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Herman Melville: A Biography (Volume 1, 1819-1851) Hardcover – October 29, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0801854286 ISBN-10: 0801854288 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 928 pages
  • Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press; 1st edition (October 29, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801854288
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801854286
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 2.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,009,550 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

It seems incredible that an actual human being stands behind the works of Herman Melville, and we rightly expect a biography to show us that real, tangible man. When Melville made his debut in England, reviewers thought his books must have been the products of an esteemed English gentleman disguising himself under rough Yankee cloth. It was simply inconceivable that any American could produce such noble prose, or that any author could have lived the briny life Melville describes. Hershel Parker finds that life not unimaginable, but difficult to distill. His book is monumental in size and definitive in detail. Readers looking for a digestible portait of one of America's favorite authors may find this well researched book a bit rich (remember this is just Volume I), although it does reveal many new insights into Melville's life and family background. Regardless, Parker's book is a significant scholarly work and essential to serious students of this American master.

From Publishers Weekly

If sheer bulk were enough to make a book definitive, respected Melville scholar Parker's encyclopedic but rather unwieldy biography would certainly be the one to beat. Covering Melville's life up to the completion (but not the actual publication) of Moby Dick, Parker presents an extensive look Melville's early years. His patrician family having been left destitute by an irresponsible father, the young Melville had to flee Manhattan with his family to avoid creditors. Naturally adventurous, and unable to finish his education due to lack of funds, Melville spent some five years at sea and abroad, experiences that yielded materials for nearly all of his writings. Parker does a very thorough job of delineating the realities of the literary marketplace of Melville's time, as well as Melville's public image as a licentious sexual outlaw for his portrayal of South Sea Islanders and the controversy over his unsympathetic portrayal of missionaries. He also explores the liberating influence of Hawthorne on Melville's sense of the possibilities for a national American literature. But Parker's thoroughness can be exhausting. In the absence of endnotes or footnotes, his text is stuffed with asides and trivial details that will be of interest only to the most dedicated of scholars. While Parker's literary insights are superior to those of Laurie Robertson-Lorant, whose biography of Melville was published in June of this year (Forecasts, March 25), Lorant's much more compact biography offers many of the same general insights on a vastly more accessible scale.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 5, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Hershel Parker's credentials as a Melville scholar are unimpeachable--he's co-edited the authoritative Northwestern-Newberry edition of the complete works and seems to have eaten, slept, and breathed Melville for decades. Despite his daunting c.v., however, his massive, half-finished biography is eminently readable and entertaining.
While it would be impossible to depict a writer's life without addressing his or her work, the focus here is on the events of Melville's life, not his books. The fascinating national and family politics that preoccupied him are on particularly fine display. Readers with only a casual interest might see some details as mere minutiae, but each cited incident enriches the portrait of a complex man and artist.
Melville's history is not nearly so well documented as that of some of his contemporaries, so there is some educated guesswork regarding certain motives and details, but Parker is ever scrupulous about separating evidence from speculation. His immersion in Melville's work and his sympathetic understanding of the man make this volume the most trustworthy and complete biography available.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
If you approach this work with a right understanding, that is a biography and not an interpretation of the works of Herman Melville, then you should honestly be able to rate it as top-notch. What some might call " disappointments " in what they learn about Melville; his family life, they way he behaved at times, and the manner in which he wrote his books, are to me, the lens by which we see more clearly the humanity of the man. Mr. Parker's work might seem too weighty for some, but I can't wait for Volume Two.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Lynn Michelsohn on March 16, 2011
Format: Paperback
This, the first volume of the most comprehensive of all the biographies of Herman Melville, is written for anyone wanting to know anything and everything about the renowned author's life (rather than his writings). Its detail is exhaustive - in more ways than one. Therefore it is not an especially enjoyable book for the casual reader but serves as an excellent resource for researchers.

A more enjoyable read, although it is still long, is Laurie Robertson-Lorant's "Melville, A Biography."

Still, Parker's work is an amazing feat of scholarship and should be in the library of any serious student, or fan, of Herman Melville.

- Lynn Michelsohn, co-author of "In the Galapagos Islands with Herman Melville"
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Phutatorius on July 12, 2002
Format: Hardcover
A very long and detailed Melville biography. I appreciated the fact that it didn't devote much space to interpretations of the body of Melville's work. There's an awful lot of interpretive criticism already out there, and we didn't need more in a biography. If you're already a Melville fanatic and are really interested in whether Melville actually worked briefly at a bowling alley in Hawaii as a pin setter (the novel that he never wrote) or how he travelled on his honeymoon, you'll want to read this. If you haven't gotten much beyond one or two readings of Moby-Dick - that is if you haven't yet read Typee, Omoo, Whitejacket, Pierre, The Confidence Man - and still want to read the man's biography, I'd go for a more concise one than this. And the best news of all (for all Sub-Subs) is that Volume 2 is now available!
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