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3.6  ·  Rating details ·  567 Ratings  ·  60 Reviews
Wellington Redburn is a fifteen-year-old from the state of New York, with only one dream - to run away to sea. However, when he does fulfil this long-held fantasy, he quickly finds that reality as a cabin boy is far harsher than he ever imagined. Mocked by the crew on board the Highlander for his weakness and bullied by the vicious and merciless sailor Jackson, Wellington ...more
Paperback, 448 pages
Published August 26th 1976 by Penguin Classics (first published 1849)
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Sep 02, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2013
“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 praised, but see your earlier serious novel (Mardi) panned, and your later novel (Moby-Dick) under-appreciated until years after your death. That is the genius of a select group of writers -- they are des
Jan 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 never have read 'Moby Dick' or 'Redburn'. That would be a pity. I would have missed watching Wellingborough, cringe green at the start, learn his ropes. It is complicated, physically taxing work that Melvill ...more
Mar 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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 absent narrator who heas each chapter in the third person, there is delightful humour and irony at the expense of the growing, often so priggish, sailor. He cannot be other than who he is, and his own map of ...more
B.R. Sanders
Mar 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
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 early effort that's passable in its own right, but really doesn't prepare you for the genius gamechanger it's laying the groundwork for. You just don't see anything like Moby Dick coming based on Redbur
Feb 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
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, especially w/ the narrative voice being an old sailor who laughs at his younger self.

Seems like one of the big themes is also indifference; the sailors are indifferent to Redburn's suffering, the people are
Jerry M
Apr 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: finished-in-2017
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 called 'The Highlander'. We learn quite a lot about how life is for the beginner. Redburn signs on as a 'boy', the lowest form of seaman. His age is never specified but he seems to be about 17-18 years of ag ...more
Matt B.
Mar 05, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A bit more readable still than Melville's first three books, but lacking the high flights of metaphor in his later works, Redburn is an interesting American bildungsroman in the 'coming of age' genre. Melville did not rise to the level of Huckleberry Finn (or anywhere close), but the novel holds interest for Melville scholars for its narrative structure and its (likely) autobiographical elements.

As in Moby Dick, the narrator in Redburn is both a first-person teller of the tale, and an older, sel
Aug 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing
one of the many amazing passages in redburn about learning the sailor language (check out the semicolon action!):

"It is really wonderful how many names there are in the world. There is no counting the names, that surgeons and anatomists give to the various parts of the human body; which, indeed, is something like a ship; its bones being the stiff standing-rigging, and the sinews the small running ropes, that manage all the motions.
I wonder whether mankind could not get along without all these
Nov 01, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: up-all-night
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.
Sep 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 19th-c-american
One of Melville's "cakes and ale" books (along with White Jacket), and one of his best despite the author's negative label. Melville seemed perturbed about the reception of Mardi, and felt that the sap-headed public only wanted travel-oriented tales of the seas. Unwittingly, he spun to very well-written books that are something more than cakes and ale--something more than what Typee and Omoo could ever be. In Redburn and White Jacket Melville touches upon his philosophical touchstones in wyas mo ...more
Jun 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
"Redburn" is a fictional narrative based on Melville's own experience, young boy's first voyage into the hostile world, and the feeling is that of reading his personal journal.
Of course, Melville's Moby-Dick, great in its theme and style is a brighter sun to me. Nevertheless, "Redburn" has the same voice and passion. I enjoyed the book.

The title of this book totally isn't Moby Dick. It seems like a shame that for so many, the fact that this book is not Moby Dick seems to be Redburn's most egregious error. Just pretend someone else wrote it and it totally becomes a good book, like MAGIC!!!11

I'm not really down for Moby Dick 2: A Fish to Kill, anyway.
gabriel henderson
Nov 18, 2007 rated it liked it
good old herman. this was written before "moby dick," (i believe) and is not quite so elloquent, but melville still has some beautiful passages tucked in there. as with "moby dick," there are a few long dry chapters that you will have to endure.
Robin Friedman
Aug 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
From Wellingborough Redburn To Buttons

I decided to celebrate this past Memorial Day by revisiting a classic American novel. I settled upon Herman Melville's "Redburn: His First Voyage" (1849).

"Redburn" was Melville's fourth novel and followed upon the visionary book, "Mardi". The author readjusted his course briefly to write a realistic, semi-autobiographical novel centering upon a sea voyage. Author's frequently are poor judges of their own work; and so, Melville spoke disparagingly of "Redburn
Dec 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Melville wrote several long works to satisfy his own personal whimsy (Mardi, Moby-Dick, Pierre, Confidence-Man, Clarel). Each of these being bloated, disjointed, rambling, and overwrought, they tended to bomb sales-wise. In order to pay the bills, he also wrote more straightforward works, such as Redburn. As novels, they work so much better.

In Redburn, Melville shares his thoughts on a vast range of topics, but still manages to keep the narrative mostly on track; the tangents don't go on for to
Jul 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
(Redburn published 1849, Moby Dick 1851) From chapter 20:
-"There she blows! whales! whales close alongside!"
-A whale! Think of it! whales close to me . . . I dropt the clapper as if it were red-hot, and rushed to the side; and there, dimly floating, lay four or five long, black snaky-looking shapes, only a few inches out of the water.
-Can these be whales? Monstrous whales, such as I had heard of? I thought they would look like mountains on the sea; hills and valleys of flesh! regular krakens, th
Jan 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Melville most emotional and personal account of a 15 year old New York boy going on his first voyage aboard a sailing ship. A story of a boy being introduced to the world and meet the most diversity of people who teach us so much.

Reading it made me feel like I was reading a travel book.

It is a great example of Mark Twain's statement on travel. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
Sep 20, 2017 rated it liked it
A sophomoric journey through language from Melville at his youngest and most naive. Occasional bits of beautiful prose sparkle over only 2 developed characters, Jackson and redburn. A solid coming of age story through adventure, ironically dry. Full of great nautical slice of life episodes/phrases.
Oliver St john
Feb 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book got fuckin weird at the end, which is why you've gotta love this Melville shit. I don't think anyone has every written something quite like the scene where Redburn has to awkwardly kill time in the parlor of the gay brothel while waiting around for his friend.
The Book Girl (Andrea)
review to come
Michael Bowman
Jan 22, 2018 rated it liked it
It was enjoyable but read like a less exciting Moby Dick (which makes sense).
Nov 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Like all Melville's novels, this is very lightly disguised memoir, this time of a voyage from New York to Liverpool and back in the merchant service.

What’s interesting is how much it feels like the training wheels for Moby-Dick; how it works over so much of the same material - the dreamy, romantic narrator; the injustice and exploitation; the satanic rebel of a sailor with control over the others; the anecdotal, digressive style which gives you all the mechanics of life at sea - but without pul
Kenneth Shersley
Aug 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Not sure where the faults are in this wonderful story. Enjoyed it hugely. The greatest poet of the sea.
Jan 03, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Redburn is returning to the wonder of Herman Melville without having to drag around the epic that is Moby Dick. After I'd attended the Moby Marathon Reading, I absolutely had to read Melville again. And this one just happened to be sitting on my shelf unread.

Redburn is charming. He'd determined to take his first voyage, and boards the Highlander with his hand-me-down hunting coat and no earthly idea what he's getting into. It doesn't take long for him to hate being a sailor. And then he loves it
Scott Brennan
Apr 06, 2015 rated it liked it
This novel is filled with Melville's preliminary experimentations with nonfiction and auto-fiction he would fully realize in the cytology and technical seafaring chapters of Moby-Dick. In many ways, Redburn seems an extended sketch in preparation for the masterwork to come. We see how Ahab comes out of the creepy, charismatic, evil, invalid sailor, Jackson, and how Queequeg rises out of the androgynous Harry Bolton. Redburn, the first-person narrator, confesses he is "a sort of Ishmael" amongst ...more
Corinne  E. Blackmer
Oct 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: earlier-american
Redburn: His First Voyage, Being the Sailor-Boy, Confessions and Reminiscences of the Son-of-a-Gentleman, In the Merchant Service
Redburn Wellingborough, a young man who idealizes his Revolutionary War era father, decides to go to sea, leaving his bereaved mother and sister and taking with him a journal written by his father that he regards as sacrosanct. The moment he leaves home, however, he is ridiculed for his antique clothing, and we become aware that we are in the Jackson Era, during which
Mark Stephenson
Jan 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Wellingborough Redburn comes from a large and illustrious New York mercantile family which has recently become impoverished because of the bankruptcy and death of his father. Needing to support himself, he decides to find employment where employment is available - the sea. This novel, like Melville's earlier Typee and Omoo, is a sort of fictionalized memoir based upon his own experiences at sea - this time his first voyage in 1839. This was not aboard a whaling ship but on a merchant vessel carr ...more
Aug 03, 2008 rated it it was ok
This shoddy number shows that Melville wasn't good at writing for money. It's about a well-mannered lad down on his luck who becomes a sailor and has to learn the hard way how to be a sailor. Then it's about Liverpool, with meanandering passages about the mean lives therein—sort of like Dickens without the rich characters. Then it's back to the ship, but with the addition of some new sailors, one with womanly eyes and another with a liquid singing voice; much of the remainder of the book focuses ...more
Tyler Jones
Jun 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-sea-the-sea
Much less daunting than Moby Dick, this is a great yarn that swings between moments of comedy and tragedy. A cast of memorable characters that includes a really evil old sailor named Jackson who would have been right at home in Blood Meridian. I would recommend it to those who have tried the one about the whale, but just couldn't get over the humpback. (Sorry. I couldn't help myself.) This is a great introduction to Melville; much meatier than Typee, but still has enough propulsive plot to keep ...more
May 22, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An amazingly good book. About Melville's first voyage to sea...done with wit and an incredible amount of detail about "how it was." There's a fair amount of philosophizing, 99% of which shows Melville to be a modern thinker, e.g. why shouldn't a black man be able to walk with a white woman as they do in England. Most of his comments skewer our foibles as people and a nation.

And there were very few tedious areas (which unfortunately stick out in my memory of Moby Dick so much, that I was quite s
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Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. His first two books gained much attention, though they were not bestsellers, and his popularity declined precipitously only a few years later. By the time of his death he had been almost completely forgotten, but his longest novel, Moby-Dick — largely considered a failure during his lifetime, and most responsible for ...more
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