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Redburn. His First Voyage

Herman Melville

Book Overview: 

Melville wrote of some of his earliest experiences at sea in the story of Wellingborough Redburn, a wet-behind-the-ears youngster whose head was filled with dreams of foreign travel and adventure. In Redburn, the protagonist enlists for a stint as a seaman aboard Highlander, a merchant ship running between New York and London. As with many of Melville's works, this one is as much about class and race as it is about the sea.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .tains, before shipping a man, always ask him whether he can sing out at a rope.

During the greater part of the watch, the sailors sat on the windlass and told long stories of their adventures by sea and land, and talked about Gibraltar, and Canton, and Valparaiso, and Bombay, just as you and I would about Peck Slip and the Bowery. Every man of them almost was a volume of Voyages and Travels round the World. And what most struck me was that like books of voyages they often contradicted each other, and would fall into long and violent disputes about who was keeping the Foul Anchor tavern in Portsmouth at such a time; or whether the King of Canton lived or did not live in Persia; or whether the bar-maid of a particular house in Hamburg had black eyes or blue eyes; with many other mooted points of that sort.

At last one of them went below and brought up a box of cigars from his chest, for some sailors always provide little delicacies of that kind, to break off . . . Read More

Community Reviews

I loved this story and couldn't stop turning the pages. I felt like I actually got to know the main character and was alongside him on his travels.

“For the scene of suffering is a scene of joy when the suffering is past; and the silent reminiscence of hardships departed is sweeter than the presence of delight.”
― Herman Melville, Redburn

It must be awful as a writer to dash off a novel for money or tobacco in a couple of weeks and have it p...more

I would be lying if I didn't admit that I am a Melville nerd. I am a big enough Melville nerd that I have the last line of "Bartleby the Scrivener" tattooed on my arm. I am a big enough nerd that reading Moby Dick wasn't enough for me--I followed it up with Redburn.

Here's the thing: Redburn is an...more

Melville is one of the writers I 'saved for later'. I wanted to be able to crack open the occasional unread heavy hitter. It was a risky move. Anything goes wrong now, I will never read 'Moby Dick', and if that car in St-Lazare had driven rather than skidded into my bike back in '04, I would neve...more

His first time at sea. He goes to Liverpool. Tragic.

Maybe I'm seeing things through rosy colored glasses... Its the first nice day of 2019 and I'm outside reading a Melville novel... but I really loved this book. My hesitation with saying I love this book is that I have to admit that I found sections of the book to be quite burdensome to read. Not...more

From Wellingborough Redburn To Buttons

I decided to celebrate this past Memorial Day by revisiting a classic American novel. I chose one of my favorite authors, Herman Melville, and his "Redburn: His First Voyage" (1849).

"Redburn" was Melville's fourth novel and followed upon the visionary book, "...more

This is a very nice book. It is a coming of age story loosely based on a real voyage he took in 1839, though the book sets the story about 1848. Redburn is a young man from a formerly well-to-do family who needs to earn his keep and he chooses to go to sea as a common sailor in a merchantman call...more

I've been thinking a lot more about Redburn today. The turn of Redburn from naive sailor on his journey to England into a seasoned sailor on his return, paralleled by Bolton who is more or less a copy of Redburn who falls for the same mistakes he does, is a really neat structure for a novel, espe...more

Half way through this, young Redburn having arrived in Liverpool after his first sea voyage, from New York. Melville, of course, is wonderful at evoking sea journeys and it goes without saying that he imbues his descriptions with the allegorical and the transcendent. Here, by distancing the absen...more

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