Herman Melville’s epic novel, Moby-Dick, was a spectacular failure when it was published in 1851, effectively ending its author’s rise to literary fame. He never recovered from the setback, and by the end of his life in 1891, he was a forgotten man. Because he was neglected by academics for so long, and because he did not make much effort to preserve his legacy, we know very little about Melville's private life, and even less about what he called his “wicked book.”
In MELVILLE IN LOVE, Pulitzer Prize-finalist Michael Shelden sheds light on this literary mystery to tell a story of Melville’s passionate, obsessive, and clandestine affair with a married woman named Sarah Morewood, whose libertine impulses encouraged and sustained his own. Following Melville’s paper trail, Shelden found previously unexplored documents and new facts suggesting that, in their shared resistance to the “iron rule” of social conformity, Morewood and Melville had forged an illicit and enduring romantic and intellectual bond.
Melville, who wanted nothing less than to write a book worthy of an American Shakespeare, turned to Sarah Morewood—then regarded as a literary light of the Berkshires—for conversation about his ambitions, and her appreciation and expectations for his work tempted him to strive for greatness. Emboldened by the thrill of courting Sarah in secret, the pleasure of falling in love, and the excitement of spending time with neighboring literary luminaries like Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes and Nathaniel Hawthorne, Melville found the courage to take the leap from light works of adventure to the hugely brilliant, utterly subversive Moby-Dick.
Filled with the rich detail and immense drama of Melville’s secret life, MELVILLE IN LOVE tells, for the first time, the gripping story of how one of our greatest novelists found his muse, and restores Sarah Morewood to her rightful place in the story of Moby-Dick’s creation.