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Melville always mixes his own extraordinary personal experiences with later research to produce powerful and imaginative works.
TYPEE shocked its original audience with a truthful account of Polynesian tribal life. It also defined the author: caught in its glare like a fly in amber, he stands frozen ...
Melville always mixes his own extraordinary personal experiences with later research to produce powerful and imaginative works.
TYPEE shocked its original audience with a truthful account of Polynesian tribal life. It also defined the author: caught in its glare like a fly in amber, he stands frozen before the exotic, sharply focused on it, yet forced to remain forever alien.
"A vivid picture of a civilized man in contact with the exotic dream-like life of the tropics." (Readers Encyclopedia)
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 the natives 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.
Typee Introduction by John Bryant Works Cited and Suggested for Further Reading A Note on the Text
The Sea Longing for Shore A Land-sick Ship Destination of the Voyagers The Marquesas Adventures of a Missionary's Wife Among the Savages Characteristic Anecdote of the Queen of Nukuheva
Passage from the Cruising Ground to the Marquesas Sleepy times aboard Ship South Sea Scenery Land ho!
The French Squadron discovered at Anchor in the Bay of Nukuheva Strange Pilot Escort of Canoes A Flotilla of Cocoa-nuts Swimming Visitors The Dolly boarded by them State of affairs that ensue
Some Account of the late operations of the French at the Marquesas Prudent Conduct of the Admiral Sensation produced by the Arrival of the Strangers The first Horse seen by the Islanders Reflections Miserable Subterfuge of the French Digression concerning Tahiti Seizure of the Island by the Admiral Spirited Conduct of an English Lady
State of Affairs aboard the Ship Contents of her Larder Length of South Seamen's Voyages Account of a Flying Whaleman Determination to Leave the Vessel The Bay of Nukuheva The Typees Invasion of their Valley by Porter Reflections Glen of Tior Interview between the old King and the French Admiral
Thoughts previous to attempting an Escape Toby, a Fellow Sailor, agrees to share the Adventure Last Night aboard the Ship
A Specimen of Nautical Oratory Criticisms of the Sailors The Starboard Watch are given a Holiday The Escape to the Mountains
The other side of the Mountain Disappointment Inventory of Articles brought from the Ship Division of the Stock of Bread Appearance of the Interior of the Island A Discovery A Ravine and Waterfalls A sleepless Night Further Discoveries My Illness A Marquesan Landscape
The Important Question, Typee or Happar?
A Wild-Goose Chace My Suffering Disheartening Situation A Night in a Ravine Morning Meal Happy Idea of Toby Journey towards the Valley
Perilous Passage of the Ravine Descent into the Valley
The Head of the Valley Cautions Advance A Path Fruit Discovery of Two of the Natives Their singular Conduct Approach towards the inhabited parts of the Vale Sensation produced by our Appearance Reception at the House of one of the Natives
Midnight Reflections Morning Visitors A Warrior in Costume A Savage Aesculapius Practice of the Healing Art Body Servant A Dwelling-house of the Valley described Portraits of its Inmates
Officiousness of Kory-Kory His Devotion A Bath in the Stream Want of Refinement of the Typee Damsels Stroll with Mehvi A Typee Highway The Taboo Groves The Hoolah-Hoolah Ground The Ti Timeworn Savages Hospitality of Mehevi Midnight Misgivings Adventure in the Dark Distinguished Honors paid to the Visitors Strange Procession and Return to the House of Marheyo
Attempt to procure Relief from Nukuheva Perilous Adventure of Toby in the Happar Mountain Eloquence of Kory-Kory
A great Event happens in the Valley The Island Telegraph Something befalls Toby Fayaway displays a tender Heart Melancholy Reflections Mysterious Conduct of the Islanders Devotion of Kory-Kory A rural Couch A Luxury Kory-Kory strikes a Light à la Typee
Kindness of Marheyo and the rest of the Islanders A full Description of the Bread-fruit Tree Different Modes of preparing the Fruit
Melancholy condition Occurrence at the Ti Anecdote of Marheyo Shaving the Head of a Warrior
Improvement in Health and Spirits Felicity of the Typees Their enjoyment compared with those of more enlightened Communities Comparative Wickedness of civilized and unenlightened People A Skirmish in the Mountain with the Warriors of Happar
Swimming in company with the Girls of the Valley A Canoe Effects of the Taboo A pleasure Excursion on the Pond Beautiful freak of Fayaway Mantua-making A Stranger arrives in the Valley His mysterious conduct Native Oratory The Interview Its Results Departure of the Stranger
Reflections after Marnoo's Departure Battle of the Pop-guns Strange conceit of Marheyo Process of making Tappa
History of a day as usually spent in the Typee Valley Dances of the Marquesan Girls
The Spring of Arva Wai Remarkable Monumental Remains Some ideas with regard to the History of the Pi-Pis found in the Valley
Preparations for a Grand Festival in the Valley Strange doings in the Taboo Groves Monument of Calabashes Gala costume of the Typee damsels Departure for the Festival
The Feast of Calabashes
Ideas suggested by the Feast of Calabashes Inaccuracy of certain published Accounts of the Islands A Reason Neglected State of Heathenism in the Valley Effigy of a dead Warrior A singular Superstition The Priest Kolory and the God Moa Artua Amazing Religious Observance A dilapidated Shrine Kory-Kory and the Idol An Inference
General Information gathered at the Festival Personal Beauty of the Typees Their Superiority over the Inhabitants of the other Islands Diversity of Complexion A Vegetable Cosmetic and Ointment Testimony of Voyagers to the uncommon Beauty of the Marquesans Few Evidences of Intercourse with Civilized Beings Dilapidated Musket Primitive Simplicity of Government Regal Dignity of Mehevi
King Mehevi Allusion to his Hawiian Majesty Conduct of Marheyo and Mehevi in certain delicate matters Peculiar system of Marriage Number of Population Uniformity Embalming Places of Sepulture Funeral obsequies at Nukuheva Number of Inhabitants at Typee Location of the Dwellings Happiness enjoyed in the Valley A Warning Some ideas with regard to the Civilization of the Islands Reference to the Present state of the Hawiians Story of a Missionary's Wife Fashionable Equipages at Oahu Reflections
The Social Condition and General Character of the Typees
Fishing Parties Mode of distributing the Fish Midnight Banquet Timekeeping Tapers Unceremonious style of eating the Fish
Natural History of the Valley Golden Lizards Tameness of the Birds Mosquitos Flies Dogs A solitary Cat The Climate The Cocoa-nut Tree Singular modes of climbing it An agile young Chief Fearlessness of the Children Too-Too and the Cocoa-nut Tree The Birds of the Valley
A Professor of the Fine Arts His Persecutions Something about Tattooing and Tabooing Two Anecdotes in illustration of the latter A few thoughts on the Typee Dialect
Strange custom of the Islanders Their Chanting, and the peculiarity of their Voice Rapture of the King at first hearing a Song A new Dignity conferred on the Author Musical Instruments in the Valley Admiration of the Savages at Beholding a Pugilistic Performance Swimming Infant Beautiful Tresses of the Girls Ointment for the Hair
Apprehensions of Evil Frightful Discovery Some remarks on Cannibalism Second Battle with the Happars Savage Spectacle Mysterious Feast Subsequent Disclosures
The Stranger again arrives in the Valley Singular Interview with him Attempt to Escape Failure Melancholy Situation Sympathy of Marheyo
Appendix: Provisional cession to Lord George Paulet of the Sandwich Islands Sequel: The Story of Toby Appendixes: List of Textual Expurgations; List of Textual Emendations The Typee Manuscript: A Reading Text Explanatory Notes
Posted October 15, 2010
No text was provided for this review.