Jonathan Beckman

‘Thar She Blows’

The Passages of Herman Melville


Canongate 450pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

Herman Melville tried to do everything possible to become a great writer. He travelled the world, assiduously keeping a notebook; though not university-educated, he read widely and eclectically; he devoted himself single-mindedly to writing, cultivated literary contacts and became friends with Nathaniel Hawthorne, the most respected author of his generation; he wrote popular apprentice works, based on his experiences as a seaman. Yet his masterpiece Moby-Dick (the greatest attempt ever to write a novel in the form of an encyclopaedia article) was derided by the critics. Even his friend Evert Duyckinck called the book in his review an ‘intellectual chowder’. The book sold poorly, as did subsequent works such as Pierre and The Confidence-Man. Clarel, an 18,000-line poem of romance and religious doubt set in the Holy Land, which Melville had worked on for ten years, was largely ignored when published in 1876. He never received the literary acclaim he craved.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'One of the reasons for its longevity is that it has virtually nothing to say about science and technology at all,… ,
    • 'The characters in many of these stories are trapped in the obsessive present tense of their own thoughts; in the m… ,
    • 'Libraries, for much of their existence, have embodied in microcosm many of the characteristics of the totalitarian… ,
    • 'Moss and Cynthia buy several properties through which to launder their ill-gotten gains, take lots of drugs, have… ,
    • 'Never mind the imperial cult. This is the cult of Boris. What happened to Rome?' From the LR archive:… ,
    • Thirty-two years ago this month, we published Muriel Spark's short story, 'A Playhouse Called Remarkable' Read it… ,
    • Time travel, bicycles and white horses populate @WomackPhilip's roundup of children's books by @marcussedgwick,… ,