Mardi: and a Voyage Thither

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Mardi: and a Voyage Thither:

Publishing History

First British edition published in three volumes on March 16, 1849 by Richard Bentley, London. First American edition published in two volumes on April 14, 1849 by Harper & Brothers, New York.

Disappointed by the sales of Omoo, averse to publishing fiction at any rate, and unhappy with the state of international copyright law and Melville's high asking price, John Murray rejected the manuscript of Mardi. Melville's British agent then offered the book to Richard Bentley, who paid Melville 200 guineas for the right to publish the new work.

Mardi was originally intended as a fictional South Seas adventure story, an idea Melville claimed was inspired by the many attacks upon the veracity of Typee and Omoo. As the story progressed, however, he began to slide increasingly into satire and metaphysical speculation, eventually displacing his customary first-person narrator in favor of three external characters representing philosophical, narrative, and poetic voices, with a fourth to mediate between them. The resulting book revealed the first blossoming of the intellectual growth and spiritual searching that would shape Melville's later works, but it sold poorly and most readers were annoyed by its confused construction and continual "rhapsodising".

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We are off! The courses and topsails are set: the coral-hung anchor swings from the bow; and together, the three royals are given to the breeze, that follows us out to sea like the baying of a hound. Out spreads the canvas -- alow, aloft -- boom-stretched, on both sides, with many a stun' sail; till like a hawk, with pinions poised, we shadow the sea with our sails, and reelingly cleave the brine. --opening paragraph

"Now, I am my own soul's emperor; and my first act is abdication! Hail! realm of shades!" -- and turning my prow into the racing tide, which seized me like a hand omnipotent, I darted through.
Churned in foam, the outer ocean lashed the clouds; and straight in my white wake, headlong dashed a shallop, three fixed specters leaning o'er its prow: three arrows poising.
And thus, pursuers and pursued flew on, over an endless sea. --concluding paragraphs

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Contemporary Criticism and Reviews

If this book be meant as a pleasantry, the mirth has been oddly left out -- if as an allegory, the key of the casket is "buried in ocean deep" -- if as a romance, it fails from tediousness -- if as a prose-poem, it is chargeable with puerility. Among the hundred people who will take it up, lured by their remembrances of Typee, ninety readers will drop off at the end of the first volume; and the remaining nine will become so weary of the hero when for the seventh time he is assaulted by the three pursuing Duessas who pelt him with symbolical flowers, that they will throw down his chronicle ere the end of its second third is reached.... --Henry Fothergill Chorley, in London Athenaeum, March 24 1849

The work is a compound of Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver's Travels, seasoned throughout with German metaphysics of the most transcendental school. The great questions of natural religion, necessity, free-will, and so on.... are treated with much ingenuity, and frequently with a richness of imagination which disguises the triteness of the leading ideas. Politics take their share of the work -- not often well, sometimes most absurdly illustrated. The habits of modern society come in for an occasional fling. But the great merit of the work is its fanciful descriptions of nature amid all her variations. Some of the cleverest, even the most brilliant, passages occur when the author fairly gives himself up to his own singular and quaint contemplations of nature....
Altogether we regard this as a remarkable book. When a man essays a continual series of lofty flights, some of his tumbles will be sufficiently absurd; but we must not be thus hindered from admiring his success when he achieves it. --London Atlas, March 24 1849

... [I]t is almost needless to say that we were disappointed with Mardi. It is not only inferior to Typee and Omoo, but it is a really poor production. It ought not to make any reputation for its author, or to sell sufficiently well to encourage him to attempt any thing else. --Charles Gordon Greene, in Boston Post, April 18 1849

These two duodecimo volumes contain an infinite fund of wit, humour, pathos, and philosophy. In them may be found the same charming powers of description already evinced by the author in his Typee and Omoo; whilst the range of the subject is far more comprehensive, and the abilities of the writer are in consequence still farther developed. --William Young, in New York Albion, April 21 1849

We have seldom found our reading faculty so near exhaustion, or our good nature as critics so severely exercised, as in an attempt to get through this new work by the author of the fascinating Typee and Omoo. --George Ripley, in New York Tribune, May 10 1849

This pretension to excessive novelty has in this case resulted only in an awkward and singular melange of grotesque comedy and fantastic grandeur, which one may look for in vain in any other book. Nothing is so fatiguing as this mingling of the pompous and the vulgar, of the common-place and the unintelligible, of violent rapidity in the accumulation of catastrophes, and emphatic deliberation in the description of landscapes. These discursions, these graces, this flowery style, festooned, twisted into quaint shapes, call to mind the arabesques of certain writing masters, which render the text unintelligible.
A humoristic book is the rarest product of art.... [M]r. Melville has certainly not succeeded in it. Although he commences by a fairy tale, continues with a romantic fiction, and afterwards attempts the ironical and symbolical, his ill-compacted implement breaks with a crash under his novice hand....
... Mr. Herman Melville does not use the English language with learned ability.... He misuses the vocabulary, reverses periods, creates unknown adjectives, invents absurd ellipses, and composes new words contrary to all the laws of the old Anglo-Germanic analogy -- "unshadow -- tireless -- fadeless," and many other monsters of the same kind. --Translation of an article by Philarète Chasles, in Paris Revue des deux mondes, May 15 1849

Whoso wishes to read a romance -- a novel of the sentimental or satanic school -- has no business in Mardi. He need not open the book. But whoso wishes to see the spirit of philosophy and humanity, love and wisdom, showing man to himself as he is, that he may know his evil and folly, and be saved from them, will be reverently thankful for this book. --William A. Jones, in New York United States Magazine and Democratic Review, July 1849

We proceed to notice this extraordinary production with feelings anything but gentle towards its gifted but excentric author. The truth is, that we have been deceived, inveigled, entrapped into reading a work where we had been led to expect only a book. We were flattered with the promise of an account of travel, amusing, though fictitious; and we have been compelled to pore over an undigested mass of rambling metaphysics. --Henry Cood Watson, in New York Saroni's Musical Times, September 29 1849

In this voyage the writer gives a satirical picture of most of the deeds and doings of the more prominent nations, under names which preserve the sound of the real word to the ear, while slightly disguising it to the eye. In this progress, which is a somewhat monotonous one, the author gives us many glowing rhapsodies, much epigrammatic thought, and many sweet and attractive fancies; but he spoils every thing to the Southern reader when he paints a loathsome picture of Mr. [John C.] Calhoun, in the character of a slave driver, drawing mixed blood and tears from the victim at every stroke of the whip. We make no farther comments. --Charleston Southern Quarterly Review, October 1849

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