MELVILLE IN LOVE : THE SECRET LIFE OF HERMAN MELVILLE AND THE MUSE OF MOBY-DICK
by Michael Shelden
When Herman Melville published his novel of epic proportions (Moby-Dick) in 1851, he thought for sure that it would finally catapult him to literary fame. Who better than he could have penned this monumental work? Melville was an experienced sailor and had many years at sea on whaling vessels. He had written other books of adventure previously, but none of them had been lucrative for him. And so it went with Moby-Dick. Most of the reviews were bad. Critics called it blasphemous and irreverent. It was a total disaster and during his lifetime barely garnered many sales.
The reason why Moby-Dick did not do well at that period of time was because in Pittsfield, MA (in the Berkshires), many of the people who were from good families were very straitlaced. Most likely they didn't bother to even read the book after hearing about so many bad reviews.
Melville wrote Moby-Dick inspired by his lover, Sarah Morewood. She was his neighbor and married to somebody else. In fact, both of them were married. He considered her to be his kindred spirit: passionate, unconventional, literary, and intelligent. She understood him the way nobody else did and thought his book was brilliant. She was his creativity.The two of them carried on an affair for years. Nobody knew about it. The secret endured.
Not until the 1920s did Melville's genius come to the fore with scores of new readers. Finally his reputation was restored and has remained so.
Melville in Love is so beautifully written that I didn't want it to end. Michael Shelden is a great biographer. One of his previous books, Mark Twain: Man in White (reviewed in this blog) was just as tremendous. It's always interesting to learn about the man behind one of the greatest novels of all time and Shelden was able to do that effortlessly by showing us what made Melville tick.
If you're a fan of Melville's works, you will definitely want to grab a hold of this delightful tale.