Typee: A Romance of the South Sea

Typee: A Romance of the South Sea

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by Herman Melville
     
 

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From its publication in 1846, Typee, Herman Melville's first book, was recognized as a classic of travel and adventure literature. Based on the author's own experiences, as well as oral and written sources, in the South Seas, Melville's story of two runaway sailors held captive by the Typees is a vivid portrait of Polynesian life. Many readers delighted in its racy…  See more details below

Overview

From its publication in 1846, Typee, Herman Melville's first book, was recognized as a classic of travel and adventure literature. Based on the author's own experiences, as well as oral and written sources, in the South Seas, Melville's story of two runaway sailors held captive by the Typees is a vivid portrait of Polynesian life. Many readers delighted in its racy scenes, but religious fundamentalists saw to it that criticism of missionaries was expurgated from the American text. Five years later, the religious press took revenge on Moby-Dick when Melville again displayed his persistent skepticism and irreverence and celebrated cultural relativity as he had done in Typee. As Melville's fame declined after the 1850s, readers forgot the old religious denunciations and remembered Typee as the best of his books. Throughout his lifetime, Melville's most famous and popular character was Fayaway. This text of Typee is an Approved Text of the Center for Editions of American Authors (Modern Language Association of America).

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Melville's 1846 South Seas travelog catapulted him from sailor to wordsmith. Typee is considered one of his better books. Its criticism of missionaries, however, caused a furor, and some publishers deleted those sections. This Newberry Edition offers the authoritative text. At this price, grab one. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781404335493
Publisher:
IndyPublish.com
Publication date:
12/28/2002
Pages:
280
Product dimensions:
6.18(w) x 9.04(h) x 0.66(d)

Read an Excerpt

Introduction
Robert Sullivan

N THE BEGINNING of Melville, back before the White Whale, there was Typee, the true-life account of the soon-to-be novelist’s adventures in the South Seas—the scandalous, enthralling, and, yes, titillating story of the man who lived among cannibals. And even at this primordial moment, even in this youthful telling, all of Melville is there: the effortless style, the lush and poemlike descriptions, the Joycean humor (why is everyone always so serious about Melville?). On top of all that, it’s a great read, a legitimate adventure. Are our wounded hero’s newfound pagan friends feeding him or fattening him, and how exactly will he ever escape?

How amazing that Typee ever came into being at all—it is the almost accidental birth of a master. There was young Herman, just returned from sea, the son of a well-born but failed businessman, a near ne’er-do-well who had dabbled in schoolteaching, who had tried his hand at a few little pieces for the local newspaper, and who, seemingly for lack of anything better to do, found himself on a whaling ship with a sea captain who was not terribly interested in workplace morale: Captain Pease on Melville’s first whaling ship, the Acushnet; Captain Vangs in Typee; later to be born again in hell as Ahab. Even on a good ship, whaling was tough, a semi-consensual version of slavery, a life of hard crackers and stale water in the cramped infinity of the great sea. “Oh! for a refreshing glimpse of one blade of grass—for a snuff at the fragrance of a handful of the loamy earth!” goes the longing cry at Typee’s outset. When young Tommo, as thenatives refer to the narrator, arrives in Nuku Hiva, the largest of the Marquesas Islands, he is greeted in the tropical bay by a boatless flotilla of local maidens (“these swimming nymphs”) who eventually board the whaling ship—a scene that was censored from the first editions: “Our ship was now wholly given up to every species of riot and debauchery. Not the feeblest barrier was interposed between the unholy passions of the crew and their unlimited gratification.” In a few days, the young sailor hatches a plan. He will escape into paradise.

Tommo is accompanied by a shipmate, Toby, energetic and fearless whereas Tommo is reluctant and a bit of a snob, the slighly detached (read: Ishmaelean) adventurer. They head for the hills—the large verdant, nearly impenetrable, volcanic hills—wary of the village of Typee, where, sailors’ lore has it, a fierce band of cannibals lives. It’s a harried trip, low on supplies, high on directionlessness. On several occasions, Tommo nearly kills himself trying to keep up with Toby. The misadventures end up sounding like one of those old Bing Crosby and Bob Hope buddy movies: The Road to the Marquesas. Naturally, the two wind up in the wrong village. Soon enough, they are—whoops!—dining with cannibals.

Are they being treated graciously or being fattened? Toby doesn’t stick around to find out. Tommo, meanwhile, is stuck with a bad leg, the pain and inflammation of which fluctuates in proportion to the imminence of danger. Still, Tommo thrives, investigating the practices and customs of what he eventually comes to call the Happy Valley. He makes friends with the local chieftain, visiting him each day like a beat reporter checking in regularly with the desk sergeant. Tommo is assigned a valet, Kory-Kory, who, Queequeg-like, is a friend, respected and even loved despite if not because of his differences. Typee is the birth of the ardent anti-racist: in the beginning, Melville was a radical.

Tommo also finds himself in the everyday heap of bodies that naps through the humid days and snores through the night on the dirt floor of the hut. Specifically, he is alongside a young woman named Fayaway. Fayaway is beautiful, in a word, something Jean-Jacques Rousseau might have come up with if, instead of Emile, he had written soft porn. Not that there is anything illicit in Melville’s portrait. The passages regarding Fayaway are at once friendly, funny, and sensuous—in detail of flesh and landscape, Typee is a very sexy book. Once, in a canoe, Fayaway stands and spreads out her shawl of tappa, in imitation of a sail. “We American soldiers pride ourselves upon our straight clean spars,” the narrator states, tongue at least partly in cheek, “but a prettier little mast than Fayaway made was never shipped aboard of any craft.” (For insight into the richness of Melville’s entendres, go find out what the word mast meant in the local patois, which need not be discussed in detail here—this is a family introduction, after all.)

If Typee was to be excerpted in a contemporary outdoor and travel magazine of today—and modern adventure-mag editors would kill each other for it, take it from me—Melville would no doubt be asked to pick up the pace a little and cut some of the amazingly detailed descriptions, but the ending might just work: there’s blood, tears, home, and, jarringly, mother. Suffice it to say, Tommo somehow survives the cannibals and escapes, and—talk about anticlimaxes—turns back into Herman, who ends up living with his mother in upstate New York. It doesn’t take a Melvillian imagination to visualize the newly returned sailor wowing little parties of ladies and gentlemen with his inelegant remembrances of sumptuous South Pacific rainforests, of naked natives, of people eating people. He must have been quite pleased when people suggested he write it all down. He quickly did, padding his own photographic memories with notes from the reference works of the day. He found a publisher. Some revisions were called for. It was suggested that the author strike a number of the classical references, for instance; his publisher felt sales would improve with a dumbing down. His brother passed it on to some friends in England. Eventually, Washinton Irving read a draft. In a flash, Melville was famous, off and running at twenty-seven, cranking out books, on hiw way to The Whale.

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What People are saying about this

D. H. Lawrence
Melville at his best invariably wrote from a sort of dream self, so that events which he relates of actual facts have a far deeper reference to his own soul and his own inner life.
John Updike
We are, perhaps, after a century of literary wasteland, able to read not only a personal predicament but a general truth in Melville's blasted island, bedeviled ships, misshapen houses, falling towers, kicking tables, and blank brick city walls. The appetite for truth is what gives Melville's narrative a persistent interest and, even under the spell of discouragement, that untoward verbal energy...like Billy Budd, Melville when a sailor on a man-of-war was a top man, at home on the highest yarns, enjoying the ride of few...Melville instinctively aspired to the grandest scale, and even his shorter works offers vast inklings and resonance of cosmic concerns.

Meet the Author

Robert Sullivan is a contributing editor at Vogue and author of The Meadowlands: Wilderness Adventures at the Edge of a City and A Whale Hunt. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
August 1, 1819
Date of Death:
September 28, 1891
Place of Birth:
New York, New York
Place of Death:
New York, New York
Education:
Attended the Albany Academy in Albany, New York, until age 15

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Typee 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
?..
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I skip in.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Kain stedily walks in his eyes wandering as his 'friends' dared him to come hear
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
*Falls to the floor.* Ow... *Pushes himself to his feet.* You got a problem, lady?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Opens the door naked
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm ho<_>rney and Mistres isnt on. Anyone wanna fu<_>ck?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wow.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This version is so heavily bowdlerized you can hardly find any Melville in it. I've never been so angry at wasting 99 cents. I paid for "Typee", not this approximation of "Typee".
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
G
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ya y da naked lady