Redburn: His First Voyage is a novel by Herman Melville published on September 29, 1849, by Richard Bentley in London and on November 14, 1849, by Harper & Brothers in New York City. The author returned to the tone of his first novels, Typee (1846) and Omoo (1847). Redburn is a semi-autobiographical novel concerning the sufferings of a refined youth among coarse and brutal sailors and the seedier areas of Liverpool. This theme of a youth confronted by realities and evils for which he is unprepared or incorrectly prepared by both family and American institutions is a prominent one in Melville's works.
While not generally considered as profound as Melville's later works, the most notable being Moby-Dick, the novel can be viewed as a precursor to later, more complex works of fiction. For example, many of Redburn's themes are echoed in Moby-Dick, and some of Redburn's characters are forerunners of those in Melville's most epic novel (e.g., Jackson is a precursor of Captain Ahab).
With Redburn, Melville was hastily trying to return to a more commercial format after having taken a critical and commercial drubbing with his allegorical novel Mardi, which had been published earlier in the year. Melville leaves behind the complex structures in Mardi, a book that never quite gelled, for a more straightforward and travelogue-like narrative in the traditions of his earliest work. The novel does, however, display some of the more experimental tendencies that made Moby-Dick so popular after Melville's death, and begins to incorporate much of the symbolism that separates his earlier work from later, denser novels such as Pierre. Melville also takes the opportunity in Redburn to make a number of social criticisms, perhaps most prominent among them both explicit and implicit attacks on the evils of drink.
Oddly enough, Redburn also contains one of the notable examples of spontaneous combustion in literature, along with Dickens' Bleak House.
- Excerpted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.