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


Page 70

series in charm. Typee was the earliest notable romance dealing with the South Seas, a region abundantly exploited since. Merely as history the book has real value, with its sympathetic yet sharp-eyed observation of Marquesan customs and its finely colored descriptions. It is, however, of course as fiction that Typee has been generally read, as a romance of the life led by a sophisticated man among perilous, lonely, barbaric surroundings. The valley of Typee becomes, in Melville’s handling, a region of dreams and languor which stir the senses with the fragrance and color of the landscape and the gay beauty of the brown cannibal girls. And yet Melville, though thoroughly sensitive to the felicities of the exotic life, never loses himself in it entirely as did later men, like Lafcadio Hearn and Pierre Loti, but remains always the shrewd and smiling Yankee. Omoo carries Melville through still more cheerful vicissitudes to Tahiti; it is packed with activity and comedy. There is at least the look of reality about his racy sailors, his consuls and beach-combers, and his irresponsible natives hovering between cannibalism and a half-comprehended Christianity. His references to the missionaries led to much controversy with members of their profession, and Melville was, indeed, highly caustic and contemptuous toward them. The tale is dramatic; the teller had just emerged from a world of Edenic simplicity; and his recollection of that little world lends sharpness to his judgments of the tawdry figures he finds on the borders of civilization. Melville was something of a partizan of paradises, as the charm of Typee reveals; but Omoo takes its quality, its keen edge, not so much from his prejudice as from the comic force and the happiness



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