Herman Melville (1819-1891), now at the center of the American literary canon, was wildly dismissed for this labyrinthine effort. With the Boston Post writing upon its release, "it might be supposed to emanate from a lunatic hospital rather than from the quiet retreats of Berkshire." Perhaps Melville's most difficult and wildly textured work, "Pierre: Or, The Ambiguities", (1852) to this day evades easy categorization or critical interpretation. Now seen as an ambitious foray into proto-modernist composition, the...
Herman Melville (1819-1891), now at the center of the American literary canon, was wildly dismissed for this labyrinthine effort. With the Boston Post writing upon its release, "it might be supposed to emanate from a lunatic hospital rather than from the quiet retreats of Berkshire." Perhaps Melville's most difficult and wildly textured work, "Pierre: Or, The Ambiguities", (1852) to this day evades easy categorization or critical interpretation. Now seen as an ambitious foray into proto-modernist composition, the text was initially met with utter consternation and was a commercial failure. Published a year after his magnum opus "Moby Dick, or, The Whale", "Pierre" tracks the nineteen year old Pierre Glendinning through his life in New York City as a fledgling novelist. Mr. Melville himself can be seen in the melodramatic life of Pierre. Wrestling with the literary trends of transcendentalism that pervaded his day, the novel, on some level, also parodies the gothic tradition of grand morality. But it is this morality that is brought into focus, scrutinizing it only as Melville can. Spoken of as "word piled upon word, and syllable heaped upon syllable, until the tongue grows as bewildered as the mind, and both refuse to perform their offices from sheer inability to grasp the magnitude of the absurdities...", the torrential dismay that this novel was met with now sounds like the unknown beginnings of a revolution. Experimental and without reservations, "Pierre" will remain a glowing oddity of American literature.
Herman Melville (August 1, 1819 – September 28, 1891) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. He is best known for his novel Moby-Dick. His first three books gained much contemporary attention (the first, Typee, becoming a bestseller), and after a fast-blooming literary success in the late 1840s, his popularity declined precipitously in the mid-1850s and never recovered during his lifetime. When he died in 1891, he was almost completely forgotten. It was not until the "Melville Revival" in the early 20th century that his work won recognition, especially Moby-Dick, which was hailed as one of the literary masterpieces of both American and world literature. He was the first writer to have his works collected and published by the Library of America.
Herman Melville was born in August 1, 1819, in New York City, the son of a merchant. Only twelve when his father died bankrupt, young Herman tried work as a bank clerk, as a cabin-boy on a trip to Liverpool, and as an elementary schoolteacher, before shipping in January 1841 on the whaler Acushnet, bound for the Pacific. Deserting ship the following year in the Marquesas, he made his way to Tahiti and Honolulu, returning as ordinary seaman on the frigate United States to Boston, where he was discharged in October 1844. Books based on these adventures won him immediate success. By 1850 he was married, had acquired a farm near Pittsfield, Massachussetts (where he was the impetuous friend and neighbor of Nathaniel Hawthorne), and was hard at work on his masterpiece Moby-Dick.
Literary success soon faded; his complexity increasingly alienated readers. After a visit to the Holy Land in January 1857, he turned from writing prose fiction to poetry. In 1863, during the Civil War, he moved back to New York City, where from 1866-1885 he was a deputy inspector in the Custom House, and where, in 1891, he died. A draft of a final prose work, Billy Budd, Sailor, was left unfinished and uncollated, packed tidily away by his widow, where it remained until its rediscovery and publication in 1924.