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Herman Melville I INTRODUCTION Herman Melville These lines (recited by an actor) begin the novel Moby Dick (1851), by Herman Melville.

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Herman Melville I INTRODUCTION Herman Melville These lines (recited by an actor) begin the novel Moby Dick (1851), by Herman Melville.

Publié le : 12/5/2013 Format: Document en format PDF protégé


Herman Melville
I

INTRODUCTION

Herman Melville
These lines (recited by an actor) begin the novel Moby Dick (1851), by Herman Melville.
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ProblematiqueHerman Melville
I

INTRODUCTION

Herman Melville
These lines (recited by an actor) begin the novel Moby Dick (1851), by Herman Melville. Regarded as one of the most
important novels in American literature, Moby Dick tells the story of the pursuit of a great white whale named Moby Dick
during a doomed whaling voyage. Both Ishmael (the narrator) and Ahab (the captain) seek knowledge, but while Ishmael
learns about love and humanity, Ahab pursues vengeance with maniacal obsessiveness. Melville drew upon his rich
nautical experience in writing his fiction, which is known for its symbolism and adventurous narrative.
Culver Pictures/(p) 1992 Microsoft Corporation. All rights reserved.

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 in 1866. He published Clarel, a long
narrative poem about the Holy Land, in 1876. After Melville retired from the customs service in 1886, he relied on an income from family bequests and devoted his last
years to study and writing. In his final years he produced two small books of poetry, John Marr and Other Sailors (1888) and Timoleon (1891). At his death, he left the

short novel Billy Budd in manuscript form. Melville's death in New York City on September 28, 1891, went virtually unnoticed. None of his books was still in print.

VI

MELVILLE'S EARLY WORKS

With the exception of Mardi, all of Melville's early books are narratives of maritime adventure based upon his own experiences and on his wide reading. Although London
publisher John Murray accepted Typee for his Home and Colonial Library as a strictly factual account of South Seas travel, he was largely mistaken in this impression.
Melville embellished the story with exaggerations and rearrangements of detail that enhanced its dramatic effect. Typee was the most popular of Melville's books during
his lifetime, although the sequel, Omoo, also had a wide circle of readers and appeared in a large number of editions and reprintings.
Typee is an early example of the South Seas novel, a genre that during the next 100 years became extremely common. In it Melville described his desertion with his
companion Toby (R. T. Greene) from a whaling ship at Nukuhiva in the Marquesas; their flight in the wrong direction, which brought them to the valley of a tribe of
cannibals; and their separate escapes. The book abounds in discussions of the nearly idyllic life of the unspoiled people of the Taipi Valley and their customs, although
the narrator eventually becomes disenchanted with this life of purely physical pleasures.
In Omoo the story of South Seas adventures continues with such incidents as a comic mutiny, a stint in an island jail, and explorations along the shores of Tahiti. In the
book's introduction Melville explains that Omoo is a word used in the Marquesas for someone who roams from island to island. He records much anthropological
information in Omoo, but various religious groups condemned both books for their unfavorable comments on the work and insensitivity of missionaries in the South
Seas.
Mardi is a philosophical allegory framed by another adventure at sea. The book's hero, accompanied by characters representing the intellect, poetry, history, and
philosophy, searches the world for universal truth. The book is filled with descriptions--intended as allegories--of human customs, religions, governments, and historical
events, as well as with literary and philosophical discussions.
To win back readers who had tired of his philosophical musings in Mardi, Melville wrote Redburn and White-Jacket. Redburn tells of the initiation of a sheltered, naive
young man into the evil and suffering of the real world through life aboard ship, among the poor of Liverpool's slums, and amid the immigrants restricted to the ship's
hold on the return voyage. White-Jacket provided evidence of the need for naval reform, as had Richard Henry Dana ten years earlier in his memoir Two Years Before
the Mast (1840). White-Jacket also suggested the hypocrisy involved in trying to reconcile Christian ideals with naval discipline, which was based upon flogging.

VII

MOBY DICK

Moby Dick
Actor Gregory Peck portrayed Captain Ahab in the film Moby Dick (1956), based on the novel by American author Herman
Melville. The movie was directed by John Huston from a script cowritten by Huston and science-fiction author Ray
Bradbury.
Corbis

With Moby Dick Melville reached his highest achievement as a writer. During Melville's lifetime, however, only a handful of readers recognized its greatness. Ostensibly
an adventure story of the whaling industry, the novel has an action-filled plot, chapters on whales and the business of whaling, powerful descriptions of the wild sea and
its inhabitants, character sketches of the seamen aboard a whaling vessel, and a considerable amount of philosophical musing.
The central story of Moby Dick is the conflict between Captain Ahab, the master of the whaler Pequod, and Moby Dick, a vicious white whale that once tore off one of
Ahab's legs at the knee. The narrator of the story is Ishmael, a seaman aboard the Pequod, who finds Ahab mysterious and frightening. During the voyage Ahab
reveals to his crew that he seeks revenge upon Moby Dick. From this point the voyage becomes a pursuit: Ahab drives himself and his crew over the seas in a
desperate search for his enemy. When the whale is at last sighted and attacked, it rams the ship, killing Ahab and all of the crew except Ishmael.
The body of the book is written in a wholly original, narrative style, which, in certain sections of the work, Melville varied with great success. The most impressive of
these sections include a magnificent sermon before the ship sails and soliloquies of the ship's mates; lengthy passages conveying non-narrative material, usually of a
technical nature, such as the chapter about whales; and more purely ornamental passages, such as the tale of the ship Tally-Ho. These sections can stand by
themselves as short stories of merit. The work is invested with Ishmael's sense of profound wonder at his story, but it nonetheless conveys full awareness that Ahab's
quest can have but one end: destruction.
As Ahab makes very clear to Starbuck, his first mate, he envisions in the whale the visible form of a malicious Fate that governs humanity thoughtlessly and is oblivious
to human suffering. Ahab sees in himself a superior soul protesting against universal injustice. "In each event," he explains to Starbuck, "some unknown but still
reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask....That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent
or be the white whale principle, I will wreak that hate upon him."
Ishmael is instructed by characters who represent polar opposites. Ahab is the destructive, defiant tragic hero who refuses to bow to his fate, ignores the charts he has
been given, and sets off on his own course to strike back at the forces of the universe that have damaged him. While Ahab is all ego, Queequeg, a South Seas
harpooner with whom Ishmael makes a pact of brotherhood, is the humanist, giving to others simply because, as Ishmael supposes, he senses that humans have to

stick together. Unlike Ahab the destroyer, Queequeg is the savior, as at the end Ishmael stays afloat by clinging to the coffin Queequeg has carved for himself.

VIII

MELVILLE'S LATER WORKS

Melville's writings after 1847 seem to reflect the influence of American essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson and New England transcendentalism, but Melville took pains to
show his growing contempt for transcendental optimism. He also disagreed with transcendental attitudes toward nature. Instead of blandly praising nature for its beauty
and benevolence to human beings in the fashion of the romantic writers, Melville repeatedly pointed out the signs of nature's vulturism. In such sketches as "The
Encantadas," about the Galápagos Islands, there is more than a hint of the theories of British scientist Charles Darwin, especially the theory of the survival of the fittest.
(Encantadas is another name for the Galápagos, which Darwin explored.) Melville's readers admired him when he romanticized the life of the South Sea Islander into a
dreamy experience, but they refused to remain loyal when he sighted the eternal predatory shark that lurks beneath nature's enchanting surface.
Melville's next novel, Pierre: or the Ambiguities (1852), was a darkly allegorical exploration of the nature of evil. It reveals a mood of deepening bitterness, possibly
brought on in part by the lack of popular understanding and appreciation of his literary output after Omoo. The hero of Pierre is a young man who tries to lead a life of
perfect virtue only to discover that society's moral standards are too frequently ambiguous. In the end his idealism brings disaster upon himself and those he loves.
Pierre in its construction faintly resembles a tragedy by William Shakespeare: It opens with a balcony scene and closes with the dead bodies of its main characters lying
in a heap upon the floor.
Pierre seemingly began as a romance intended to capture the audience for romantic novels. But it became instead a dark and shocking parody, a nose-thumbing insult
to the very audience Melville had originally set out to woo. Its overtly drawn brother-sister incest and bohemianism alienated even those who had been most supportive
of Melville's work. In one respect it foreshadowed the literary future, for it may be called one of the first American psychological novels.
The volume of tales and sketches that Melville entitled The Piazza Tales contains most of his best shorter works of prose, including such moving and thought-provoking
pieces as "Benito Cereno," "The Encantadas," and "Bartleby, the Scrivener." "Benito Cereno" concerns the rescue of a Spanish nobleman from a slave ship that has been
captured by the rebellious slaves. "The Encantadas" relates a series of incidents occurring on the barren Galápagos Islands. "Bartleby, the Scrivener," with its subtitle,
"A Story of Wall Street," dramatizes 19th-century society's destruction of humanity--especially the creative spirit--in a religiously sanctioned, frantic pursuit of wealth.
The Confidence-Man (1857), the last of the novels published during Melville's lifetime, comes closer than any of his other works to pure allegory. Set on a steamboat on
the Mississippi River, it presents many characters and events that illustrate Melville's view that human statements and human actions are often diametrically opposed.
The principal character in the story is a mysterious confidence man who preaches mutual trust while shamelessly cheating the other passengers.
The poetry that Melville began to produce relatively late in his career has never been as widely admired as his prose. However, it has gained increasing respect over
time. Some of his poems, particularly those about the Civil War found in Battle-Pieces, are frequently reprinted in anthologies. The book-length poem Clarel relates the
experiences and conversations of a group of pilgrims touring the Holy Land.
The novella Billy Budd, Foretopman, found among Melville's papers after his death, was not published until 1924. Critics now rank it second only to Moby Dick among
Melville's major works. Billy Budd is the story of a young sailor, personifying innocence, who is doomed by the malevolent hatred of a ship's officer, personifying evil. He
is hanged for the accidental murder of the evil officer. The sacrifice of the lamblike youth to the cruel demands of civilized warfare is made to resemble the crucifixion of
Christ. The work was adapted as an opera in 1951 by English composer Benjamin Britten in collaboration with the English novelist E. M. Forster.

IX

MELVILLE'S REPUTATION

During his lifetime Melville was appreciated primarily as a spinner of adventure yarns. By his death his works were almost forgotten and remained so until the 1920s. At
that time his genius was finally recognized and he became valued for his great moral and psychological insight. Over the next decades, more critical research was done
on Melville than on any other American author. Interest in Melville continued undiminished throughout the 20th century. His fame today rests mainly on his great
narrative power, his ability to create absorbing characters, and his penetrating, tragic vision of life.

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