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Herman Melville
New York 1 Aug. 1819 - New York 28 Sept. 1891 • American prose writer

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Herman Melville is now considered one of America's greatest writers, but his life contained only a few short years of literary fame and fortune, preceded and followed by struggle and despair. He was born in 1819 in New York City to a family whose ancestors included Dutch and Scottish settlers of New York and leaders of the American Revolution. But the collapse of the family import business in 1830 and the death of Melville's father in 1832 left the family in financial ruin. Melville held various jobs before sailing on a whaler to the South Seas in 1841, a voyage that became the subject of his first novel, Typee (1846). With the exception of Mardi (1849), a more experimental work, Melville's next three novels—Omoo (1847), Redburn (1849), and White-Jacket (1850)—solidified his reputation as a bankable writer of entertaining sea adventures.

Melville married Elizabeth Shaw in 1847. In 1850, he met Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was then living near Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Melville bought a nearby farm, and Hawthorne became a close friend as well as a strong influence. Deeply affected by Hawthorne and his reading of William Shakespeare, Melville wrote Moby-Dick, his greatest novel, in a blaze of creative
energy, publishing it in late 1851. It was a commercial and critical failure. Wounded but undeterred, Melville immediately began writing Pierre, a more personal and obscure novel whose reception was even more dismal when it appeared in 1852. Though he continued to write and publish fiction for five more years, including his best short stories ("Bartleby the Scrivener" and "Benito Cereno") and The Confidence-Man (1857)—an intricate satire about commerce and corruption—his reputation diminished steadily until his work was revived by scholars in the 1920s.

He turned to writing verse in the late 1850s and privately published his first book of poems in 1866, Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War, which was largely concerned with the Civil War. A few months later, he became a customs inspector on the docks of New York City, which gave him a measure of financial security for the next nineteen years. He continued to write, producing two more volumes of poetry and Billy Budd, Sailor, an unfinished novella posthumously published in 1924. He also endured immense family strife and tragedy, including the deaths of two sons. His death on September 28, 1891, prompted little notice. (from:

The Confidence Man
Male, female, deft, fraudulent, constantly shifting: which of the "masquerade" of passengers on the Mississippi steamboat Fidele is "the confidence man"?

The Bible
40 different authors, ca. 1450 B.C. - ca. 95 A.D.
King James, for example.

William Shakespeare, 1606
Macbeth's tragedy is that of a good, brave and honourable man turned into the personification of evil by the workings of unreasonable ambition.

William Shakespeare, 1602
When Hamlet's mother remarries shortly after his father's death he's suspicious. And when his father's ghost tells him that he was murdered by the queens's new husband, Hamlet swears to take his revenge.

King Lear
William Shakespeare, 1605
King Lear, the protagonist and central figure of this tragedy, is a proud and stubborn man. Because of his lack of good judgment, Lear loses his power and is humiliated by two of his daughters, whom he had trusted.

The Scarlet Letter
Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1850
The tale of a passionate woman in 17th-century Boston who challenges the system of moral authority and places belief in the higher law of her own heart.

Paradise Lost
John Milton, 1667
'Of Man's First Disobedience, and the Fruit Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste Brought Death into the World, and all our woe...' In Paradise Lost, Milton produced a poem of epic scale, conjuring up a vast, awe-inspiring cosmos and ranging across huge tracts of space and time. And yet, in putting a charismatic Satan and naked Adam and Eve at the center of this story, he also created an intensely human tragedy on the Fall of Man.

Two Years Before the Mast
Richard Henry Dana Jr., 1840
Richard Henry Dana is only nineteen when he abandons the patrician world of Boston and Harvard for an arduous voyage among real sailors, amid genuine danger.

Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex
Owen Chase, 1821
In 1820, the Nantucket whaleship Essex, thousands of miles from home in the South Pacific, was rammed by an angry sperm whale. The Essex sank, leaving twenty crew members floating in three small boats for ninety days. The incident was the Titanic story of its day, and provided the inspiration for Melville's Moby-Dick.

Sartor Resartus: the Life and Opinions of Herr Teufelsdröckh
Thomas Carlyle, 1833-1834
A fictitious editor retails the theories of an equally fictitious German professor who has come to the conclusion that human institutions and morals are only clothes to shield us from nothingness, clothes that can be changed as the whims of the age or fashion dictate.

Moby Dick
The Nantucket whaling ship, the Pequod, spirals the globe in search of Moby Dick, the mythical white whale of the Southern Oceans. Driven by the obsessive revenge of Captain Ahab, the crew and the outcast Ishmael find themselves caught up in a demonic pursuit, which leads inexorably to an apocalyptic climax.

Beyond Sleep
Willem Frederik Hermans, 1966
A gripping tale of a man approaching breaking point set beyond the end of the civilised world: a modern classic of European literature.

Heart of Darkness
Joseph Conrad, 1898
Seaman Marlowe journeys deep into the heart of colonial Africa, where he encounters Kurtz, an idealist crazed and depraved by his power over the natives. The meeting prompts Marlowe to reflect on the darkness at the heart of all men.

Absalom, Absalom!
William Faulkner, 1936
Narrated by Quentin Compson, the suicide in The Sound and the Fury, this is the tale of Thomas Sutpen, a poor White who dreams of founding a dynasty. His refusal to accept his wife' s Negro blood initiates a bloody train of events to create a vision of doom of the American South.

Blood Meridian
Cormac McCarthy, 1985
Recounting the adventures of a young man from Tennessee, "The Kid", who has drifted to Texas in the 1840s, this is an apocalyptic novel and mythic vision of a blood-red Early West.

Invisible Man
Ralph Ellison, 1952
A black man's search for success and the American dream leads him out of college to Harlem and a growing sense of personal rejection and social invisibility.

The Magic Mountain
Thomas Mann, 1924
The story of Hans Castorp, a modern everyman who spends seven years in an Alpine sanatorium for tuberculosis patients, finally leaving to become a soldier in World War I.

Marquis de Sade, 1791
Justine is the woeful story of a chaste, virtuous woman who is shown in the most graphic and vile ways that such virtue is rewarded only with suffering in the world outside convent walls.

The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym
Edgar Allan Poe, 1838
Poe's only book-length narrative, recounting his Nantucket-born hero's adventures, misadventures, and discoveries, and his survival of shipwreck and capture by cannibals, as he journeys toward the South Pole.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
Jules Verne, 1869? - 70?
French naturalist Dr Aronnax embarks on an expedition to hunt down a sea monster, only to discover instead the Nautilus, a self-contained world built by its enigmatic captain.

[In de bovenkooi]
J.M.A. Biesheuvel, 1972

Middle Passage
Charles Johnson, 1990
In 1830, seeking to escape an unwanted marriage, Rutherford Calhoun, a newly freed slave, becomes a stowaway aboard 'The Republic', unaware that the ship is a slave clipper bound for West Africa.

Typee / Omoo
1846 / 1847

The Piazza Tales
Six of the author's best short stories, including two adventures, a classic mystery tale of mutiny and rescue, a satire and a series of allegorical sketches.
Billy Budd, Sailor
1924 (posthumous)

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