London: Richard Bentley, 1849. First edition. Bound in contemporary three-quarter red morocco over marbled boards, with marbled end papers and a marbled text block. Front hinge a little tender, but otherwise a handsome binding. Bound with contents of both volumes up front, no half-titles or title page to the second volume. Textually complete. Contemporary inscription on the title page.
Redburn is the story of a young man’s first voyage at sea, from New York to Liverpool and back, and was based on Melville’s own first experiences as a seaman on a similar voyage, ten years before. The book was Melville’s attempt at a more commercial sort of fiction – “a plain, straightforward, amusing narrative of personal experience,” as he described it -- and Melville himself did not accord the book much esteem. (Indeed, Melville finished the work in under ten weeks and submitted the draft to his publisher with nary a rewrite.) Many critics, however, have enjoyed the work – F.O. Matthiessen considers Redburn “the most moving of its author's books before Moby-Dick."
“But the great charm of the work is its realness. It seems to be fact word for word, bating a little that is melo-dramatic and exaggerated in the hero, at the outset. With this exception, the tale is told simply and without the least pretension; and yet, within its narrow bounds, are flashes of genuine humor, strokes of pure pathos, and real and original characters" (Contemporary Review in The Boston Post). (Item #1855)