Credit: Emily Judem/WGBH News

Herman Melville Would Be 198 Today

August 1, 2017

Today is Herman Melville's birthday. His most famous work is undoubtedly "Moby Dick." And, were it not for Massachusetts, it's doubtful that novel would occupy the place it now does in the literary canon.

Melville moved to Pittsfield in 1850 and on a hike met area resident Nathaniel Hawthorne. The two writers struck up an instant friendship. So says Berkshire Historical Society's Peter Bergman, adding that Hawthorne changed Melville as a writer.

"He sort of taught Melville the concept of the psychological,” Bergman says, “of working from the inside of a man's mind, and seeking the inside of other men's minds and hearts to understand what motivated them."

Bergman says that under Hawthorne's influence, Melville transformed his original manuscript to the dark and interior story of Captain Ahab's obsessive quest for revenge on Moby Dick — the great white whale that took his leg.

And so it was a Berkshires' hike would give the world one of its most memorable pieces of literature.

You can celebrate Melville's birthday this week at the Berkshire Historical Society, in the house where he wrote "Moby Dick." They're starting a 3-day marathon reading of it this Thursday.


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