Moby-Dick or The Whale is an 1851 novel by American writer Herman Melville. The book is sailor Ishmael’s narrative of the obsessive quest of Ahab, captain of the whaling ship Pequod, for revenge on Moby Dick, the white whale that on the ship’s previous voyage bit off Ahab’s leg at the knee. A contribution to the literature of the American Renaissance, the work’s genre classifications range from late Romantic to early Symbolist. Moby-Dick was published to mixed reviews, was a commercial failure, and was out of print at the time of the author’s death in 1891. Its reputation as a “Great American Novel” was established only in the 20th century, after the centennial of its author’s birth. William Faulkner confessed he wished he had written the book himself, and D. H. Lawrence called it “one of the strangest and most wonderful books in the world” and “the greatest book of the sea ever written”. Its opening sentence, “Call me Ishmael”, is among world literature’s most famous.
Melville began writing Moby-Dick in February 1850, and would eventually take 18 months to write the book, a full year more than he had first anticipated. Writing was interrupted by his making the acquaintance of Nathaniel Hawthorne in August 1850, and by the creation of the “Mosses from an Old Manse” essay as a first result of that friendship. The book is dedicated to Hawthorne, “in token of my admiration for his genius.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Herman Melville (August 1, 1819 – September 28, 1891) was an American novelist, short story writer, and poet of the American Renaissance period. His best known works include Typee (1846), a romantic account of his experiences in Polynesian life, and his whaling novel Moby Dick (1851). His work was almost forgotten during his last 30 years. His writing draws on his experience at sea as a common sailor, exploration of literature and philosophy, and engagement in the contradictions of American society in a period of rapid change. He developed a complex, baroque style; the vocabulary is rich and original, a strong sense of rhythm infuses the elaborate sentences, the imagery is often mystical or ironic, and the abundance of allusion extends to biblical scripture, myth, philosophy, literature, and the visual arts.
Melville was born in New York City, the third child of a merchant in French dry goods and his wife. His formal education ended abruptly after his father died in 1832, as this left the family in financial straits. He briefly became a schoolteacher before he took to sea in 1839 as a sailor on a merchant ship. In 1840, he signed aboard the whaler Acushnet for his first whaling voyage but jumped ship in the Marquesas Islands. He returned to Boston in 1844 after further adventures. His first book was Typee (1846), a highly romanticized account of his life among Polynesians.