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Melville, his world and work by Andrew…
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Melville, his world and work

by Andrew Delbanco

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An absolutely perfect companion for any Melville reader. Delbonco takes time when necessary to delve deeply into Melville's personal life while not dragging out too many tedious details. His analysis of the political climate during the writing of 'Moby-Dick' gives a quick history lesson which offers an inexperienced 19th century reader perfect context for the novel. Perhaps overblown was Delbanco's emphasis on the (perhaps) homosexual feelings between Melville and Hawthorne, however his analysis of primary documents, namely letters between the two, gave a friends perspective on Melville's work, as opposed to a critics. Stylistically the biography reads very well. Delbanco organizes the material chronologically, paralleling current events and events from Melville's life next to the novel he was writing at the time. The only flaw of the biography is Delbanco's tendency to berate certain points, such as Melville's sexuality or the struggling relationship between Melville and his wife. ( )
1 vote pbandy | May 20, 2009 |
This excellent biography is prefaced by a revision of the ‘Extracts’ section at the beginning of Moby Dick. Where the original consists of literary and historical references to whales and whaling, Delbanco’s is a chronologically sequenced series of references to Melville and his writing from literary, cultural and political contexts, demonstrating his continued relevance. His stated intention is to “convey something of the tone and texture of Melville’s time while giving some sense of why, in our time, the glare of his genius remains undimmed” (xxiii). Partial though this sounds, the close readings of Melville’s writing are, for the most part, fair and balanced. They are placed alongside the account of his life with great skill, so that neither life nor work seems to dominate. Delbanco manages to cover a lot of ground in this surprisingly succinct book—in refreshing contrast to Hershel Parker’s weighty volumes. I admit that I found this the most enjoyable and useful of the books in my stack: but I would hesitate to recommend it for the shortlist because, brilliantly written though it is, it is simply one academic’s reading of Melville’s work set against his life, ultimately adding nothing startlingly new to the received image of Melville as a protean and unknowable figure.
  arielgm | Mar 31, 2008 |
This excellent biography is prefaced by a revision of the ‘Extracts’ section at the beginning of Moby Dick. Where the original consists of literary and historical references to whales and whaling, Delbanco’s is a chronologically sequenced series of references to Melville and his writing from literary, cultural and political contexts, demonstrating his continued relevance. His stated intention is to “convey something of the tone and texture of Melville’s time while giving some sense of why, in our time, the glare of his genius remains undimmed” (xxiii). Partial though this sounds, the close readings of Melville’s writing are, for the most part, fair and balanced. They are placed alongside the account of his life with great skill, so that neither life nor work seems to dominate. Delbanco manages to cover a lot of ground in this surprisingly succinct book—in refreshing contrast to Hershel Parker’s weighty volumes. I admit that I found this the most enjoyable and useful of the books in my stack: but I would hesitate to recommend it for the shortlist because, brilliantly written though it is, it is simply one academic’s reading of Melville’s work set against his life, ultimately adding nothing startlingly new to the received image of Melville as a protean and unknowable figure.
  arielgm | Mar 14, 2008 |
An easy to read account of Melville and his work but stronger on the historical context than on insight into the man or his writing ( )
  pauljohn | Aug 7, 2007 |
A lively biography about Herman Melville and his work. As the life of Melville was, apart from his seafaring youth, quite uneventful, unsuccessful and barely reported, Delbanco stuffs his biography with plenty of interesting cultural facts about and descriptions of New York and concentrates on Melville's works, esp. Moby Dick and Billy Budd. I did not like the ending, though. Instead of simply fading out, a chapter on the literary rediscovery and revival of Melville would have completed the circle begun with the display of the cultural icons Ahab and Moby Dick in the introduction. ( )
1 vote jcbrunner | Oct 3, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375702970, Paperback)

If Dickens was nineteenth-century London personified, Herman Melville was the quintessential American. With a historian’s perspective and a critic’s insight, award-winning author Andrew Delbanco marvelously demonstrates that Melville was very much a man of his era and that he recorded — in his books, letters, and marginalia; and in conversations with friends like Nathaniel Hawthorne and with his literary cronies in Manhattan — an incomparable chapter of American history. From the bawdy storytelling of Typee to the spiritual preoccupations building up to and beyond Moby Dick, Delbanco brilliantly illuminates Melville’s life and work, and his crucial role as a man of American letters.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:23:50 -0400)

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"Andrew Delbanco charts Herman Melville's growth from the bawdy storytelling of Typee - the "labial melody" of his "indulgent captivity" among the Polynesians - through the spiritual preoccupations building up to Moby Dick and such later works as Pierre, or the Ambiguities and The Confidence-Man, His Masquerade. And he creates a narrative of a life that left little evidence in its wake: Melville's peculiar marriage, the tragic loss of two sons, his powerful friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne and scores of literary cronies, bouts of feverish writing, relentless financial pressure both in the Berkshires and in New York, declining critical and popular esteem, and ultimately a customs job bedeviled by corruption. Delbanco uncovers autobiographical traces throughout Melville's work, even as he illuminates the stunning achievements of a career that, despite being consigned to obscurity long before its author's death ultimately shaped our literature. Finally we understand why the recognition of Melville's genius - led by D.H. Lawrence and E.M. Forster, and posthumous by some forty years - still feels triumphant; why he, more than any other American writer, has captured the imaginative, social, and political concerns of successive generations; and why Ahab and the White Whale, after more than a century and a half, have become durably resounding symbols not only here but around the world."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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