Books by Herman Melville

Quotes by Herman Melville
Whence came you, Hawthorne? By what right do you drink from my flagon of life? And when I put it to my lips — lo, they are yours and not mine. 'I feel that the Godhead is broken up like the bread at the Supper, and that we are the pieces. Hence this infinite fraternity of feeling.' Now, sympathising with the paper, my angel turns over another leaf. You did not care a penny for the book. But, now and then as you read, you understood the pervading thought that impelled the book — and that you praised. Was it not so? You were archangel enough to praise the imperfect body, and embrace the soul.
Truth is ever incoherent, and when the big hearts strike together, the concussion is a little stunning.
It is or seems to be a wise sort of thing‚ to realise that all that happens to a man in this life is only by way of joke‚ especially his misfortunes‚ if he have them. And it is also worth bearing in mind‚ that the joke is passed round pretty liberally & impartially‚ so that not very many are entitled to fancy that they in particular are getting the worst of it.
Indolence is heaven’s ally here,
And energy the child of hell:
The Good Man pouring from his pitcher clear
But brims the poisoned well.
It will be a strange sort of book‚ tho'‚ I fear; blubber is blubber you know; tho' you may get oil out of it‚ the poetry runs as hard as sap from a frozen maple tree; — & to cook the thing up‚ one must needs throw in a little fancy‚ which from the nature of the thing‚ must be ungainly as the gambols of the whales themselves. Yet I mean to give the truth of the thing‚ spite of this.
Whoever is not in the possession of leisure can hardly be said to possess independence.' They talk of the''dignity of work''. Bosh. 'True Work is the''necessity'' of poor humanity's earthly condition. The dignity is in leisure.' Besides‚ '99 hundreths of all the''work'' done in the world is either foolish and unnecessary‚ or harmful and wicked.
I am heartily sorry I ever wrote anything about you — it was paltry. Lord‚ when shall we be done growing? As long as we have anything more to do‚ we have done nothing. So‚ now‚ let us add "Moby-Dick'' to our blessing and step from that. Leviathan is not the biggest fish; I have heard of Krakens.
'Not one man in five cycles, who is wise, will expect appreciative recognition from his fellows, or any one of them.' Appreciation! Recognition! Is love appreciated? Why, ever since Adam, who has got to the meaning of this great allegory — the world? Then we pigmies must be content to have our paper allegories but ill comprehended.
Instinct and study; love and hate; Audacity - reverence. These must mate‚ And fuse with Jacob’s mystic heart‚ To wrestle with the angel - Art.
Herman Melville's Biography
American author‚ best-known for his novels of the sea and his masterpiece MOBY-DICK (1851)‚ a whaling adventure dedicated to Nathaniel Hawthorne. "I have written a wicked book and feel as spotless as the lamb‚" Melville wrote to Hawthorne. The work was only recognized as a masterpiece 30 years after Melville's death. TYPEE (1846)‚ a fictionalized travel narrative‚ was the author's most popular book during his lifetime.

Herman Melville was born in New York City into an established merchant family. One of his grandfather's had taken part in the Boston Tea Party dressed in Indian garb. Herman was the third child of eight. His father‚ Allan Melvill‚ an importer of French dry goods‚ went bankrupt and died when Melville was 12. Maria Gansevoort Melvill was left alone to raise the children; at that time the family lived in Albany. Occasionally she received help from her wealthy relatives. Through his mother's influence‚ biblical stories became a part of Melville's imagination from his early childhood.

A bout of scarlet fever in 1826 left Melville with permanently weakened eyesight. He attended Albany (N.Y.) Classical School in 1835. After leaving the school he was largely autodidact‚ devouring Shakespeare as well as historical‚ anthropological‚ and technical works. From the age of 12‚ he worked as a clerk‚ teacher‚ and farmhand.

In search of adventures‚ Melville shipped out in 1839 as a cabin boy on the whaler Acushnet. He joined later the US Navy‚ and started his years long voyages on ships‚ sailing both the Atlantic and the South Seas. During these years he was a clerk and bookkeeper in general store in Honolulu and lived briefly among the Typee cannibals in the Marquesas Islands. Another ship rescued him and took him to Tahiti. In his mid-20's Melville returned to his mother's house to write about his adventures.

Typee‚ an account of Melville's stay with the cannibals‚ was first published in Britain‚ like most of his works. The narrator‚ a crew member of a whale ship‚ calls himself "Tom". He spends four months among a group of islanders on Nukuheva in the Pacific Ocean and learns to make a distinction between a savage and cannibal. Tattooing he rejects. Typee sold roughly 6‚000 copies in its first two years. Its sequel‚ OMOO (1847)‚ was based on Melville's experiences in Polynesian Islands‚ and gained a huge success as the first one. Throughout his career Melville enjoyed a rather higher estimation in Britain than in America. His older brother Gansevoort held a government position in London‚ and helped to launch Melville's career. With his third book‚ MARDI AND A VOYAGE THITHER (1849)‚ Melville decided to take distance to the expectations of his readers. In this he also succeeded‚ and lost his audience.

In 1847 Melville married Elisabeth Shaw‚ daughter of the chief justice of Massachusetts. After three years in New York‚ he bought a farm‚ "Arrowhead"‚ near Nathaniel Hawthorne's home at Pittsfield‚ Massachusetts‚ and became friends with him for some time. Melville had almost completed Moby-Dick when Hawthorne encouraged him to change it from a story full of details about whaling‚ into an allegorical novel.

Inspired by the achievement of Hawthore‚ Melville wrote his masterpiece‚ Moby-Dick. He worked at his desk all day not eating anything till 4 or 5 o'clock‚ and bursting with energy he shouted: "Give me Vesuvius' crater for an inkstand!" When the novel was published‚ it did not bring him the fame he had acquired in the 1840s. Readers of Typhee and Omoo were not expecting this kind of story‚ and its brilliance was only noted by some critics. Through the story Melville meditated questions about faith and the workings of God's intelligence. He returned to these meditations in his last great work‚ BILLY BUDD‚ a story left unfinished at his death. Its manuscript was found in Melville's desk when he died.

"Call me Ishmael‚" says the narrator in the beginning of Moby-Dick. We don't know is it his real name and exactly when the story is taking place. He signs abroad the whaler Pequod with his friend Queequeg‚ a harpooner from the South Sea Islands. Then the mood of the story changes. The reader is confronted by a plurality of linguistic discourses‚ philosophical speculations‚ and Shakespearean rhetoric and dramatic staging. Mysterious Captain Ahab‚ a combination of Macbeth‚ Job‚ and Milton's Satan‚ appears after several days at sea. Melville named the character after the Israelite king who worshiped the pagan sun god Baal. Ahab reveals to the crew that the purpose of the voyage is to hunt and kill the snow-white sperm whale‚ known as Moby-Dick‚ that had cost Ahab his leg on a previous voyage. The captain has his own faith and sees the cosmos in contention between two rival deities. "Oh! thou clear spirit of clear fire‚ whom on these seas I as Persian once did worship‚ till in the sacramental act so burned by thee‚ that to this hour I bear the scar; I know thee‚ thou clear spirit‚ and I now know that thy right worship is defiance." Ahab has nailed a goldpiece to the mast and offers it as a reward to the first man who sights the creature. Starbuck‚ the first mate‚ tries to dissuade Ahab from the quest. The novel culminates when Moby-Dick charges the boat which sinks. Ahab is drowned‚ tied by the harpoon line his archenemy. In his end Ahab takes his crew with him. The only survivor is the narrator‚ who is rescued by a passing ship.

One of Melville's sources was an article by Jeremiah N. Reynolds‚ entitled 'Mocha Dick: Or‚ the White Whale of the Pacific' (1839). It told about an albino sperm whale‚ which was said to have sunk ships‚ drowned men‚ and harpooned many times. Melville's masterwork was largely misunderstood and it sold only some 3‚000 copies during his lifetime. Its original title was The Whale‚ when it was published in London by Richard Bentley in October 1851‚ but this English edition was bowdlerized. The American Harper edition‚ which appeared in November‚ was definitive.

Moby-Dick can be read as a thrilling sea story‚ an examination of the conflict between man and nature – the battle between Ahab and the whale is open to many interpretations. It is a pioneer novel but the prairie is now sea‚ or an allegory on the Gold Rush‚ but now the gold is a whale. Jorge Luis Borges has seen in the universe of Moby-Dick "a cosmos (a chaos) not only perceptibly malignant as the Gnostics had intuited‚ but also irrational‚ like the cosmos in the hexameters of Lucretius." (from The Total Library‚ 1999) Clare Spark has connected in Hunting Captain Ahab (2001) different interpretations with changing political atmosphere – depending on the point of view‚ Ahab has been regarded as a Promethean hero or a forefather of the twentieth-century totalitarian dictators. The director John Huston questions in his film version (1956) which one‚ Ahab or the whale‚ is the real Monster. Ray Bradbury‚ with whom Huston wrote the screenplay‚ had to struggle with the Screen Writers' Guild over his credits. In Bradbury's version‚ the whale is destructed.

REDBURN (1849) and WHITE-JACKED (1850) Melville wrote to get money. The author compared his work to "sawing wood". PIERRE (1852)‚ a Gothic romance and psychological study based on the author's childhood‚ was a financial and critical disaster. Melville's stories in Putnam's Monthly Magazine reflected the despair and the contempt for human hypocrisy and materialism. Among the stories were 'The Scrivener' (1853)‚ 'The Encantadas' (1854) and 'Benito Cereno' (1855)‚ in which a slave ship is secretly under the command of the captain's personal slave. 'Bartleby'‚ later published as part of the collection entitled THE PIAZZA TALES (1856)‚ was a story about a passive copyist‚ who confronts life with an Everlasting Nay – "I would prefer not to‚" is his quiet defense against the changing world. The narrator‚ a Wall Street lawyer‚ tries in vain to understand the unresponsive employee‚ who refuses to leave the office after being fired.

In 1855 Melville had a breakdown – he started to believe that he was not going to get fame with his writing. THE CONFIDENCE MAN (1857)‚ Melville's last major effort‚ was a harsh satire of American life set on a Mississippi River steamboat. After 1857 he wrote only some poetry. His health was failing‚ he did not earn enough money to support his family‚ and he was a dependent of his wealthy father-in-law. To recover from a breakdown‚ he undertook a long journey to Europe and the Holy Land. The long poem CLAREL (1876)‚ based on this trip‚ was about religious crisis and reflected Melville's Manichean view of God.

Clarel was ignored. Subsequent works were privately printed and distributed among a very small circle of acquaintances. After unsuccessful lecture tours in 1857-60‚ Melville lived in Washington‚ D.C. (1861-62). He moved to New York‚ where he was appointed customs inspector on the New York docks. This work secured him a regular income. Melville's oldest son committed suicide in 1867.

Melville's later works include BATTLE-PIECES AND ASPECTS OF THE WAR (1865)‚ privately printed JOHN MARR AND OTHER SAILORS (1888)‚ and TIMOLEON (1891). Melville's death on September 28‚ 1891‚ in New York‚ was noted with only one obituary notice. His unfinished work‚ Billy Budd‚ Foretopman‚ remained unpublished until 1924. A definitive edition appeared in 1962. This story‚ which Freud would have loved‚ is set in 1797 during the war between England and France. Billy Budd‚ 'the Handsome Sailor'‚ is favorite of the crew of HMS Bellipotent. He becomes the target of John Claggart‚ the satanic master-at-arms‚ whose character bears similarities to Ahab. Claggart accuses falsely Billy of being involved in a supposed mutiny. The innocent Billy‚ who is unable to answer the charge because of a chronic stammer‚ accidentally kills Claggart. Captain Vere sees through Claggart's plot‚ fears reaction among the crew‚ if Billy is not punished. He calls a court and in effect instructs it to find Billy guilty of capital crime. The court condemns Billy‚ who goes willingly to his fate and is hanged from the yardarm after crying out 'God bless Captain Vere'. Later Vere is killed during an engagement with the French‚ murmuring as his last words Billy's name.
Some rights reserved Petri Liukkonen (author) & Ari Pesonen. Kuusankosken kaupunginkirjasto 2008


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