(1819 - 1891)
Herman Melville was born in 1819 in New York City, the third of eight children of Allan and Maria Gansevoort Melvill. His father, an importer of French dry goods,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. He left theschool and 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 ofadventures, he shipped out in 1839 as a cabin boy on the whaler Achushnet. He joined later the US Navy, and started his years long voyages on ships, sailing both the Atlantic and the South Seas. In hismid-20's Melville returned to his mother's house to write about his adventures.
* Typee (1846) grew out of Melville's accidental sojourn with the presumably cannibalistic natives of the MarquesasIslands. It found a receptive audience and admitted Melville into the New York literary circles.
* A successful sequel, Omoo (1847), which paralleled Melville's experiences as a beachcomber inTahiti, encouraged his belief that he could support himself through his writing.
* Melville's final novel of the South Seas, Mardi (1849), marks a transition. It begins realistically aboard a whalerbut ends in the realm of fantasy, rhapsody, and allegory.
* Another semi-autobiographical novel Redburn: His First Voyage was published in 1849.
Melville's novels of the South Seas progress fromrealism toward romance, from simplicity toward complexity, and from relatively modest ambitions toward serious pretensions.
In 1847 Melville married Elisabeth Shaw, daughter of the chief justice ofMassachusetts. After three years in New York, he bought a farm, "Arrowhead", near Nathaniel Hawthorne's home and became friends with him for some time. Inspired by the achievement of Hawthore,...