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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 69

mutiny, and once more changed ship, this time setting out for Honolulu. After some months as a clerk in Hawaii he joined the crew of the frigate United States and returned by the Horn to Boston in 1844. “From my twenty-fifth year,” he told Hawthorne, “I date my life.” Why he held 1844 so important is not clear, but it was then that he first thought of authorship. Though he had kept no notes of his journey, within a year he had completed his first book, Typee, the record of his captivity. This was followed the next year by Omoo (the word is Polynesian for “rover”), which completed 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 hearty vogue and all of them aroused much wonder as to the proportion of fact and fiction which might have gone into their making. Murray published Typee in England under the delusion that it was pure fact. There were others to rank it with Dana’s Two Years Before the Mast (1840) as a transcript of real events. But though little is known of Melville’s actual doings in the Pacific, 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 the four books, is probably the nearest a plain record; Redburn has but a few romantic elements; but neither can approach the Typee-Omoo



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