals of the South Seas

He writes of adventures, but only about the sea, but also about the customs of primitive cultures of the savages. But not the noble savages, but wild people from different world and culture quite incomprehensible. They made him famous because of the theme of sea unknown at that time. They guaranteed him popularity.
MOBY DICK or the Whale (1851) was totally misunderstood, his fame started to fade away, people did not like the novel. It tells the story of the brave captain Ahab’s cosmic struggle with Moby Dick, a big white whale. The symbolism of the book is often very difficult to understand. This is partly due to the author’s use of rich references to past cultures and myths of different nations. The book also abounds in confusing metaphysical speculations. It is commonly interpreted in terms of the protagonist’s involvement in the human drama, in his fight with evil. The work is, however, much more profound in meaning. The dynamic structure of Moby Dick and the rich texture of the author’s thoughts open up the possibilities of the different interpretations.

Later works
PIERRE or the Ambiguities
Because of the pessimistic tone they were not popular.
Melville spent his last years in total obscurity, nobody cared about him. In 1920s he was rediscovered as a literally genius and he became major figure in world literature.
5 determining influences:

1) puritan background
2) contact with brutality of sailors life
3) great interest in literature and philosophy
4) friendship with Hawthorne
5) friendship with New York literally circles

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