Biography of Famous Writers and Authors: Herman Melville Part 2

About the famous American writer Herman Melville, history and biography of the author.

Herman Melville (1819-1891).

In 1846, Typee appeared, the 1st of 2 novels based on Melville's South Seas experiences. A mixture of fact and highly colored fiction, it was greeted with enthusiasm and outrage. Missionaries were particularly offended by the negative view it presented of their activities, and in later editions Melville was forced to make deletions to soothe their injured feelings. Omoo followed the next year and established the author's literary reputation, which was further enhanced by the publication of White Jacket. This latter novel fully exposed the cruelty then extant in the U.S. Navy and was the direct cause of the elimination of flogging as a punishment.

All this artistic effort culminated in the stunning Moby Dick. Melville began this book as a mere retelling of old sailors' yarns about a huge albino whale named Mocha Dick or Moby Dick, but in the process he transformed it into a novel so magnificent that it defies both description and critical analysis.

After Pierre appeared in 1852, Melville's creative energy rapidly dried up. He was now either afraid of or tired of writing. Some poetry, a satire, and a handful of short stories were all that were left in him. His popularity dwindled until he had to publish his last works at his own expense. His brilliant short novel Billy Budd was not published until 33 years after his death. Financial problems pressed in upon him and domestic tragedy marred his life. One son killed himself either accidentally or deliberately, and another ran away from home. Melville repeatedly sought government employment and was greatly relieved when, in 1866, he was appointed a customs inspector in New York City, a job that he held for 19 years. When he died, only one newspaper bothered to publish an obituary. Many years passed before his true greatness was recognized.

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