Happy Friday ATS! I hope to begin the novel on Monday night, after wrapping up with my biographical account of certain events which surely informed
I can't wait to have you join me! I hope everyone's interest hasn't waned with all of the extra-curricular reading. Sorry about all the added text!
The extraordinary series of events which transpired in Herman Melville’s life between the years 1842 and 1843 were enough to produce fodder for
several of his novels. Typee, Omoo, Mardi, White Jacket, Moby Dick, and Billy Budd were all in part inspired by this short but thrilling duration of
In my last thread, I left off with Melville’s description of an evening of debaucherous revelry aboard the whaling ship that had taken Melville on a
course around the Americas and into the Pacific. You can read about these adventures here:
Shortly after the above mentioned events, Melville conspired with one of his ship-mates to desert the whaler and head into the mountainous jungle of
the Marquesas. They managed to slip away while at port and made toward the inner recesses of the island with the intent of exploring a bit before
signing up with another ship.
What they found was perilous landscape, torrential rain, no shelter, with little to nothing to sustain them, plus Melville’s leg had swelled up from
an unknown cause.. so, on the fourth day, they had no choice but to take their chances and descend into a valley occupied by natives. As Melville
wrote in Typee, he and his friend “Toby” had good reason to believe that the tribe they were approaching were fierce cannibals. They likely
didn’t know if they would be fed or be the food. As luck would have it, the cannibals who took them in were quite hospitable.
Despite Melville and Toby’s unease, they were in fact treated royally. The native tribe welcomed them, fed them poi-poi, gave them tobacco to smoke
and introduced them to the native way of life. The men of the island were elaborately tattooed, the women bedecked in flowers, and all seemed very
curious to learn about the strangers and willing to open their huts and customs to their visitors. According to Melville’s accounts in Typee, the
ladies were very free with their favors.
(As an aside: his description of his experiences there earned him the dubious reputation as America’s first literary sex symbol. His writing style
was lush and sensuous, and the contents quite risque for his time period. Typee was the best received of any of his novels during his lifetime but
also the cause of unwonted scrutiny. Melville had marketed the novel as nonfiction but had elaborated on the truth and elongated the duration of his
stay. This novel marked the first, and not the last time Melville was disingenuous to his readership.)
After a week with the tribe, Toby departed in order to seek medical help for Herman’s leg, leaving Melville alone with the cannibals. Melville
spent the next two weeks in their company. By his account, it was a thrilling experience. I’d suggest reading Melville’s account of the
experience in Typee. Meanwhile, Toby suffered a near fatal spear injury to his head by a less companionable tribe, made his way to a beach, paid an
Irishman $5 to secure Melville (the Irishman took the money and ran) and departed on an outgoing ship. The word got out, though, that there was an
American sailor “detained by savages,” and soon thereafter Melville was safely aboard the Lucy Ann and away from his friends of the Typee
As luck would have it, the Lucy Ann was in the midst of revolt and near mutinous. The captain was weak, both healthwise and in character, and his
first mate a brutish alcoholic. While Melville, at first, did his duty while others refused, he eventually joined with his crewmates in open revolt.
He was taken, along with his fellow mutineers and put in stocks in Tahiti, which had recently been forcefully acquired by the French. This was
Melville’s second time (in a matter of months) witnessing colonialism in its ugly reality.
To be continued..
edit on 2-12-2016 by zosimov because: (no reason given)