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Publié le : 10/5/2013 -Format: Document en format HTML protégé

Herman Melville.
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Herman Melville.
I

INTRODUCTION

Herman Melville (1819-1891), American writer whose novel Moby Dick is one of the towering literary achievements in the history of fiction. Based on a detailed
knowledge of the sea, ships, and whaling, Moby Dick reveals Melville's profound insight into human nature and his preoccupation with human fate in the universe. It also
contains one of the most fascinating characters in fiction, the obsessed, tormented Captain Ahab. Melville is also known for the short novel Billy Budd, in which he
explores the tragic conflict between good and evil and the limitations of human justice.

II

MELVILLE'S EARLY LIFE

Melville was born in New York City. Both his mother and father were descended from prominent colonial families. One grandfather had participated in the Boston Tea
Party, and the other had been a general in the colonial army during the American Revolution (1775-1783). However, the family's fortunes had declined by Melville's
time. His father's importing business failed in 1830, and the family moved to Albany, New York.
After his father's death in 1832, when Melville was 12, he worked for a time as a bank clerk, a helper on his uncle's farm, and an assistant in his older brother's fur
factory. That business collapsed during the depression of 1837. Melville, having studied briefly at the Albany Classical School, then tried school teaching for a few weeks
near Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He returned to his family's home after some difficulties about salary and studied surveying in anticipation of gaining a position on the Erie
Canal project.

III

MELVILLE'S ADVENTURES AT SEA

When the Erie Canal position did not materialize, Melville in June 1839 joined the crew of the St. Lawrence, a boat that sailed between New York and Liverpool, England.
After his return to the United States in October, he taught school and then traveled west as far as the Mississippi River, visiting an uncle in Galena, Illinois.
In January 1841 Melville sailed for the South Pacific on the whaling ship Acushnet. However, 18 months in the whaling trade under a strict captain proved so
disillusioning that Melville and another young sailor deserted the ship in the Marquesas Islands in July 1842. He and his companion lived for a month among the natives,
who were reputed to be cannibals. Melville escaped aboard an Australian trader ship looking for workers and left it at Papeete, Tahiti, where he was briefly jailed for
deserting his ship. He worked for a time as a field laborer in Tahiti and then shipped to Honolulu, Hawaii, where in 1843 he enlisted as a seaman on the U.S. Navy
frigate United States. He left the ship in Boston in October, 1844.
Not long after his return to the United States, Melville began to write the story of his adventures in the South Seas. Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life (1846) is a
suspenseful tale based upon his experiences in the Taipi Valley in Tahiti. Published in London and New York in 1846, it proved immediately popular. The sequel, Omoo, a
Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas (1847), also attracted many readers, and Melville decided upon writing as his career.

IV

SETTLES IN MASSACHUSETTS

In August 1847 Melville married Elizabeth Shaw, daughter of Massachusetts Supreme Court chief justice Lemuel Shaw. While trying unsuccessfully to get a government
job, Melville wrote Mardi (1849), a complex allegorical fantasy, and Redburn, His First Voyage (1849), based on Melville's first trip to sea. White-Jacket, or the World in
a Man-of-War (1850), a fictional version of his experiences in the navy, exposed the abuse of sailors that was prevalent in the U.S. Navy at that time. Melville traveled
to England to arrange for its publication there and enjoyed a short holiday in Europe. On his return, he moved with his wife to a farm near Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He
hoped to live comfortably as a writer and gentleman farmer.
In Pittsfield Melville became acquainted with American writer Nathaniel Hawthorne. Under Hawthorne's influence he wrote Moby Dick; or, The Whale (1851), his
masterpiece, which he published with a dedication to Hawthorne. Although Moby Dick had some critical success, it failed to achieve the popularity of his earlier books.
With Pierre (1852) Melville turned from the sea to a setting in the Berkshire Hills and New York City. After the publication of Israel Potter (1855), he collected some of
the tales and sketches that had appeared in Putnam's and Harper's magazines and published them as The Piazza Tales (1856). In 1857 came The Confidence Man, a
bitter, semi-allegorical satire.

V

MELVILLE'S LATER YEARS

By the mid-1850s Melville's family was worried about his emotional stability and health as a result of his overwork and lack of success. They made it possible for him to
travel to Europe and the Holy Land in 1856 and 1857. He later used the notes from his travels for a series of lectures. Melville made his final sea voyage in 1860, when
he traveled to San Francisco on a clipper ship commanded by his brother, Thomas. In 1863, defeated by financial problems and by critical rejection, Melville sold his
farm to his brother Allan and returned permanently to New York City. In 1866 he became a district inspector of customs, a post he held for 19 years.
Melville's first volume of poetry, Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War, about the American Civil War (1861-1865), was published i...


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