Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

domingo, septiembre 11, 2005

Herman Melville's desde Desdemona

In 1842 Herman Melville deserted from a whaling ship in the Marquesas Islands and lived with the indigenous people (or was held captive by them). The experience was the background for his first book, Typee, which was a commercial success in 1846. Melville wrote that he had found and lived in paradise in the Marquesas. A brief excerpt, dear Island lovers, to whet your appetite:

One peculiarity that fixed my admiration was the perpetural hilarity reigning through the whole extent of the vale. There seemed to be no cares, griefs, troubles, or vexations in all Typee. The hours tripped along as gaily as the laughing couples down a country dance.

There were none of those thousand sources of irritation that the ingenuity of civilized man has created to mar his own felicity. There were no foreclosures of mortgages, no protested notes, no bills payable, no debts of honor in Typee; no unreasonable tailors and shoemakers, perversely bent on being paid; no duns of any description; no assault-and-battery attorneys to foment discord, backing their clients up to a quarrel, and then knocking their heads together; no poor relations, everlastingly occupying the spare bedchamber, and diminishing the elbowroom at the family table; no destitute widows with their children starving on the cold charities of the world; no beggars; no debtors' prisons; no proud and hard hearted nabobs in Typee; or to sum up all in one word-- no Money! "That root of all evil" was not to be found in the valley.

In this secluded abode of happiness there were no cross old women, no cruel stepdames, no withered spinsters, no live-sick maidens, no sour old bachelors, no inattentive husbands, no melancholy yound men, no blubbering youngsters, and no squalling brats. All was mirth, fun, and high good humor. Blue devils, hypochondria, and doleful dumps, went and hid themselves among the nooks and crannies of the rocks.

There's more. About peace among the young men, for example, "But whether fishing, or carving canoes, or polishing their ornaments, never was there exhibited the least sign of strife or contention among them." And about the beauty of the female inhabitants, "There you might have seen a throng of young females, not filled with envyings of each other's charms, nor displaying the ridiculous affectations of gentility, nor yet moving in whalebone corsets, like so many automatons, but free, inartificially happy, and unconstrained."

I finished reading Typee a few weeks ago on an island, the name of which I will not disclose. I was happy indeed that Melville had his own desde Desdemona, though I doubt that many of his readers could head off to find it in the South Pacific for themselves. But I bet many people carried Typee around in their heads and hearts for years.