Novelist, essayist, poet and mariner Herman Melville is best known as the author of the great American novel, Moby-Dick (1851). Written at his Arrowhead farmhouse in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, it places Melville amongst a prestigious group of literary figures who emerged from the Berkshire area.
Born in New York City in 1819, Melville was best known in his lifetime for a series of adventure novels which drew upon his experiences at sea as a young man; on a merchant marine vessel bound from Fairhaven for Liverpool at the age of twenty, and later, in 1841, on a whaling voyage through the South Pacific. Typee (1846) and its sequel, Omoo (1847), based on his travels, were his most popular novels while he was alive.
Melville had visited the Berkshire area frequently as a boy. When Melville's father died, the twelve-year old was forced him to seek odd jobs to support his large family and an uncle hired him to work on his farm in Pittsfield. In 1850, inspired by the beauty and quiet solitude of the area, he settled there with his wife, Elizabeth Shaw, who was daughter of the Chief Justice of Massachusetts.
Melville was especially inspired by the view of Mount Greylock from his study window; the short story “The Piazza” follows a magical journey up the mountain, and the novel Pierre is also dedicated to it. Mount Greylock is even said to have been the inspiration of the white whale in Moby-Dick.
Written at the suggestion of his close friend and neighbor Nathaniel Hawthorne (to whom the novel was dedicated), Moby-Dick initially received a tepid response from critics, and Melville’s popularity began to fade after its publication. Sadly, he died in obscurity in New York 1891.
It wasn’t until the 20th century that Moby-Dick was rediscovered and its brilliance recognized. The whaling adventure raises questions of faith and human nature and has been read by some in the modern day in light of the environmental ethics which the novel expresses. Today it is set amongst the literary canon, and the farmhouse where it was written has been preserved as a National Historic Landmark.
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Official Website of Herman Melville’s Arrowhead Farm, a Registered National Historic Landmark in Pittsfield. This is where Melville wrote Moby-Dick and other works, in view of Mount Greylock.
The Melville Memorial Room at The Berkshire Athenaeum of Pittsfield's Public Library - offers one of the world's largest collections of Melville family memorabilia. Extensive research materials available to serious Melville scholars
The Nature Conservancy: Literary connections to the Berkshire Taconic Landscape – Descriptions of a number of important literary figures of the 19th century with connections to the Berkshires, including Herman Melville. (The Nature Conservancy has identified the Berkshires as one of the “Last Great Places”)
Berkshire Historical Society - non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of the region’s history
An excellent resource page on Melville and his works with many great links www.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/melville.htm
Herman Melville at Wikipedia
Moby-Dick at Wikipedia
Biographies and Works
Author’s Calendar: Herman Melville – Biography and list of selected works
Extensive Biography of Herman Melville and a searchable collection of works
Academy of American Poets biography and links
Online Works by Herman Melville at Project Gutenberg www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/m#a9
Online text version of Moby Dick at Princeton University site - includes a search feature for particular words in the text
Prof. Ann Woodlief of Virginia Commonwealth University hypertext study version of "Bartleby, the Scrivener"
Moby-Dick - The Online Annotation: with notes to help the reader
MIT Open Courseware site paper topics on Moby-Dick
Melville Marginalia Online - reproduces Melville's textual markings in his copy of Beale's Natural History of the Sperm Whale, a source for Moby-Dick
New Bedford Whaling Museum