This text is part of:
Table of Contents:
 so important is not clear; he may then first have turned to authorship. Though he had kept no notes of his journeying, within a year he had completed his first book, Typee, the record of his captivity. This was followed the next year by Omoo,1 which completes his island adventures. In 1849 came Redburn, based on his earlier voyage to Liverpool, and in 1850 White-Jacket, an account of life on a man-of-war. The first two had a great vogue and aroused much wonder as to the proportion of fiction and fact which might have gone to their making. Murray published Typee in England in the belief that it was pure fact. There were others to rank it with Richard Henry Dana's Two years before the mast (1841) as a transcript of real events. But though little is known of Melville's actual doings in the South Seas, it is at least clear that Typee and Omoo are no more as truthful as Two years before the mast than they are as crisp and nautical as that incomparable classic of the sea. Melville must be ranked less with Dana than with George Borrow. If he knew the thin boundary between romance and reality, he was still careless of nice limits, and his work is a fusion which defies analysis. White-Jacket, of these four books, is probably nearest a plain record; Redburn has but few romantic elements. Omoo, as a sequel, has not the freshness of Typee, nor has it such unity. Typee, indeed, is Melville at all but his best, and must be classed with the most successful narrations of the exotic life; after seventy years, when the South Pacific seems no longer another world, the spell holds. The valley of Taipi becomes, in Melville's handling, a region of dreams and languor which stir the senses with the fragrance and colour of the landscape and the gay beauty of the brown cannibal girls. And yet Melville, thoroughly sensitive to the felicities of that life, never loses himself in it but remains the shrewd and smiling Yankee. The charge that he had been writing romance led Melville to deserve the accusation, and he wrote Mardi (1849), certainly one of the strangest, maddest books ever composed by an American. As in Typee, two sailors escape from a tyrannical captain in the Pacific and seek their fortune on the open sea, where they finally discover the archipelago of Mardi, a paradise
1 The word is Polynesian for “rover.”
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.
An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.