Melville Electronic Library

A Critical Archive

Skip to content

Versions of Typee

In many ways, Melville’s first book provides a fuller array of versions than any other subsequent Melville publication.  Our proposed edition of Typee will follow protocols modeled in our three existing editions that involve transcribing the Typee manuscript (as in Billy Budd), OCR’ing, annotating, and collating print editions (as in Moby-Dick), and editing handwritten marginalia in print versions (as in Battle-Pieces).

Currently, we have acquired images of the three-chapter manuscript, which we plan to mount in early 2018.  Scanning of the first British editions and three revised American editions of Typee will also begin in 2018.

Tracking the Versions

From January 1841 to October 1844, Melville spent almost four years at sea, on three whaling ships and a US naval frigate. During that period, he honed his narrative skills on deck, watching his shipmates “spin yarns” on deck and then rehearsing anecdotes of his own that he adapted from his island and ocean experiences. When he returned, he regaled family and friends with cleaner versions, in particular about his having deserted ship on the Marquesan island of Nuku Hiva and his retreat to the remote valley of Taipivai, He was encouraged to write his experiences down in a travel narrative, converting oral tales into written text.  By the spring of 1845, he had completed a draft of Typee, of which three chapters’ worth of text (titled chapters 10-12 but corresponding to chapters 12-14 in the first edition) were discovered in 1983 and purchased by NYPL. 

Failing to find a publisher for his manuscript in New York, Melville asked his older brother Gansevoort, newly appointed by the Polk administration to the American Legation to Britain, to peddle the book in London. The brother found a willing, though at times skeptical publisher in John Murray, who requested more factual material, designed to enhance the narrative’s authenticity.  Gansevoort, who had vetted the manuscript, also corrected and probably revised proof sheets for the British edition in January 1846.  At the time, he read portions of the proofs to Washington Irving, then a long-time diplomat to Spain who was visiting London at the time.  Irving recommended publication of Typee to the London office of his own American publisher Wiley & Putnam. Gaining an immediate acceptance of the work, Melville was able to reach readers at home and secure near-simultaneous publication of his book on both sides of the Atlantic, a standard strategy for inhibiting piracies that cut into royalties.  Murray’s British edition appeared in February 1846; and Wiley & Putnam’s (slightly revised) American edition, in March.

The book was instantly successful with both audiences, although it received complaints from religionists who balked at Melville’s pronounced criticisms of missionaries in the South Pacific.  Wiley urged a revised edition, and by July Melville complied, removing about 15% of his text, including an Appendix in defense of Lord George Paulet’s actions in Hawai’i.  At the same time, word of Typee had reached Richard Tobias Greene, the shipmate and close companion named “Toby” in the narrative, who accompanies Melville, or rather “Tommo,” into the mountainous interior of Nuku Hiva and escapes in mid-narrative without a trace from Taipivai, or “Typee Valley.”  Explaining the mystery of his disappearance, Greene confirmed the authenticity of Melville’s narrative, and Melville composed a version of Greene’s narrative of his escape, in a sequel titled “The Story of Toby,” appended to Wiley’s Revised American edition, which appeared in August 1846. Murray chose not to reprint Wiley’s expurgated text for his subsequent printings and editions of Typee, but he added to his British version “The Story of Toby.”

For the rest of the century and well into the twentieth, readers on both sides of the Atlantic read significantly different Typees.  In his last year, Melville gave instructions, in a Memorandum written in his wife Elizabeth Shaw Melville’s hand, for a new edition of Typee, to be edited by his friend and literary executor Arthur Stedman in consultation with Melville’s wife. A personal copy of Typee, with marginalia that coincides with the Memorandum instructions, is held by NYPL.  The posthumous Stedman edition adopts the British text, but with numerous deletions, restorations, and changes.  Published in 1892 by the United States Book Company, the edition was the basis for a score of twentieth-century editions of Typee. While Melville’s reputation steadily rose throughout the mid-century and into our own time, the growing admiration of Typee was based on different texts, suggesting different reasons for its critical reception.

MEL’s projected Versions of Typee edition will include these versions of Typee, and will be the platform for further augmentations, including the Constable edition of 1924, which was the standard version for twentieth-century readers into the postwar era, and the 1968 Northwestern-Newberry “eclectic” critical edition, a standard for our time.  John Bryant’s 1996 Penguin edition of Typee (intro rev. 2005), adopts the NN text, and provides Bryant’s transcription of the 1845 manuscript fragment and tables indicating the American Revised edition’s expurgations.  In 2006, Bryant published Herman Melville’s Typee: A Fluid-Text Edition, an electronic (though not fully digitized) edition that provides a base version of the Typee manuscript, a diplomatic transcription with side-by-side display of the manuscript leaves, and links to a complete set of revision sequences and narratives.  Also included for comparison is a searchable text of the first British edition.  This project, issued under the Rotunda Imprint of the University of Virginia Press, and a recipient of MLA’s Committee on Scholarly Editions seal of approval in 2009, is the genesis of the development of TextLab, which fully automates the making and display of the kinds of editorial features found in the Rotunda edition. 

  • Manuscript (1845)
  • British Edition (1846)
  • American Edition (1846)
  • American Revised (1846)
  • Stedman Edition (1892)
  • Memorandum of Stedman changes
  • Personal Copy with marginalia
  • Juxta Collations & Edition