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Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life (Modern Library Classics) (Paperback) by Herman Melville (Author), Robert Sullivan (Introduction)
Melville's first and most popular novel during his lifetime, Typee is a provocative and lively account of his exploits in the exotic South Seas during the early 1840s, where he journeyed as a young sailor. This edition includes notes on the text.
Contemporary and Early Reviews
"Notice of New Books" from the May 1846 issue of The United States Democratic Review
"Critical Notice" of a later edition from the August 1849 issue of The American Whig Review
Review from the April 1846 issue of The American Whig Review
"Literary Notice" from the July 1846 issue of New Englander and Yale Review
3 out of 5 stars Typee, one of Melville's first works, is still worth reading, December 20, 1998
By David R. Powell (Hendersonville TN) (REAL NAME)
This review is from: Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Typee was the first work by Herman Melville to actually make him a known writer. It it a quasi-fictional account of his actual experience living among a group of canibals on a South Seas near- paradise. Melville's central character, Tommo, is Melville, and his experiences are broadened to four months instead of Melville's actual four weeks. Melville uses the work to comment freely on the conflict between civilization's growing encroachment upon an unspoiled paradise and the evils that civilization wrought. He also launches into repetitive descriptions of the island of Nukuheva which Melville feels is typical of the lush verdant beauty of all of the Polynesian islands. I taught this book for two years back in the 70's with a group of American literature students. I decided to revive it this year (1998)with a group of honors juniors (American Literature)at my high school. Oddly enough, the book seemed to be more favorably received this year than a couple of decades ago. Some students complained of its repetitive nature, particularly the descriptions, but most found it enjoyable and thought-provoking. The book must be considered in light of the Romantic Era from which it emerged. Accounts of far-off exotic isles and high order adventure were the order of the day. In addition, the blind love of Nature and the admiration of the Rousseau's "noble savage" are hallmarks of the book. One must also think what readers in the 1800's thought of the sensual side of the book. Exotic descriptions of naked island girls, in particular Tommo's lovely Fayaway, left a lot up to the imagination of nineteenth century readers. Whether Tommo's relationship with Fayaway is merely platonic or highly physical is left to the reader to decide though it hints at the latter. Also of interest is Melville's condemnation of missionary work. Though at one point he concedes that the principle of bringing Christianity is good, he admonishes that the islanders should be civilized with benefits not crimes as was then more often the case. I found the book very enjoyable the second time around and would recommend it to teachers as an alternative to Moby Dick or Billy Budd as a representative work of Melville or Amercian Romanticism.
5 out of 5 stars Contaminating contact with the white man, June 5, 2008
By H. Schneider "Hermit" (window seat) (TOP 1000 REVIEWER) (REAL NAME)
This review is from: Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life (Melville) (Paperback)
1841. A young man of 23 is looking for adventure, he signs a contract on a New England whaler and travels to the South Pacific. Life on the ship is not what he expected, the captain is a tyrant, the life is a bore, food is terrible. The ship reaches the Marquesas after 15 months, with no commercial success so far and the prospect of another few years of the same. The islands have just been occupied and claimed by the French. What one knows of the locals is full of horror: cannibals! But also of delight: the women! On arrival in the harbour, a fantastic party with the best orgy since 15 months is happening. But nothing can distract our hero from his plan: jump ship, wait for its departure, then look for another way home. He finds a companion for the desertion and does it. Then follows an account of 4 months among the cannibals -- while in reality it lasted only 1 month. This is a fictionally embellished travel and adventure story. 5 years later, a book is published. It will be Melville's first and most successful book during his lifetime. From here on, it went down for him.
The book lets us observe one of the great American writers in his initiation phase. A future ancestor of Conrad and O'Brian, two of my addictions. I wonder why I bypassed him for so long, with the exception of the Whale, which I read 30 years ago. And loved.
Typee gives you an adventure account in exotic surroundings, told in often surprisingly fresh language, but totally free of any scientific pretension: few observations on flora, fauna or geology, but a lot of romantic landscaping. Young Melville was no Maturin.
There is a lot of ethnology, the description of the people, their village and life takes a lot of space, so does the process of miscommunicating between the two white runaways and the tribe. As a matter of fact, not much verbal communication happened, the hero spent most of his time in a kind of fog: what was his status? was he a guest? a captive? a friend? was he destined for BBQ? Only half way through the story does he meet briefly a man who speaks some English, and it becomes clear that he is indeed a captive, but to what purpose is not clear.
He does reflect on the religion of the tribe, as observed by him in the practices of rituals, and concludes that the information spread by missionaries in the US is exaggerating wildly as far as the practices of paganism are concerned. Self-serving, obviously.
He takes a strong position against the morality of our civilization as opposed to the noble naked savages that he gets to know: the white civilized man is the most ferocious animal on the face of the earth, he concludes.
He was a bit in love with fair Fayaway, no doubt.
More Melville to follow here!
4 out of 5 stars Interesting, December 3, 2004
By T. Hooper "thdizzy" (Osaka, Japan) (TOP 500 REVIEWER) (REAL NAME)
This review is from: Typee (New Riverside Editions) (Paperback)
Typee was Melville's first book. The great symbolic prose of Moby Dick is not to be seen here, but it is interesting to get a sense of the development of Melville's writing. This book is a semi-fictional account of Melville's experiences in the South Seas. While his own visit was a brief one, the hero of this book ends up in the Typee Valley for four months. Melville used numerous current accounts in order to flesh out this story. A strong point of this Riverside edition is that it also includes several of these sources, so that the reader can get a sense of what else was available on South Island life at the time. Most of these contemporary sources are imperialistic or surprisingly inaccurate. This is a good read for those who are interested in the development of cross-cultural relations between Westerners and the natives of the South Seas. Not surprisingly, Westerners come out in a bad light. It will make you question what the word 'civilization' means.