Melville in Love
by Michael Shelden
Publisher: Harper Collins
Page Count: 288
Release Date: June 7, 2016
Format: Trade Paperback ARC
How got: ARC from publisher
First attention getter: title and cover
A new account of Herman Melville and the writing of Moby-Dick, written by a Pulitzer Finalist in Biography and based on fresh archival research, which reveals that the anarchic spirit animating Melville’s canonical work, Moby-Dick, was inspired by his great love affair with a shockingly unconventional married woman.
Herman Melville’s epic novel, Moby-Dick, was a spectacular failure when it was published in 1851, effectively ending its author’s rise to literary fame. Because he was neglected by academics for so long, and because he made little effort to preserve his legacy, we know very little about Melville, and even less about what he called his “wicked book.” Scholars still puzzle over what drove Melville to invent Captain Ahab's mad pursuit of the great white whale.
In The Darkest Voyage, Pulitzer Prize-finalist Michael Shelden sheds light on this literary mystery to tell a story of Melville’s passionate, obsessive, and clandestine affair with a married woman named Sarah Morewood, whose libertine impulses encouraged and sustained Melville’s own. In his research, Shelden discovered unexplored documents suggesting that, in their shared resistance to the “iron rule” of social conformity, Sarah and Melville had forged an illicit and enduring romantic and intellectual bond. Emboldened by the thrill of courting Sarah in secret, the pleasure of falling in love, and the excitement of spending time with literary luminaries—like Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes and Nathaniel Hawthorne—Melville found the courage to take the leap from light works of adventure to the hugely brilliant, utterly subversive Moby-Dick.
Filled with the rich detail and immense drama of Melville’s secret life, The Darkest Voyage tells the gripping story of how one of our greatest novelists found his muse.
Star Rating - 4
Being unfamiliar with Herman Melville beyond the fact that he wrote Moby Dick, this book definitely had information new to me. It was intriguing to learn the personal side of such a giant in American literature. It's always fascinating to see such figures as human as you or I. However, some of the points the author reaches seem overly stressed. He expounds on the same points again and again, to the point of the proverbial 2x4. For a work this small, this duplicate expounding is even more evident.
The author presented his material in such a way to be very readable. He writes in an easy-flowing style, presenting the facts interspersed with quoted primary material. The narrative flows from point to point easily; the reader doesn't have to wade through chunks of dry material to absorb the information on this literary figure.
The information presented made me see Herman Melville in a whole new light. I hadn't given his personal life much thought besides the fact that he wrote Moby Dick and was an associate of Hawthorne. Yet the author is able to make this man a passionate, frenzied, melancholic, and flawed individual. He gives Melville depth by showing us his associations with friends, acquaintances, family, and lover. I finish this book feeling like I knew him on a very personal level; I'm not sure if this was the author’s intent, but it was achieved.
The author also makes some very interesting points on the writing process and inspiration for Moby Dick. Seeing how Melville's relationship with Mrs. Morewood impacted both his creative endeavors and personal life was the main focus of the book. The author does a fantastic job in shedding a new light onto Melville's inspirations and his primary work.
However, this area is also where the book fails a bit. There were times I felt the author was stressing Sarah's personality, love of nature, and hold over Melville too much. I got the point the author was conveying after the first few times the author makes it. Yet, these aspects are stressed so many times that it almost feels like the author felt his audience was dumb. And for a work this short, the overstressing of points and information is all the more a sin.
For an area that is fairly new to me, this book was engaging. It was informative and fairly entertaining to read. While there were times the author overstressed items and points, I still enjoyed this work as an intimate look into the life of an American literary icon and the impact the woman he loved had over him and his creativity. I would recommend this book to those looking for an informative and light read on a new topic.
Note: Book received for free from the publisher via a GoodReads giveaway in exchange for an honest review.