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fanuzzir
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Melville's biography

Herman Melville had a checkered professional and personal life befitting an ambitious, and in his own mind at least, unappreciated artist. Does anyone have any insight into the writer's life that will shed light on his novel[s]?
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Choisya
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Re: Melville's biography : Poorly educated!

Although Melville was born into the 'American aristocracy', being descended from British knights and lords and Norwegian kings, his father was a disastrous business man, causing his family to do 'moonlight flits' on several occasions. This meant that Melville, one of seven children, had what he described as 'an irregular education'. He left school at the age of twelve and secured only minor clerical positions, so in 1839, at the age of 19, he decided to go to sea. He was away for four years on various ships, including whalers, and lived for several months among South Pacific islanders (where he no doubt got his inspiration for Queegueg). When he returned, with a fund of stories to tell, he decided to become a writer and wrote nine novels and some short stories over a period of eleven years.

Melville was also a voracious reader and 'he read to write', which is very evident from Moby Dick, with its 'Cetology' and many classical references: 'Coming to literature relatively late in life, Melville did so not with the reluctance of an unwilling recipient of some institutionally imposed reading-list, but with the wide-eyed eagerness of the auto-didact, hungry for the resources of the world's great books. Scholars searching for Melville's secrets have given great attention to his reading...'(Dr David Herd, Lecturer in English & American Literature, University of Kent at Canterbury, UK.) All this erudition despite 'an irregular education' makes you wonder why we bother to send our children to school!!




fanuzzir wrote:
Herman Melville had a checkered professional and personal life befitting an ambitious, and in his own mind at least, unappreciated artist. Does anyone have any insight into the writer's life that will shed light on his novel[s]?


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fanuzzir
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Re: Melville's biography : Poorly educated!

Great summation! I agree with his working class politics as well--Melville deliberately substituted the erudite classics education he got on the fly to the privileged college career his peers enjoyed.
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Re: Melville's biography : Poorly educated!

Yes Melville's four years 'before the mast' must have given him great insight into the lives and views of working seamen and of their inferior living conditions both off and onboard. His little description of Flask's behaviour before he went down to dine with the 'Sultan and Emirs' is illustrative:

'But the third Emir [Flask], now seeing himself all alone on the quarter-deck, seems to feel relieved from some curious constraint, for, tipping all sort of knowing winks in all sorts of directions, and kicking off his shoes, he strikes into a sharp and noiseless squall of hornpipe right over the Grand Turk's head; and then by dexterous slight...he goes down rollicking, so far at least as he remains visible from the deck, reversing all other processions, by bringing up the rear with music. But 'ere stepping into the cabin doorway below, he pauses, ships a new face altogether, and then, independent, hilarious little Flask enters King Ahab's presence, in the character of Abjectus the Slave.'

A litle bit of working class rebellion there I think and perhaps a portent of things to come?:smileyhappy:




fanuzzir wrote:
Great summation! I agree with his working class politics as well--Melville deliberately substituted the erudite classics education he got on the fly to the privileged college career his peers enjoyed.


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Re: Melville's biography

[ Edited ]
Herman Melville (1819-1891), American author, best known for his novels of the sea and especially for his masterpiece Moby Dick (1851), a whaling adventure dedicated to Nathaniel Hawthorne. The work was only recognized as a masterpiece years after Melville's death. The fictionalized travel narrative Typee (1846) was Melville's most popular book during his lifetime.
---------

Herman Melville was born on August 1, 1819 in New York City into an established merchant family. His father became bankrupt and insane, dying when Melville was 12. A bout of scarlet fever in 1826 left Melville with permanently weakened eyesight. He attended Albany (N.Y.) Classical School in 1835. From the age of 12, he worked as a clerk, teacher, and farmhand. In search of adventures, he shipped out in 1839 as a cabin boy on the whaler Achushnet. He later joined the US Navy, and started his years long voyages on ships, sailing both the Atlantic and the South Seas.

Typee, an account of his stay with cannibals, was first published in Britain, like most of his works. Its sequel, Omoo (1847), was based on his experiences in the Polynesian Islands, and gained as huge a success as the first one. Throughout his career Melville enjoyed a rather higher estimation in Britain than in America. His third book, Mardi And A Voyage Thither was published in 1849.

In 1847 Melville married Elisabeth Shaw, daughter of the chief justice of Massachusetts. After three yeas in New York, he bought a farm, "Arrowhead", near Nathaniel Hawthorne's home at Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and became friends with him for some time.

Inspired by the suggestions of Hawthorne, Melville wrote his masterpiece, Moby Dick. When the novel was published, it did not bring him the fame he had acquired in the 1840s. Only some critics and very few readers noted its brilliance.

Through the narrator of Moby Dick, Ishmael, the author 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 and posthumously published in 1924. Melville died of heart failure on September 28, 1891.

Please enter the whole link otherwise it leads astray:

from http://www.online-literature.com/melville/

Another biography:
http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/bb/hm_bio.html

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Message Edited by ziki on 12-10-200609:53 PM

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tahiti

quote: When the Lucy Ann reached Tahiti, Melville joined a mutiny led by dissatisfied shipmates who had not been paid. The mutiny landed Melville in a Tahitian jail from which he escaped. On these events and their sequel, Melville based his second book, Omoo (1847). Lighthearted in tone, with the mutiny shown as something of a farce, it describes Melville's travels through the islands, accompanied by Long Ghost, formerly the ship's doctor, now turned drifter. The novel revealed Melville's bitterness against what he saw as the debasement of the native Tahitian peoples by so-called "civilizing" forces.
-------
Interesting...
Paul Gaugin arrived circum fifty years later still thinking Tahiti was an undisturbed paradise.
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no success with MbD

quote:Inspired by the suggestions of Hawthorne, Melville wrote his masterpiece, Moby Dick. When the novel was published, it did not bring him the fame he had acquired in the 1840s. Only some critics and very few readers noted its brilliance.
----
Question: Any speculations why MbD was not recognized by the contemporary public as a great book?

ziki
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Re: no success with MbD

i think it might have taken a few generations for enough people to make all the way through the book to let others know that it is really worth the voyage.



ziki wrote:
quote:Inspired by the suggestions of Hawthorne, Melville wrote his masterpiece, Moby Dick. When the novel was published, it did not bring him the fame he had acquired in the 1840s. Only some critics and very few readers noted its brilliance.
----
Question: Any speculations why MbD was not recognized by the contemporary public as a great book?

ziki


"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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Re: no success with MbD



ziki wrote:
quote:Inspired by the suggestions of Hawthorne, Melville wrote his masterpiece, Moby Dick. When the novel was published, it did not bring him the fame he had acquired in the 1840s. Only some critics and very few readers noted its brilliance.
----
Question: Any speculations why MbD was not recognized by the contemporary public as a great book?

ziki




But this is so often the case! There have been so many brilliant artists who did not enjoy any of the fruits of their labors; most of them basically died old, poor and completely unappreciated in their beds. I agree that time has a lot to do with it. Many of these writers were simply "ahead" of the times they were born into. It's almost as though the rest of the world had to catch up with them.

Cheryl
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Re: no success with MbD


ziki wrote:
quote:Inspired by the suggestions of Hawthorne, Melville wrote his masterpiece, Moby Dick. When the novel was published, it did not bring him the fame he had acquired in the 1840s. Only some critics and very few readers noted its brilliance.
----
Question: Any speculations why MbD was not recognized by the contemporary public as a great book?

ziki




I thought we had until December 26th before starting so I started reading Typee on the side for background. In that introduction they talked about the failure of Moby Dick in its own time and I will quote from it:

---------------------
Moby Dick was as we know now, the masterpiece, but in his own time it was attacked and criticized for its uncouth form, its verbosity, its irrelevancies, its extravagant emotions centered around the cruise of an ordinary whaling ship--and perhaps for the other things not entirely mentionable to the increasingly staid and proper literary conscience of New England and New York.
--------------------

In short Moby Dick was, like many other masterpieces, was simply ahead of its time.

Now it is back to Moby Dick.

Bucky
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Choisya
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Re: no success with MbD : Politics of the book

According to my Introduction by Dr Herd of the University of Kent, Moby Dick was first recognised as a masterpeice by the educated British working class 'who circulated it through their societies and institutions, liking what it had to say about working life'. Because of their strong Trade Unions, the British working class were also better organised than their American brothers/sisters and there were many organisations which encouraged reading, not least The National Council of Labour Colleges, a Correspondence College for working men (of which my father was a great devotee). My Introduction also says that MD only entered the American canon in the 1940s and its success has largely been due to Melville's anticipation of 'tensions that became deep crises in world politics, the idea of democracy entering into collision with the image of the inspirational, dictatorial, strong man....Like Whitman, Melville understood that if it was to preserve its legitimacy, democracy required the kind of commitment not altogether unrelated to that which is called for by religion, that a society which abandons all vestige of enthusiasm [for democracy] becomes a dangerously disaffected place. Dr Herd, a Lecturer in English & American Literature, closes his Introduction thus:-

'...as this Introduction is being written, in late September 2001, the ideal sensibility Melville articulated through Ishmael, and which America has always failed to live up to, is at odds, once more with a fanatical force. Again Melville is diagnosing our condition. Always we need to know what Moby Dick has to teach.'

It will be instructive to see what parallels readers here find in Moby Dick which relate to the politics of the society we live in today.





leakybucket wrote:

ziki wrote:
quote:Inspired by the suggestions of Hawthorne, Melville wrote his masterpiece, Moby Dick. When the novel was published, it did not bring him the fame he had acquired in the 1840s. Only some critics and very few readers noted its brilliance.
----
Question: Any speculations why MbD was not recognized by the contemporary public as a great book?

ziki




I thought we had until December 26th before starting so I started reading Typee on the side for background. In that introduction they talked about the failure of Moby Dick in its own time and I will quote from it:

---------------------
Moby Dick was as we know now, the masterpiece, but in his own time it was attacked and criticized for its uncouth form, its verbosity, its irrelevancies, its extravagant emotions centered around the cruise of an ordinary whaling ship--and perhaps for the other things not entirely mentionable to the increasingly staid and proper literary conscience of New England and New York.
--------------------

In short Moby Dick was, like many other masterpieces, was simply ahead of its time.

Now it is back to Moby Dick.

Bucky


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no hurry bucky



leakybucket wrote:I thought we had until December 26th before starting ....


yes we have..I was just warming upp a little, starting to read 'around the subject'. I do not even have the book itself. No hurry, bucky. The book you started with was obviously the one most popular among his contemporaries. It would be interesting to hear your comparisons later on with MbD.

ziki
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melville popular in UK



Choisya wrote:
According to my Introduction by Dr Herd of the University of Kent, Moby Dick was first recognised as a masterpeice by the educated British working class 'who circulated it through their societies and institutions, liking what it had to say about working life'.



This chimes with the statement that Melville was more popular in UK than in US.

ziki
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Re: Typee


ziki wrote:


leakybucket wrote:I thought we had until December 26th before starting ....


yes we have..I was just warming upp a little, starting to read 'around the subject'. I do not even have the book itself. No hurry, bucky. The book you started with was obviously the one most popular among his contemporaries. It would be interesting to hear your comparisons later on with MbD.

ziki




I became interested in Ishmael's comments and relationship with Queequeg. It seems like a most enlightened relationship for its time. I'm also intrigued with Queequeg himself. I started Typee because it was about the time when Melville lived with the natives and probably where he formed his opinions that Ishmael has towards Queequog.

Our time-table has been moved up so I figured I had better get back to Moby Dick. I will still try to fit in Typee. I think it is an important backgrounder for Queequeg.

Bucky
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Re: Typee

I don't want to distract us from our main subject of Moby Dick but some of you with time might want to read some of Melville's earlier books that chronicle his experiences during his sea travels. You can start them on line, though I personally prefer book-in-hand.

http://www.online-literature.com/melville/typee/
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Re: Typee

Leaky, can I call you that, thank you for your tour of Melville's Typee. You'll also enjoy White Jacket, a more potent political mix of naval flogging exposes and travel narrative. I don't like Typee as much as I'm supposed to, though I find the flora and fauna seriously and love the idea that the supposed spectator of island life was himself under surveillance the entire time. I'll start a new thread for people who want to peruse other Melville works.
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fanuzzir
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Re: melville popular in UK

I really love what you all turned up here. It is a fact that Melville found great favor in the UK, though it is not always easy to see why. Choisya's post really helps: the reading public of England was informed by various social reforms of the 1840s and 50s that directly addressed the issue of class inequality and working class rights. Class, as you may have guessed, had the importance in GB that slavery and race had in the same period in the USA. Indeed, working class activists of the US were furious that abolitionists had stolen their thunder.
What does this have to say about Moby Dick? As you may have discovered, the first few chapter are on the ground, ritualistic, documentary accounts of working class life on a ship--without Whitman's homoerotics but still filled with sympathy and first hand knowledge. You can see this as well in Billy Budd, which I think is Melville's tightest novel.
As for the question of Moby Dick's failure in the mid-nineteenth century: a travel narrative stuffed with philosophical meaning violated the rules of literary enjoyment. For philosophy, one read Emerson; for travel narratives, one was supposed to read writers like Melville had once been. So there's really the question of why and when it was acclaimed. Again, thank you Choisya: a "Melville Revivial" of the 1920s that discovered the lost text of Billy Budd turned into an American studies academic discipline that was looking for a "Cold War" text to anchor the field and say something meaningful about the ideological struggle of American liberal democracy with Communism. And Moby Dick fit the bill. Why? Let's talk more and find out.
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Melville today

Here's a recent article about why Melville matters today.

http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=534112
"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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Re: Melville today

Thanks for that article. This is embarassing: how do you insert a link like that?
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Re: Melville today



fanuzzir wrote:
Thanks for that article. This is embarassing: how do you insert a link like that?




I just went CTR C to the link in the long "Go" box at the top of my desktop when I was on that page, then went CTR V to where I wanted it in the post, and after I sent the post it was there. As you can tell, I am very technical. It must be magic, because it didn't used to do that. I use Mozilla Firefox for my grazer. Maybe that helps.
"Truth must of necessity be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind, and therefore is congenial to it." ~~G.K. Chesterton
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