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Herman melville


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HERMAN MELVILLE

(1819-91)



  • born Herman Melvill

    • “Melville” = 1830s

  • 3rd of 8 children

  • father = Allan Melvill

    • dry good merchant

    • massive debt before debt ($$$$)

    • 1832: died suddenly & in delirium

  • mother = Maria Gansevoort

    • daughter of Revolutionary War hero, General Peter Gansevoort

  • odd jobs:

    • bank

    • Albany fur-cap store

    • uncle’s Pittsfield farm

    • teacher in country school (Whitman)

  • sailor:

    • cabin boy, Liverpool

    • 1841: 21, South Seas whaler

    • 1842: deserter, w/Toby Greene, Marquesas Islands (near Tahiti)

      • lived w/cannibals of Tapai Valley for few weeks

      •  1846 TYPEE

      •  1847 OMOO

        • popular

        • travel narratives

        • anthropological novelty

        • adventure

          • SPANISH COLONIALIZATION, Capt. SMITH

    • Navy: naval frigate, man-o-war United States

  • 1847: married Elizabeth Knapp Shaw, 8/4

    • daughter of Lemuel Shaw, chief justice of Mass. Supreme Court

    • several advances against her inheritance ($$$$)

  • novel #3 = bomb

    • Mardi,

    • experimental

      • spiritual & political allegory

      • in travel narrative genre

      • philosophical journey

  • success:

    • Redburn (1849) – Liverpool experiences

    • White-Jacket (1850) – United States experiences

  • MOBY DICK

    • written in stages

    • started as straight-forward whaling narrative

    • then changed -- experimental

      • Gospels in this century”

    • INFLUENCES:

    • believed American writer could rival SHAKESPEARE

    • infused MD with “dark Shakespearean truths about human nature & the universe that, in this world of lies can be told only covertly & by snatches

    • 1851 = published

    • reviews = +/-

      • praised

      • called crazy: “writ de lunatic”

  • literary-economic dilemma:

    • HM to Hawthorne: “What I feel most moved to write, that is banned,--it will not pay. Yet, altogether, write the other way I cannot. So the product is a finalhash, and all my books are botches .

    • $$$$$

      • literary prostitution

      • literary hackwork

  • PIERRE:

    • Pierre Glendinnings

    • coming of age (bildungsroman)

    • domestic novel

    • romantic, ethical, intellectual perplexities

    • satirical: US literary scene

      • timid & genteel succeed

      • bold, adventurous fail

    • clerical hypocrisy

    • family dishonesty

    • incestuous sexuality

    • reviews: work of a maniac, “HERMAN MELVILLE CRAZY”

  • short stories & novellas:

    • $$$$$$

    • Harper’s & Putnam’s

    • HM’s most socially progressive writings

    • **critical of American culture

    • antebellum culture issues =

      • racial & gender inequities

      • social changes b/c of coming industrial revolution

      • slavery

    • protagonists = “absolutely alone in the universe”

    • “Benito Cereno”

      • slavery

      • racism

      • stereotypical racist assumptions of captain

      • not obviously an attack on slavery

      • ignored by abolitionists

    • Bartleby the Scrivener

  • The Confidence Man

    • **critical of American culture

    • satire, allegory

    • basically unread

    • selfishness

    • duplicitousness

      • Emily Dickinson #339, p. 1672

  • DEPRESSION:

    • failure of experimental, daring works

    • $$$$$

    • boring gov’t job

    •  anger, depression (domestic violence????) (insane????)

    •  Europe trip

      •  lectures in States @ Rome, statues, travel

        • (lecturers)

          • Emerson

          • Douglass

          • Melville

  • CIVIL WAR:

    • visited battle fields, looking for family members

    • Battle-Pieces

      • one of the best CW volumes of poetry **

      • along with Whitman’s Drum-Taps

  • government job

    • NY customs inspector

    • boring, poor $$$$

      • Irving, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Douglass, Melville

  • DEATH of SONS:

    • 1867: Malcolm, 18, suicide

    • 1886: Stanwix, found dead in San Francisco hotel

    •  bonds w/wife

    • Clarel: 18,000-line poem

      • bombed

  • ANTEBELLUM: popular, success

  • POST-CIVIL WAR: ignored

  • REVIVAL: centennial

  • = Shakespeare:

    • “the great art of telling the truth w/sly indirections of his language”




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