The Private Melville demonstrates how great a role his profound sense of privacy played in Melville's life and work. Secrets he was careful never to reveal are unmasked by Philip Young. Privacy, as it appears to Melville here, is of three types. First are family matters the public had no business knowing about, such as the life story of a secret half-sister; next the story of the life of a cousin, model for the heroine of his incestuous novel, Pierre; and then the history of the woman's forebears.
The second type concerns four Berkshire Tales that depend heavily on "private jokes," and thus have secret meaning that escaped the editors who printed them and continue to evade critics and scholars. The third kind deals with two "fictions" so little understood that the meaning might as well be secret: a speech of Ahab's, which is called the "spiritual climax" of Moby Dick; and Melville's very last fiction, Daniel Orme, a self-portrait in which he has gone pretty much unrecognized.