(urth) Typee, incidentally

David Stockhoff dstockhoff at verizon.net
Fri Nov 12 09:27:51 PST 2010

Having recently finished Typee, by Herman Melville---

First, there is a character called the Old Leech.

Second, near the close of the novel (Chapter 26), Melville clearly 
condemns the brutality of the conversion of Pacific natives by (mostly 
Protestant) missionaries. It presents a moral problem that Melville 
deals with as follows:

Lest the slightest misconception should arise from anything thrown out
in this chapter, or indeed in any other part of the volume, let me here
observe that against the cause of missions in, the abstract no Christian
can possibly be opposed: it is in truth a just and holy cause. But
if the great end proposed by it be spiritual, the agency employed to
accomplish that end is purely earthly; and, although the object in
view be the achievement of much good, that agency may nevertheless be
productive of evil. In short, missionary undertaking, however it may
blessed of heaven, is in itself but human; and subject, like everything
else, to errors and abuses.

This solution, that missionary work is "just and holy" but missionaries 
are "earthly" and "productive of evil," is so reminiscent of one 
"solution" to the puzzle presented by the Hierodules, Vodalus, and the 
actions of the undines toward Severian---that even evil forces do the 
work of the Increate---that I think they must be related. In fact, the 
Heirodules on Urth from the perspective of a citizen of the Commonwealth 
must resemble an islander's view of missionaries, given the same level 
of knowledge and grasp of history. (Which in either case is far less 
than our own.)

In other words, the Hierodules treat Urth like an island of savages, and 
their "uplifting" efforts are not too different from the "missionary 
work" that corrupts and enslaves the islanders, in Melville's view. If 
this is not immediately apparent, perhaps is it partly because we are 
not accustomed to seeing ourselves as the savages in a colonial situation.

The jungle setting is one Wolfe returns to again and again, perhaps with 
similar ideas.

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