A couple weeks back, I had the good fortune of spending a week in Bora Bora with my fiancé on what turned out to be a wonderfully relaxing vacation. As I planned on spending a fair amount of time lounging on the deck of my over water bungalow reading and sipping wine, serious thought was given to what I was to read. After short deliberation, I settled on Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life from Herman Melville. It turns out to have been an inspired, and apropos choice, enjoyed immensely by both my fiancé and myself.
This classic from Melville was written in 1846, partly based on Melville’s experience in 1842 as a captive on the island Nuku Hiva in the South Pacific Marquesas Islands. This was Melville’s most popular work during his lifetime, and it is easy for me to see why. It reads as a historical adventure novel, with plenty of action and discovery. Melville’s writing is engaging, and his descriptive powers second to none. It added significantly to my enjoyment of the novel to be in the same general location as the setting from the story. In many cases, I would read his description of something (say a Bread Fruit tree) and look up to see the greatest illustration possible, that being by nature.
In today’s politically correct world, classics are often seen through the hazy lens of modern sensibilities. While today Typee is overshadowed by Melville’s Moby Dick, it still remains a target of those looking for anything to criticize Western culture with. This, despite Melville’s largely sympathetic portrayal of the natives, including plenty of criticism around missionaries’ attempts to “civilize” the natives. The book is a fantastic read, and would make a wonderful movie!
While I have the Limited Editions Club (LEC) edition of Typee from 1935, I did not want to take a chance on ruining it, so instead brought along a used copy from West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company (WVPP) from 1962. Below is colophon information and pictures from each. The WVPP edition is very nicely done, a handsome, if somewhat plain, letterpress volume. Pictures of it below are from my deck in Bora Bora! I find the LEC edition, bound in beautiful and soft native tappa, very inspired. The slipcase design and illustrations fit precisely the tone and setting of the story.
About the Limited Editions Club Edition
- Designed by John B. Fass at The Harbor Press, New York
- Water color illustrations by Miguel Covarrubias, who signs the edition
- Introduction by Raymond Weaver
- Bound in full native tappa, printed from a design by Covarrubias
- 444 pages
- Limited to 1500 copies, mine is #581
- I do not have the monthly letter with additional information, please contact me if you have this
About the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company Edition
- Published Christmas, 1962
- Designed by Bradbury Thompson
- Typefaces Monototype Modern Number Eight and Number 20
- Illustrations from The Iconographic Encyclopedia of Science, Art and Literature, circa 1846
- The cover is Clear Spring Mist Envelope, printed by offset lithography, and cowhide leather with title stamped in gold
- The end sheets are printed by offset lithography on Clear Spring Mist Envelope
- The text pages are printed by letterpress and the illustrations are sheet-fed gravure on Clear Spring English Finish Natural
- The slipcase is printed by offset lithography on Clear Spring Mist Envelope