Melville in Love: The Secret Life of Herman Melville and the Muse of ‘Moby-Dick’

Michael Shelden. Ecco, $25.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-06-241898-2
Shelden (Pulitzer finalist for Orwell: The Authorized Biography) theorizes, skillfully but unconvincingly, that Herman Melville had an affair with his next-door neighbor, Sarah Morewood, in Pittsfield, Mass. Morewood, who like Melville was married, was well known for her wit and beauty. Focusing on the years from 1850 to 1852, Shelden posits her as Melville’s great love, and describes their relationship as a guiding force in the creation of Moby-Dick and even a factor in its tepid original reception from critics. Written with novelistic period detail and peopled with convincingly reanimated historical characters, this short book nonetheless feels overextended. The middle portion departs from the central relationship as Morewood goes off to England and Melville hunkers down to finish Moby-Dick, published in 1851. Shelden uses this interlude to explore painter J.M.W. Turner‘s influence on Moby-Dick and Melville’s friendship with Nathaniel Hawthorne. Although Shelden claims to have found a “long trail of clues” about Melville and Morewood’s connection, his argument relies too heavily on inference, interpretation, and literary exegesis. A costume party, a Christmas dinner laurel ceremony, and a scandalous mixed-sex camping excursion are all scoured for any telling details. The book is an engaging and creative recreation, but the accuracy of Shelden’s conclusions remains suspect. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/04/2016
Release date: 06/01/2016
Ebook - 288 pages - 978-0-06-241906-4
MP3 CD - 978-1-5159-5785-0
Compact Disc - 978-1-5159-0785-5
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-06-241904-0
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