Contemporary Estimates of Melville and His Works

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Throughout his lifetime, Melville was remembered chiefly for Typee and Omoo, which were generally considered to be his best work. With few exceptions, his later books were almost universally condemned as too dull, poorly written, or incoherently metaphysical to be read. After the publication of The Confidence-Man in 1857 he quietly faded into oblivion as a writer of verse, finally becoming so obscure that most of those who could remember him at all thought he was dead. Near the end of his life, however, his reputation began to revive among a small circle of admirers, who were beginning to discuss Moby-Dick in addition to the Polynesian romances. Recognition and appreciation of Melville's works continued to be limited to a handful of scholars until the initiatives of Carl Van Doren culminated in the "Melville revival" of the 1920s.

The articles listed below were written during Melville's lifetime or shortly thereafter and discuss his literary accomplishments as they were then perceived; most of them reflect the general opinion that Melville was a truly talented writer who somehow always failed to live up to his potential.

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