First edition title page
|Original title||Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life|
|Publication date||February 26, 1846|
Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life (1846) is the first book by American writer Herman Melville, a classic in the literature of travel and adventure partly based on his actual experiences as a captive on the island Nuku Hiva (which Melville spelled as Nukuheva) in the South Pacific Marquesas Islands, in 1842. The title comes from the name of a valley there called Tai Pi Vai. It was Melville's most popular work during his lifetime, but made him notorious as the "man who lived among the cannibals."
Typee was "in fact, neither literal autobiography nor pure fiction." Melville "drew his material from his experiences, from his imagination, and from a variety of travel books when the memory of his experiences were inadequate." The three-week stay on which Typee is based takes place over the course of four months in the narrative. Melville drew extensively on contemporary accounts by Pacific explorers to add cultural detail to what might otherwise have been a straightforward story of escape, capture, and re-escape. Most American reviewers accepted the authenticity of the narrative, though it provoked disbelief among some British readers. Two years after its publication many of the novel's events were corroborated by Melville's fellow castaway, Richard T. Greene.
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Critical opinion on Typee is divided. Scholars have traditionally focused attention on Melville's treatment of race, and the narrator's portrayal of his hosts as noble savages, but there is considerable disagreement as to what extent the values, attitudes and beliefs expressed are Melville's own, and whether Typee reinforces or challenges racist assessments of Pacific culture. Typee's narrative did express sympathy for the "savages", while criticising the missionaries' attempts to "civilize" them:
It may be asserted without fear of contradictions that in all the cases of outrages committed by Polynesians, Europeans have at some time or other been the aggressors, and that the cruel and bloodthirsty disposition of some of the islanders is mainly to be ascribed to the influence of such examples.
(The) he voluptuous Indian, with every desire supplied, whom Providence has bountifully provided with all the sources of pure and natural enjoyment, and from whom are removed so many of the ills and pains of life—what has he to desire at the hands of Civilization? Will he be the happier? Let the once smiling and populous Hawaiian islands, with their now diseased, starving, and dying natives, answer the question. The missionaries may seek to disguise the matter as they will, but the facts are incontrovertible. CH 4
In Typee, the character Tommo is terrified of being permanently absorbed into native society. Critics have given much attention to his fear of cannibalism. The novel states that Typee natives ate an inhabitant of one of the neighboring valleys. The natives who captured Melville reassured him that he would not be eaten.
Typee may have provided the writers Robert Louis Stevenson, Louis Becke and Jack London with the themes and images of the Pacific experience: cannibalism, cultural absorption, colonialism, exoticism, eroticism, natural plenty and beauty, and a perceived simplicity of native lifestyle, desires and motives.
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The Knickerbocker called Typee "a piece of Münchhausenism". New York publisher Evert Augustus Duyckinck wrote to Nathaniel Hawthorne that "it is a lively and pleasant book, not over philosophical perhaps."
Published in 1846, Typee was Melville's first book, and made him one of the best-known American authors overnight. The book was first published in England. The same version was published in the United States; however, critical references to missionaries and Christianity were removed by Melville from the second US edition at the request of his American publisher. Later additions included a "Sequel: The Story of Toby" written by Melville explaining what happened to Toby.
Before its publication, the publisher asked for Melville to remove one sentence. In a scene where the Dolly is boarded by young women from Nukuheva, Melville originally wrote:
"Our ship was now 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."
The second sentence was removed from the final version.
- "Historical Note," Typee (Evanston and Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 1968), 291-94.
- Miller, Perry. The Raven and the Whale: The War of Words and Wits in the Era of Poe and Melville. New York: Harvest Book, 1956: 203.
- Widmer, Edward L. Young America: Flowering of Democracy in New York City. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999: 108. ISBN 0-19-514062-1
- Miller, Perry. The Raven and the Whale: The War of Words and Wits in the Era of Poe and Melville. New York: Harvest Book, 1956: 4.
- Nelson, Randy F. The Almanac of American Letters. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1981: 187. ISBN 0-86576-008-X
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life Online version.
- Typee at Project Gutenberg
- Typee, 1846 first edition, scanned book via Internet Archive, other later editions available.
- Typee, HTML version from Ye Olde Library
- Typee, audibook from LibriVox
- Typee, audiobook with accompanying text from LoudLit
- Typee, Fluid Text Edition at the University of Virginia Press