'The twisted mind'': madness in Herman Melville's fiction by Paul McCarthy

By Paul McCarthy

In long island urban within the 1820s, Allan and Maria Melvill had hopes of the great existence: a cheerful relations, a superb domestic with servants and a carriage, a modern local, first-class faculties, and different marks of social and monetary good fortune.

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A library was essential, however. After the Harpers rejected the Typee manuscript because it lacked authenticity, Melville turned to reference books for information on natives and their lives and customs, which appeared mainly in added Chapters 20, 21, and 27. The English publisher had objections also to infelicities of prose style, which were fine-tuned by a professional writer. Such problems were manageable. 1 Other problems that later proved difficult to manage were not evident at this time.

Having put in four years since 1839 as a sailor, he was ready to leave the sea. Melville was twenty-five years old, an experienced traveler, realistic and somewhat disillusioned. But he was glad to be back in the United States, and his family in Lansingburgh, New York, was delighted to have him. Herman fell quickly into old family routines, and in no time at all he was telling everyone about his adventures on Pacific islands, New England whalers, and an American warship. Not only family members but neighbors and friends were enthralled by the dramatic accounts of his experiences, including the weeks with reputed cannibals on Nukuheva.

Sea journeys introduced him to a life that made no allowances for an attentive upbringing, love of good books, or fine relatives. He had to learn to climb a ship's rigging; spend many hours aloft, sometimes in bad weather; scrub decks; risk his life chasing whales; eat scrabbly food; sleep in a dank, crowded forecastle. On this level of daily reality he learned about sailorsthe disgruntled, confident, ineffectual, and adaptableby living and working with them. Melville's first ship, the St. Lawrence, a fairly new and fast-moving trader, carried an interesting crew but no one like the mad Jackson of the Highlander in Redburn.

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