Saturday, August 7, 2010

Great American Literature - Herman Melville

Call me Ishmael.

Those are the first words of Herman Melville’s classic novel, Moby Dick. Most people with a legitimate High School education can quote them, but very few have actually read the novel that many consider to be the greatest American novel and certainly a masterpiece of world literature. I can honestly say that I did read it and found it to be fantastic at times and extremely tedious at other times. Even at its most tedious, it’s time better spent than watching just about anything on the tube. Melville was an American novelist (obviously), a short story writer an essayist and a poet. He is best known for the aforementioned Moby Dick and the novella Billy Budd. He and his early work (which did not include either Moby Dick or Billy Budd) were very popular during the mid-19th century, but his popularity declined from the 1850’s until his death. He was never successful by monetary standards and he was actually considered to be only a minor American literary figure at the time of his death in 1891. His work enjoyed a revival in the early 20th century and he became the first writer to have his works collected and published by the Library of America. Moby Dick was inspired by his voyage on the whaler Acushnet out of New Bedford, Massachusetts. Just recently it was announced that a new species of extinct giant sperm whale (how do you like that – new species of extinct giant sperm whale?), Leviathan melvillei was named in honor of Melville. Quite a legacy, that.

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