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“Call Me Ishmael” Just Didn’t Cut It

As so often happens with novels when they’re first published, ‘Moby Dick’ was a flop.

Herman Melville spent time in the U.S. Navy, the Merchant Marine and on a whaling ship as a young man. He had some success with five novels he wrote before ‘Moby Dick’. Most of them were romantic adventure novels, but ‘Moby Dick’ was so dark and tragic the reviews were negative and so were sales.

Even with that disappointment, Melville continued writing several more novels until he found he just couldn’t pay the bills, so he returned to New York City, where he worked as a customs inspector for 20 years.

Melville died in 1891, virtually unknown. But in the 1920s, literary scholars began to take another look at his work, especially ‘Moby Dick’, and it became a classic. In many classrooms, it became required reading. ‘Moby Dick’ was published on this date in 1851.

Also discovered among his unpublished works was ‘Billy Budd’. It was finally published 33 years after his death.

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