The problem wasn't with the first two novels, Typee and Omoo, it was his philosophical nightmare Mardi, which is longer than the first two books combined, that took forever.
Melville was twelve when his father died, leaving the family in debt. He worked on his Uncle's farm, and also worked as a clerk and bookkeeper elsewhere. He was able to return to school and also published two anonymous sketches.
A couple months before turning twenty Herman Melville sailed across the Atlantic as a crew member for a trading ship. A few months after returning he was among the first crew of the Acushnet, a Whaling Ship. Nineteen months into the voyage Melville and a companion deserted at Nukuhiva in the Marquesas Islands. His one month there, greatly exagerated, became Typee.
Herman was able to join an Australian Whaler but was incarcerated at Tahiti having been accused of mutiny. He and a friend escaped, holding down odd jobs there and the surrounding isles for what would be the basis for Omoo.
After joining up with a new Nantucket Whaler Melville ended up discharged in Hawaii where he joined the Navy and eventually made it back home having been gone over four years.
Typee was written and the manuscript sent with his brother to London where it was published. Being successful there, it was then published in America. His portrayal of naked natives and their relaxed sexuality, along with his harsh criticism of Missionaries, resulted in a tenth of the American edition being censored.
I was already well familiar with chapter one, which ends with Nukuhiva's Queen scandalizing the French Navy by showing the tatoos under her skirt, when I saw my Father-in-Law had a copy of the book. It claimed to be the uncut, unexpurgated version. It wasn't. Seeing that it was published in the 90s I found out that there's still two versions floating around, and that many readers might not be getting the full story.
Melville published Typee and its sequel Omoo as non-fiction. There were some who doubted him, so when he tackled fiction in Mardi he placed his tongue firmly inside the cheek and reasoned that the public, doubting the facts of his non-fiction, would accept as truth something made up.
When I first read Moby-Dick I told people it'd be a great story if about 700 pages were cut out. I say the same about Mardi. A few days ago when I was trying to finish it I realized that I had no remembrance about how the characters got on their voyage, or why Taji the narrator was searching for the illusive Yillah. The book was so long and boring, and took so many weeks to finish (what with me sometimes lucky to read two pages per night) that I couldn't be bothered to retain anything. There were clever and profound passages but I never bothered marking them down. It was as if I too was on a long, fruitless voyage, a futile quest for Yillah.
I was hoping that I might be able to go through the entire Library of America catalog. However, at this rate, it would literally take me over seventy years.