To many people, Herman Melville is known solely as the author of the “Moby-Dick”, the novel about a gigantic whale. Little people know that he had a truly adventurous life in the course of which he had his own ups and downs.
We decided to tell our readers about the facts from the life of this writer. The life of Melville itself can serve as the plot for a very interesting book. Let’s see what it was like…
Herman Melville: 8 interesting facts about one of the most outstanding American novelists
1. Herman Melville was born in a prominent family
Herman was born in August 1819 to Allan and Maria Melvill. The large family of Allan, Maria and their 8 children lived in New York, an interesting fact about Herman Melville. Since early childhood, Herman was put into the atmosphere where everything spoke of wealth and luxury. His father was a merchant while his mother came from a wealthy Dutch family.
Even though Allan Melvill was often away on business, the money he earned wasn’t sufficient to live the life the family had. How was it possible that the family lived in a big house? As surprising as it is, but Allan was never shy to borrow money from his wife’s widowed mother. The financial support she provided allowed Allan and Maria to spend big sums of money on whatever they wanted.
2. Herman Melville had a slightly different surname
In 1830, Maria’s mother lost patience and stopped to financially support the family of her daughter. In the same year, Allan Melvill went bankrupt. In his attempts to solve financial issues, he decided to move his family to Albany (New York). He started to build a career in the fur business. Two years later, he died from a severe cold that he caught due to travelling in an open carriage.
The family was left with many big debts to pay. This was the time when Maria decided to change the family’s surname from Melvill to Melville. Some biographers say that by doing this she wanted to protect her family from bankers demanding the debts payoff. Whether it was true or not is unknown.
3. Herman Melville changed many jobs
Due to the financial crisis of 1837, young Melville struggled to find a permanent job. He made numerous attempts, but none of them could give him financial stability. He tried to pursue a career as a bank clerk, a teacher and a field surveyor.
In 1841, he came to New Bedford where he signed up for a whaling voyage on a new ship Acushnet, an interesting Herman Melville fact. Since New Bedford was the center of the whaling business, the city offered many opportunities for those willing to start and build a career in the field.
Melville served on several ships. The hardworking man was noticed and soon promoted to the position of a harpooner. The adventures of those times were later described in his famous novel “Moby-Dick”.
4. Herman Melville married the daughter of a rich Boston lawyer
Melville and Elizabeth Shaw got engaged in 1847. By that time, Herman had already managed to establish himself as a writer. He had published several books. Both of them turned out to be very popular among readers and brought its author fame and financial stability.
Despite Melville being rather wealthy, Elizabeth’s father turned him down when he came to officially ask for Elizabeth’s hand. The fact is that Lemuel Shaw was a close friend of Allan Melvill. After the death of Melville, the friendship between the families continued.
The refusal of Lemuel Shaw didn’t stop Melville. He asked for Elizabeth’s hand 2 more times. He managed to get permission. Herman Melville and Elizabeth Shaw became man and wife in August 1847. The couple had 4 children.
5. Herman Melville’s source of inspiration was Mount Greylock
In 1850, the Melville’s family moved Arrowhead house. In his study, he set up the desk so that he could see the peak of Mountain Greylock. Why? Because the peak reminded him of the whale rising out of the sea. This was the study where he finished writing “Moby-Dick”.
6. Herman Melville’s novel “Moby-Dick” was criticized
By the time the novel was published, Melville had already been a famous adventure novelist. The “Moby-Dick” book, predicted to be a great success, turned out to be a great disappointment. An interesting fact about Herman Melville is that many American critics said that the story contained too many symbols and was too complicated. Some even called Melville a crazy person. His novel, which was rather different from all the rest of his books, was considered to be of no value to the world of literature.
7. Herman Melville finally got a permanent job
Despite being a well-known writer, Henry Melville continued to face financial issues. In order to improve the situation, he decided to move the family back to the house in Manhattan.
He got a full-time job as a district inspector. Due to the lack of time, he stopped writing novels. During this period of his life, he paid all his attention to poetry. He wrote “Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land”, the poem in which he described his experience in the Middle East. The novel consisting of 18,000 lines is said to be the longest poem in American Literature.
8. Herman Melville’s last book was discovered by chance
The last book of Melville “Billy Budd” was found by chance almost 28 years after his death. The book was published in 1924 by Raymond Weaver. It is considered to be the last masterpiece of Melville.
Herman Melville died in September 1891. The legacy that he left is truly significant to the Worldwide literature.
We hope that the facts provided allowed you to learn more about the life and career of Herman Melville. If you are interested, visit the Historical People Page!