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Herman Melville (1819-1891) is best known as the author of Moby-Dick, or, the Whale, a novel that recounts the story of Ishmael, an inexperienced sailor who boards the whaling ship Pequod. The captain, Ahab, is on a mission for revenge against the white whale, Moby Dick, who bit off his leg on a previous voyage. While Melville’s first books were commercially successful, Moby-Dick was not, and received mixed reviews. At the time of his death in 1891, Melville was no longer well known as an author. The following excerpt from his obituary was published in the New York Times on October 2, 1891:
There has died and been buried in this city, during the current week, at an advanced age, a man who is so little known that only one newspaper contained an obituary account of him, and this was but three or four lines. Yet forty years ago, the appearance of a new book by HERMAN MELVILLE was esteemed a literary event...Melville’s pictorial power was very great, and it came, as such power always comes, from his feeling more intensely than others the charm that he is able to present more vividly than others. It is this power which gave these romances the hold upon readers which it is surprising they have so completely lost.
In the 1920s, interest in Melville’s work, particularly Moby-Dick, resurfaced. The novel is now regarded by many as Melville’s masterpiece. Melville’s use of themes such as man versus nature; religion and spirituality; and the search for truth continues to engage scholars seeking to interpret his text and draw connections to the modern world.
Melville, Herman, 1819-1891
Kent State University
Special Collections and Archives
Image of title page and collector's box.
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