During Melville’s Lifetime, Fame Proved Elusive for a Literary Giant

Etching of Joseph O. Eaton's portrait of Herman Melville (Wikimedia Commons)
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More and more readers, and droves of scholars are turning to the pages of Moby Dick (and other Melville masterpieces) for an excursion into the world of the great American novel. But in his lifetime, New Englander Melville, whose real-life adventures were the source for his spell-binding fiction, found that adulation eluded him. He had a bestseller in his first novel, typed, at age 27. But by the time he was 30, in 1850, he was sitting at his desk in the Berkshire, writing Moby Dick as a man possessed. The novel didn't attract a substantial readership, and Melville lived out the rest of his days in obscurity. His reputation began to be revived in the 1920s. Today, his audience is huge and interest in the life and times of an America icon is burgeoning.


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