American writer Herman Melville's first book, Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life, was partly based on his own experiences as a captive on the Pacific island of Nuku Hiva in 1842. Typee was first published in 1846 and was an immediate critical and commercial success for Herman Melville, establishing his literary representation. It was also the best-selling book in Melville's career; although its critical reputation has since been eclipsed by Melville's later works, including Moby-Dick, which were critical and financial failures during Melville's lifetime.
Typee details the fictional story of the Dolly, a whaling ship, stops at the island of Nukuheva, where two of the crew, Tommo (the narrator) and Toby plan to jump ship. However, the island is populated by cannibals. The two men descend into a beautiful valley, where they enter into the village of the Typee, and begin to live among the natives. After the arrival of some European ships, Toby disappears, and Tommo is uncertain whether he departed with the ships or was killed and eaten by the Typee. Eventually, Tommo escapes on an Australian ship.
The novel is not entirely fictional, but not completely autobiographical. Melville drew from his experiences, but also incorporated from numerous other sources. Typee's popularity in the 19th century set a literary precedence for the Pacific themes, including:
- The simplicity of native lifestyle