Herman Melville

(1. 8. 1819 - 28. 9. 1891)
About author
Herman Melville (August 1, 1819 – September 28, 1891) was an American novelist, poet, and writer of short stories. His contributions to the Western canon are the whaling novel Moby-Dick (1851); the short work Bartleby, the Scrivener (1853) about a clerk in a Wall Street office; the slave ship narrative Benito Cereno (1855); and Billy Budd, Sailor. When asked which of the great American writers he most admired, Vladimir Nabokov replied: "When I was young I liked Poe, and I still love Melville, whom I did not read as a boy." New Yorker critic James Wood ranks him among "the millionaires of style."

Around his twentieth year he was a schoolteacher for a short time, then became a seaman when his father met business reversals. On his first voyage he jumped ship in the Marquesas Islands, where he lived for a time. His first book, an account of that time, Typee, became a bestseller and Melville became known as the "man who lived among the cannibals". After Omoo, the sequel to his first book, Melville began to work philosophical issues in his third book, the elaborate Mardi (1849). The public indifference to Moby-Dick (1851), and Pierre (1852), put an end to his career as a popular author. From 1853 to 1856 he wrote short fiction for magazines, collected as The Piazza Tales (1856). In 1857, Melville published The Confidence-Man, the last work of fiction published during his lifetime. During his later decades, Melville worked at the New York Customs House and privately published some volumes of poetry in editions of only 25 copies. When he died in 1891, Melville was almost completely forgotten. It was not until the "Melville Revival" at the occasion of the centennial of his birth that his work won recognition. In 1924, the story Billy Budd, Sailor was published, which Melville worked on during his final years, and left in manuscript at his death.

The single most Melvillean characteristic of his prose is its allusiveness. Difficult as it may seem to assess either the essence or the greatness of Melville's achievement, pioneering scholar of American literature Stanley T. Williams made it look easy by doing both in the same sentence: "In Melville's manipulation of his reading was a transforming power comparable to Shakespeare's."