Typee, a peep at Polynesian life

by Herman Melville

Hardcover, 1968

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

Evanston, Ill., Northwestern University Press, 1968.

Description

Describes the adventures of a sailor who jumps ship at a south sea island inhabited by cannibals, takes a voyage around Polynesia, and embarks on a quest for an elusive beauty among the islands of a tropical archipelago.

User reviews

LibraryThing member ErnestHemingway
“… we have had, in America, skillful writers… It is skillful, marvelously constructed, and it is dead. We have had writers of rhetoric who had the good fortune to find a little, in a chronicle of another man and from voyaging, of how things, actual things, can be, whales for instance, and this knowledge is wrapped in the rhetoric like plums in a pudding. Occasionally it is there, alone unwrapped in pudding, and it is good. This is Melville. But the people who praise it, praise it for the rhetoric which is not important. They put a mystery in which is not there…”
Green Hills of Africa, pg. 20-21
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LibraryThing member usnmm2
Had read this many years ago, but really enjoyed it much more this time around. What Melville wrote is part travel log, part sea story (tall tale) and idyllic and sometimes romanticized look on a way of life that has disappeared.
This copy is based on the oringinal text that was printed in England. A much edited version was printed for the U.S. market where the more 'explicit' parts and the not so flattering look at the Missionaries were omitted.… (more)
LibraryThing member edgeworth
The first novel by the famed author of Moby-Dick, Typee walks a fine line between fact and fiction. The author relates it as a true account of the several months he spent living amongst natives of the South Pacific; whether this is true or not is a matter of contention, and something that lingered in my mind throughout the book.

After six months at sea, the horrors of which are described in a very strong opening chapter, Melville's whaling vessel puts into the Marquesas Islands in Polynesia to resupply. Unwilling to spend another stretch in the hellish conditions of the whaler, Melville and his comrade Toby jump ship and trek across to the other side of the island, seeking shelter with the natives in a valley called Typee. They are welcomed by the natives and treated like kings, before realising that the people of Typee have no intention of letting them leave. Melville is sick, and Toby attempts to leave and fetch help; he does not return, and his fate is not resolved until the end of the book. Melville spends three months living with ease amongst the natives in their tropical paradise, but this idyllic existence is tempered by his unease over what happened to Toby, his suspicion that the people of Typee engage in cannibalism, and his terror of being permanently imprisoned. He is perplexed as to why they are so determined to keep him there, and the islanders will not explain themselves; indeed, the reason for his imprisonment is never resolved.

As non-fiction, this book is excellent. It combines a tale of adventure with a first-hand account detailing the way of life of an average Polynesian tribe, something unheard of at the time. Unfortunately, according to most modern scholars, it isn't non-fiction. Details are hazy, but the best records indicate that Melville spent less than three weeks living with the natives, and embellished his story with tales gathered from other Pacific sailors and explorers. And, judged as a story, it fails on a number of levels - it's poorly paced, intersparsed with tedious details about the minutae of island life, and quite repetitive. None of this would matter if Typee were a work of non-fiction, but in a novel they seriously impair the narrative. This is an interesting book for somebody interested in the genre, or in the history of the South Pacific, but is otherwise not reccomended.
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LibraryThing member ErnestHemingway
“… we have had, in America, skillful writers… It is skillful, marvelously constructed, and it is dead. We have had writers of rhetoric who had the good fortune to find a little, in a chronicle of another man and from voyaging, of how things, actual things, can be, whales for instance, and this knowledge is wrapped in the rhetoric like plums in a pudding. Occasionally it is there, alone unwrapped in pudding, and it is good. This is Melville. But the people who praise it, praise it for the rhetoric which is not important. They put a mystery in which is not there…”
Green Hills of Africa, pg. 20-21
… (more)
LibraryThing member Stbalbach
I found the grammer stilted and the vocabularly cumbersome yet it still flowed poetically one can predict what will be said in spirit just before it is said, a strange yet magical connection between author and reader across 170-years that trancends words. It is easy to see why this was so popular - sunshine, tropical beaches, naked natives, no work all play - the spirit of the California beach bum surfer can be found in Melville.… (more)
LibraryThing member markbstephenson
More a memoir than a novel, but a great read! Sometimes hilarious but also has some trenchant critical observations comparing the failings of western civilization with the Typee tribe with whom he lived a short while.
LibraryThing member jasongibbs
For many, Moby Dick is the only Melville experience they'll ever have, but Typee is a South Sea adventure that deserves reading. It puts the reader right in the heart of the Tahitian Islands during the age of great sailing ships.
LibraryThing member Stevil2001
Despite its slim size, this book never really picks up. Though I think Moby-Dick has its problems, there's no denying that there's some damn riveting material in there. This book has nothing of the sort. How can cannibals be so boring? (Answer: they never actually eat anything, though the narrator persists in calling them cannibals. Trying to figure out whether this is a deliberate move on Melville's part or a cultural blindspot of his own is about as exciting as this book got.)… (more)
LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
Who says Melville can't be fun? This was totally fun. It was really cool to speculate on how much of it is Münchhausenism (I'm going to assume it's all 100% true until shown evidence otherwise), and to see the Typees get the noble savage treatment (Wordsworth, e.g., was STILL ALIVE when this book came out. We think of Melville as, like, global, industrial, imperial, a far cry from the Romantics, but … not THAT far). And as a coconut aficionado I cannot but recommend this yarn.… (more)
LibraryThing member robintuttle
A very interesting account of Melville's time spent among the Typee tribe of people in the Marquesas Islands in the South Seas. He recounts many of their customs; dietary, social, religious, etc. at first finding himself in their midst, he is terrified by their fierce reputation amongst sailors and fears they will kill and eat him. As time goes by, however, he realizes that they are some of the most kind and generous people he has ever known; albeit, still fierce in their occasional battles with neighboring tribes.

This is very much a book in which Melville tries to reconcile the "civilized" world's view of these "savages" and his own experience of them, with the civilized world getting the worst of Melville's treatment. He realizes that although the Typee people do not have the conveniences of modern life, nor do they have a ver evolved intellectual life, they do indeed possess a happiness and community harmony that the advanced nations long ago lost.

This is the first Melville I've read since getting a few dozen pages into Moby Dick and giving up. I found the book well written with many an interesting turn of language, a vocabulary that had me going to the dictionary many times, (but since I read on a Kindle, that is made very easy), and, to my surprise, a very lively sense of humor.

I definitely recommend this book to those who have an interest in aboriginal societies and who enjoy a ver well written book.
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LibraryThing member David_Cain
Half novel and half anthropology/sociology text, Typee is a marvelous bit of pre-modern fiction/prose from one of the best modern novelists.
LibraryThing member Athenable
Typee is my favorite Melville work.
LibraryThing member crunky
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Melville’s "Typee." I picked it up at a book sale and as I flipped through the pile of books I brought home it nabbed my attention and I ended up reading a good third of it that same day. The entertaining prose was the main highlight. It was easy to identify with the narrator, not only as an adventurer, but as someone who, while desperately curious about his captors and their intentions, is able to keep an open mind about their customs and lives. Digressions into some of these aspects didn’t last so long as to become wearisome, and if one or two threatened to, it was no problem to simply skim ahead to the next topic. Even when the subjects of the narrator’s observations were not overly gripping, the enjoyable style of prose usually kept me engaged.… (more)
LibraryThing member ekissel
Typee is an often humorous account of what Melville purports to be his own adventure of being voluntarily marooned in the Marquesas. I've read so much contemporary fiction lately that I've forgotten how entertaining it is to read an author who is a master of language.

Melville's description of the sight of a ship after it's been at sea three times longer than planned is expert and hilarious. The characters are mysterious and relatable in the same breath. The tale is long and enjoyable if you appreciate a well-turned phrase.… (more)

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