Herman Melville

Today, we are going to make a tribute to Herman Melville.

A tribute to Herman Melville.

 

 

 

Herman Melville was an American writer and his most famous novel is of course, “Moby- Dick”.

Many book critics consider “Moby-Dick” a true masterpiece of literature.

Some Herman Melville trivia: He was the first writer to have his works collected and published by the Library of America.

 

About “Moby-Dick”:

It is considered to be one of the Great American Novels. The story tells the adventures of wandering sailor Ishmael, and his voyage on the whaleship Pequod, commanded by Captain Ahab. Ishmael soon learns that Ahab has one purpose on this voyage: to seek out Moby Dick, a ferocious, enigmatic white sperm whale. In a previous encounter, the whale destroyed Ahab’s boat and bit off his leg, which now drives Ahab to take revenge.

In Moby-Dick, Melville employs stylized language, symbolism, and the metaphor to explore numerous complex themes. Through the journey of the main characters, the concepts of class and social status, good and evil, and the existence of God are all examined, as the main characters speculate upon their personal beliefs and their places in the universe. The narrator’s reflections, along with his descriptions of a sailor’s life aboard a whaling ship, are woven into the narrative along with Shakespearean literary devices, such as stage directions, extended soliloquies, and asides. The book portrays destructive obsession and monomania, as well as the assumption of anthropomorphism.

Moby-Dick has been classified as American Romanticism. It was first published by Richard Bentley in London on October 18, 1851, in an expurgated three-volume edition titled The Whale, and weeks later as a single volume, by New York City publisher Harper and Brothers as Moby-Dick; or, The Whale on November 14, 1851. The book initially received mixed reviews, but is now considered part of the Western canon, and at the center of the canon of American novels.

Moby-Dick begins with the line “Call me Ishmael.” According to the American Book Review’s rating in 2011, this is one of the most recognizable opening lines in Western literature.

About the Epic Poem “Clarel”:

Herman Melville spent years writing a 16,000-line epic poem, “Clarel”, inspired by his 1856 trip to the Holy Land.

Published in two volumes in 1876,  “Clarel” is the longest poem in American literature, stretching to almost 18,000 lines (longer even than European classics such as the “Iliad”, “Aeneid” and “Paradise Lost”).

As well its great length, “Clarel” is notable for being the major work of Melville’s later years; in the three decades between “The Confidence Man” (1857) and “Billy Budd” (begun in 1888), Melville devoted himself solely to writing poetry, with “Clarel” and the short American Civil War collection, “Battle Pieces”, being his most significant achievements.

Form of the poem “Clarel”:

The poem is composed in irregularly rhymed iambic tetrameter (except for the Epilogue), and contains 150 Cantos divided into four books: Jerusalem, The Wilderness, Mar Saba, and Bethlehem.

Trying to determine the strange appeal of the work’s “detuned poetic style”, William C. Spengeman has suggested that the “impacted tetrameters of Clarel” reveal the origin of the “modernist note”, and that they thus anticipate the “prosody of Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams”.

Similarly, Walter E. Bezanson notes the “curious mixture of the archaic and the contemporary both in language and materials”, leading to the inclusion of antique words such as “kern, scrip, carl, tilth and caitiff”, alongside modern technical terms taken “from ship and factory, from the laboratory, from trading, seafaring, and war.”

Commenting on the rhyme-scheme and the restricted meter, Bezanson responded to the common objection that Melville ought to have composed the work in prose, or at least in blank verse, arguing:

    To wish that Clarel had been written in blank verse, for example, is simply to wish for a completely different poem. In earlier years Melville had often set Shakespearean rhythms echoing through his high-keyed prose with extraordinary effect. But now the bravura mood was gone. Melville did not propose a broad heroic drama in the Elizabethan manner. Pentameter — especially blank verse — was too ample and overflowing for his present mood and theme. The tragedy of modern man, as Melville now viewed it, was one of constriction… Variations from the basic prosodic pattern are so infrequent as to keep the movement along an insistently narrow corridor.

In 1994, Harold Bloom chose “Clarel” as one of four Melville works to be included in his book, “The Western Canon”.

About “Billy Budd, Sailor”:

His novella “Billy Budd, Sailor”, unpublished until 33 years after the Herman Melville’s death, was rapidly identified as a classic of the western canon, however, It was also adapted as an award-winning play, produced in 1951 on Broadway; as a notable opera by Benjamin Britten, premiered that same year in London and which became part of the repertory of the New York Metropolitan Opera; and as a 1962 film by Peter Ustinov, based on the play.

The novella “Billy Budd” was adapted as an award-winning play on Broadway, and premiered as an opera by Benjamin Britten, with a libretto on which the author E.M. Forster collaborated.

In 1962 Peter Ustinov wrote, directed and produced a film based on the stage version, starring a very young young Terence Stamp and for which he took the role of Captain Vere. All these works brought more attention to Melville.

In the 1960s, Northwestern University Press, in alliance with the Newberry Library and the Modern Language Association, established ongoing publication runs of Melville’s various titles.

This alliance sought to create a “definitive” edition of Melville’s works. Titles republished under the Northwestern-Newberry Library include “Typee”, “Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces”,” Omoo”, “Israel Potter”, “Pierre or the Ambiguities”, “Confidence-Man”, “White Jacket or the World in a Man-of-War”, “Moby Dick”, “Mardi and a Voyage Thither”, “Redburn”, “Clarel”, as well as several volumes of Melville’s poems, journals, and correspondence.

Herman Melville’s Poetry: 

His poetry is not as highly critically esteemed as his fiction, although some critics place him as the first modernist poet in the United States; others assert that his work more strongly suggests what today would be a postmodern view., and yet a contemporary Henry Chapin said of his poetry ‘ Melville’s loveable freshness of personality is everywhere in evidence, in the voice of a true poet’.

A leading champion of Melville’s claims as a great American poet was the poet and novelist Robert Penn Warren. He issued a selection of Melville’s poetry prefaced by an admiring and acute critical essay.

According to the Melville scholar Elizabeth Renker in 2000, “a sea change in the reception of the poems is incipient.”

In reference to the poem “Clarel”, the poetry critic Helen Vendler remarked in 1995:

“What it cost Melville to write this poem makes us pause, reading it. Alone, it is enough to win him, as a poet, what he called ‘the belated funeral flower of fame'”.

Law and Literature: Billy Budd.

In recent years, “Billy Budd” has become a central text in the field of legal scholarship known as law and literature.

In the novel, Billy, a handsome and popular young sailor is impressed from the merchant vessel Rights of Man to serve aboard H.M.S. Bellipotent in the late 1790s, during the war between Revolutionary France and Great Britain.

He excites the enmity and hatred of the ship’s master-at-arms, John Claggart.

Claggart accuses Billy of phony charges of mutiny and other crimes, and the Captain, the Honorable Edward Fairfax Vere, brings them together for an informal inquiry. At this encounter, Billy strikes Claggart in frustration, as his stammer prevents him from speaking. The blow catches Claggart squarely on the forehead and, after a gasp or two, the master-at-arms perishes.

Vere immediately convenes a court-martial, at which, after serving as sole witness and as Billy’s de facto counsel, Vere urges the court to convict and sentence Billy to death. The trial is recounted in chapter 21, the longest chapter in the book. It has become the focus of scholarly controversy: was Captain Vere a good man trapped by bad law, or did he deliberately distort and misrepresent the applicable law to condemn Billy to death?

Legacy: 

In 2010 it was announced that a new species of extinct giant sperm whale, “Livyatan melvillei” was named in honor of Melville. The paleontologists who discovered the fossil were all fans of Moby-Dick and decided to dedicate their discovery to the author.

In 1985, the New York City Herman Melville Society gathered at 104 East 26th Street to dedicate the intersection of Park Avenue south and 26th Street as Herman Melville Square. This is the street where Melville lived from 1863 to 1891 and where, among other works, he wrote Billy Budd.

 

 

Plaque outside 104 East 26th street, New York

 
(Thanks to Wikipedia.)

 

A Tribute to Herman Melville!

Jacqueline

 

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