Redburn: His First Voyage

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Novel by Melville, published in 1849 and based on his own experiences during his first voyage (1837).

Wellingborough Redburn, son of an impoverished middle-class New York family, ships as a “boy” on the Highlander, bound for Liverpool. Captain Riga treats him with ironic kindness until the ship sails, after which he withdraws to his solitary cabin, placing his mate in command. Clumsy and inexperienced, Redburn receives only contempt from the sailors. During six weeks in Liverpool, he explores the city, aided by his guidebook, and sees especially the lack of democracy and the vicious living conditions of the poor. He becomes friendly with Harry Bolton, a spendthrift young aristocrat, who takes him on a riotous trip to London, shocking the boy by his excesses and reckless actions. The return voyage, on which Harry is also a sailor, is full of tragic incidents, for the steerage passengers nearly starve, an epidemic of cholera kills many, and the crew is maltreated. In New York, Captain Riga refuses to pay Redburn and Harry, and the friends part, the boy going to his home and the Englishman signing for a whaling voyage, during which he is killed.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

Herman Melville (1819—1891) American novelist and short-story writer

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