How Melville’s Moby-Dick Went From Flop to Literary Masterpiece | History Hit

How Melville’s Moby-Dick Went From Flop to Literary Masterpiece

History Hit

03 Jun 2019
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Following its initial publication in Britain in October, Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick was published in America on 14 November 1851.

It’s hard to believe, given its status today as a literary masterpiece, that during Melville’s lifetime the book sold only 3,000 copies and actually signalled his decline as a popular writer.

158 years ago, the Unionist and Confederate armies were on their second day of fighting at the town of Gettysburg. The battle was arguably the turning point for the American Civil War and involved an artillery bombardment which may have been the loudest man-made event until the detonation of the first atomic bomb at Alamogordo. But what actually happened at Gettysburg? To take us through the events of the 1-3 July 1863, James spoke to Craig Symonds, a teacher at the US Naval Academy for 30 years and the author of countless books. Craig takes us through the lead up to the battle, the strategies in play and the bloody outcomes of this high watermark of the Civil War.
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Plot

The novel is narrated by Ishmael, a sailor aboard the whaler Pequod, under the captaincy of Ahab.

Ishmael discovers that Captain Ahab is seeking one whale in particular, a whale that claimed his leg and his ship in their last meeting, the whale Moby-Dick.

But Ahab’s single-minded pursuit drives Ishmael and the crew to a climactic encounter with tragic consequences.

Life and career of Herman Melville

Melville was born in New York City in 1819 and spent his twenties as a sailor aboard merchant and whaling ships before turning to writing.

Dan takes a walk around Colonial New York with Karen Quinones (of Patriot Tours) to explore the great battle and in its original setting.
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His first book Typee, a romanticised account of his life in the Polynesian Islands, was published in 1845. It became a bestseller and spawned a sequel, Omoo in 1847.

However his subsequent efforts did not live up to this early success. By the time Moby-Dick was published, he had released a string of books to mixed reviews and a lacklustre readership.

Herman Melville

Moby-Dick did little to liven up his career and after several more flops, Melville got a job in New York as a customs inspector to pay the bills but continued to publish poetry.

It wasn’t until 1919, the centenary of his birth, that critics and scholars began to rediscover Melville’s work and to hail Moby-Dick as one of the finest works of literature in the English language.

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