Herman Melville Biography

(Novelist & Short Story Writer of the American Renaissance Period Best Known for His Works 'Moby-Dick' & 'Typee')

Birthday: August 1, 1819 (Leo)

Born In: New York, New York, United States

One of the first authors to have his works published in the Library of America, Herman Melville was an acclaimed American novelist, poet and a short story writer. An enigma of American literature, Melville’s first few books brought him fame and literary recognition. He first gained critical acclaim with his book ‘Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life’, after which his most popular novel, ‘Moby-Dick’ elevated his status as a prolific writer. Some of his other books include, ‘Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas’, ‘Mardi and a Voyage Thither’, White-Jacket’, ‘Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land’ and the posthumously published novel ‘Billy Budd’. Unfortunately, the books published before the success of ‘Moby-Dick’ did not do very well. In the 20th century, he was catapulted to great fame as a writer for his book ‘Moby-Dick’, a book that is regarded as one of the most acclaimed pieces of literature in the world. Although he was not a financially successful writer, yet he received worldwide recognition for his writings.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Herman Melvill

Died At Age: 72


Spouse/Ex-: Elizabeth Shaw

father: Allan

mother: Maria Gansevoort Melville

siblings: Thomas Melville

children: Elizabeth Melville, Frances Melville, Malcolm Melville, Stanwix Melville

Poets Novelists

Died on: September 28, 1891

place of death: New York, New York, United States

Cause of Death: Cardiovascular Disease

Notable Alumni: The Albany Academy

Ancestry: Dutch American

U.S. State: New Yorkers

More Facts

education: The Albany Academy

  • 1

    What inspired Herman Melville to write Moby-Dick?

    Herman Melville was inspired by real-life events, particularly the sinking of the whaling ship Essex in 1820, which was attacked and sunk by a sperm whale.

  • 2

    What is the major theme explored in Herman Melville's "Bartleby, the Scrivener?"

    The major theme explored in "Bartleby, the Scrivener" is the dehumanizing effects of modern capitalism and the struggle for individuality in a conformist society.

  • 3

    What is the significance of the character Captain Ahab in Moby-Dick?

    Captain Ahab symbolizes the destructive power of obsession and the consequences of unchecked ambition in pursuit of a singular goal.

  • 4

    How did Herman Melville's own experiences at sea influence his writing?

    Melville's experiences at sea provided him with firsthand knowledge of whaling culture, maritime life, and the inherent dangers and challenges of the sea, which he incorporated into his writing.

  • 5

    What literary techniques did Herman Melville use in his writing that made him a prominent figure in American literature?

    Herman Melville employed complex symbolism, allegory, and philosophical themes in his works, which contributed to his reputation as a significant figure in American literature.

Childhood & Early Life
Herman Melville was born in New York City to Allan and Maria Gansevoort Melville. His father was a commission merchant and importer and spent most of his days abroad.
He attended the New York Male School. His father died when he was just twelve and the family was left with no money or resources. His mother had expected some inherited wealth from her family but she did not receive it.
He attended the Albany Academy during the 1830s. Here, he studied classic literature and participated actively in student debates. He also developed an interest in writing during this period.
Continue Reading Below
In 1841, he travelled from Fairhaven, Massachusetts on the whaler ship ‘Acushnet’ and the following year he deserted the ship. His travelling experiences formed the inspiration for many of his writings.
In 1846, his first book titled ‘Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life’ was published. The book was based on his real life experiences on the island of Nuku Hiva in French Polynesia, where he was held a captive.
In 1847, he published ‘Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas’, depicting Tahiti and the customs and traditions of the place was published. It was a sequel to ‘Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life’.
In 1849, his book ‘Mardi, and a Voyage Thither’ was published. It narrates his experiences in South Pacific, after he abandoned his ship. The book was not received well and was a critical failure.
On September 29, 1849, his book ‘Redburn: His First Voyage’ was released. It was a semi-autobiographical work based on his experiences in the ship journey to Liverpool.
Published in 1850, ‘White-Jacket’ is a book that depicts his experiences in the U.S navy. It is a severe critique of the life of American naval officers.
In 1851, his most popular work ‘Moby-Dick’ was published. The novel is about the story of a wandering sailor and his adventures on the whale ship ‘Pequod’.
In 1852, The Harper & Brothers published ‘Pierre: or, The Ambiguities’, which was one of his most unsuccessful books and was both a critical and a financial failure.
Written in 1853, his unpublished and lost novel ‘Isle of the Cross’ is beloved to have been rejected by the publisher, Harper & Brothers.
Continue Reading Below
In November 1853, his short story titled ‘Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street’ was published anonymously in the ‘Putnam's Magazine’ and was also re-published in ‘The Piazza Tales’.
In 1854, he published ‘The Encantadas’. Though the novel was a critical success, it was a commercial failure.
‘Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile’ was published in parts in the ‘Putnam's Magazine’ from July 1854 to March 1855. The same was published in the form of a book by George Palmer Putnam in New York.
In 1857, he published ‘The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade’ and after the publication of this novel, he took-up the job of a lecturer.
‘Battle Pieces and Aspects of the War’ was published after the American Civil War in 1866. It consisted of over 70 poems but it received poor critical reviews.
In 1876, his epic poem titled ‘Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land’ was published. It was published in two volumes and stretches to 18,000 lines.
Published after his death, ‘Billy Budd’ was one of his most acclaimed works that won many laurels all over the world.
Major Works
‘Moby-Dick’ is considered his magnum opus that earned him worldwide literary acclaim. This novel is one among the ‘Great American Novels’ and is considered to be one of the greatest classics in world literature.
Continue Reading Below
‘Billy Budd’ is one of his most celebrated works and considered a masterpiece. It was adopted on screen for Broadway in 1951 and won the Donaldson Awards and Outer Critics Circle Awards for best play.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1826, he was hit by scarlet fever, after which his eye sight became permanently weak.
He got married to Elizabeth Shaw on August 4, 1847. She was the daughter of Lemuel Shaw, the Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
In 1850, he shifted to Massachusetts along with his wife. They had four children together.
He died at his New York home due to cardiac dilation at the age of 72. He was laid to rest at the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York.
Facts About Herman Melville

Herman Melville was known to have a fascination with whales and the sea, which inspired his most famous work, "Moby-Dick."

Melville had a brief career as a lecturer and traveled around the United States giving talks on literature and other topics.

Melville's lesser-known works include poetry and short stories that showcase his versatile writing style beyond just novels.

Melville had a deep admiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne, another renowned author of his time, and the two formed a close friendship that influenced each other's writing.

Recommended Lists:

See the events in life of Herman Melville in Chronological Order

How To Cite

Article Title
- Herman Melville Biography
- Editors, TheFamousPeople.com
- TheFamousPeople.com

People Also Viewed

Salman Rushdie Biography
Salman Rushdie
Stephen King Biography
Stephen King
George R. R. Martin Biography
George R. R. Martin
Lauren Graham Biography
Lauren Graham
MacKenzie Scott Biography
MacKenzie Scott
Cormac McCarthy Biography
Cormac McCarthy
Emily Dickinson Biography
Emily Dickinson
Anne Rice Biography
Anne Rice