- NAME: Herman Melville
- OCCUPATION: Author, Poet
- BIRTH DATE: August 01, 1819
- DEATH DATE: September 28, 1891
- EDUCATION: Albany Academy, Lansingburgh Academy, Albany Classical School, Grammar School of Columbia College, New York Male High School
- PLACE OF BIRTH: New York City, New York
- PLACE OF DEATH: New York City, New York
- Full Name: Herman Melville
- Originally: Herman Melvill
Best Known For
Herman Melville wrote the classic American novel Moby-Dick (1851), a whaling adventure which regarded as one of the greatest literary works of all time.
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According to the book, in 1842, the Acushnet arrived at the Marquesas Islands in Polynesia, where Melville and a crewmate deserted the ship and, soon after, were captured by local cannibals. The two spent nearly four months as captives before escaping and boarding another whaling ship, the Lucy Ann, working as part of its crew, according to Melville's literary account.
It was much later in life that Melville wrote his most popular work, Moby-Dick (initially titled The Whale), which was first published in 1851. Moby-Dick, categorized as American Romanticism, is based on both Melville's years of experience aboard whaleships and the real-life sinking of the Essex whaleship: Traveling from Nantucket, Massachusetts, to South America—a two-and-a-half-year journey at the time—the Essex reportedly met its doom in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in November 1820, when a sperm whale turned on the ship, attacking it and causing it to sink. The ship's crew, adrift in their small whaleboats, faced storms, thirst, illness and starvation, and were even reduced to cannibalism for survival. However, succeeding in one of the great open-boat journeys of all time, the few survivors were picked up off South America. Their story, spread widely in America in the 19th century, eventually provided inspiration for Melville's Moby-Dick.
Moby-Dick has received commercial and critical acclaim for nearly a century. However, Melville didn't live to witness that success. In fact, the book didn't bring him any wealth or respect during his lifetime. Early critics were unimpressed by the novel; an 1851 article in the Illustrated London News called it "Herman Melville's last and best and most wildly imaginative story," and a testament to his "reckless imaginative power." The article went on to note Melville's "great aptitude for quaint and original philosophical speculation, degenerating, however, too often into rhapsody and purposeless extravagance."
Readers weren't enamored either, according to book sales: Only about 500 copies of Moby-Dick were reportedly sold in the United Kingdom following its release—nearly 25 percent less than Melville's Typee.
On September 28, 1891, Melville died of a heart attack in New York City. Several years after his death, many of his books were reprinted, including Moby-Dick, and his name began slowly gaining traction in the literary world. By the early 1920s, Melville had become a well-known figure among readers and critics alike. Today, Herman Melville is regarded as one of America's greatest writers, and Moby-Dick is considered not only a classic American novel, but a literary masterpiece.
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