September's Item of the Month is an 1846 first edition of A Narrative of a Four Month's Residence among the Natives of a Valley of the Marquesas Islands : or, a Peep at Polynesian Life, by Herman Melville, most commonly republished under the title Typee
A first book from an unknown author, it sold much better than might have been expected, and was in Melville's lifetime his most commercially successful title, far outselling what would come to be recognised as his masterpiece, Moby Dick (1851).
The narrative is presented throughout as "unvarnished truth", and certainly the most basic aspects of the story are based on Melville's own experiences in Polynesia. In 1841, he had joined the American whaleship Acushnet, but deserted with a shipmate in the Marquesas Islands. They lived in the Typee valley for up to a month, but his accounts in the book were long ago revealed as wildly exaggerated.
Intriguingly, Melville's eventual return to America in 1843 was achieved by enlisting on the USS United States, the then somewhat aged veteran of an 1812 action seen here, where it vanquished the HMS Macedonian.
Richard (Information Assistant - Library)