Melville was born into an impoverished family and quit school at age fifteen. He signed up as a cabin boy on a ship bound for Liverpool and later did eighteen months on a worldwide whaling voyage. He was captured by cannibals on the Marquesas Islands, but was well-treated by them and later rescued. His early novels Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847) reflect these adventures in the South Seas. Melville's career was soon established and he became a popular figure in New York and abroad. He married Elizabeth Shaw in 1847 and they moved next-door to writer Nathaniel Hawthorne in
Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in 1850. The next year he published Moby Dick, his greatest masterpiece, though it was not well-received at the time. His later years were sunk in debt, forcing him to accept a job as a customs inspector in 1866. He died a forgotten writer, and it wasn't until the 1920s that his literary reputation was reestablished.
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