“It is the easiest thing in the world for a man to look as if he had a great secret in him.”— Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)
He achieved success with novels of sea adventure that promised so much sensation that they would seem to be nothing like acts of concealment. But as I toured Arrowhead, the homestead Herman Melville owned and farmed in Pittsfield, Mass., for a dozen years, it became more and more clear to me that not only were the works of his maturity anything but transparent, but that his private life remains heavily shrouded in mystery. For instance, what was his true relationship with his wife? Did he have an affair with a neighbor, or might he have been bisexual, with powerful unrequited feelings for Nathaniel Hawthorne?
And why did he leave the Berkshire Mountains, a region that a relative would later claim was his first real love?
We may never know. What we do know is that, even on the surface, this giant of the great 19th century American literary flowering wrote works with the same type of turbulence as the South Seas where he worked and that provided the experiences he needed to work through on paper.