Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas

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Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas:

Publishing History

First British edition published March 30, 1847 by John Murray, London. First American edition published in two volumes on May 1, 1847 by Harper & Brothers, New York.

Perhaps wishing to avoid some of the attacks launched against him for his account of the missionaries in Typee, Melville softened or deleted a number of passages from his new book before sending the manuscript to his publishers. The toned-down story was still too controversial for American publisher John Wiley, however, and the book was finally published by Harper & Brothers.

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It was in the middle of a bright tropical afternoon that we made good our escape from the bay. The vessel we sought lay with her main-topsail aback about a league from the land, and was the only object that broke the broad expanse of the ocean.
On approaching, she turned out to be a small, slatternly looking craft, her hull and spars a dingy black, rigging all slack and bleached nearly white, and every thing denoting an ill state of affairs aboard. The four boats hanging from her sides proclaimed her a whaler. Leaning carelessly over the bulwarks were the sailors, wild, haggard-looking fellows in Scotch caps and faded blue frocks; some of them with cheeks of a mottled bronze, to which sickness soon changes the rich berry-brown of a seaman's complexion in the tropics. --opening paragraphs

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Contemporary Criticism and Reviews

Nothing can exceed the interest which Mr. Melville throws into his narrative; an interest which arises mainly from two causes, the clearness and simplicity of his style, and the utter absence of all approach to prolixity. He dwells upon no subject long enough to exhaust it; and yet his rapidity is never at the expense of sufficient fulness to place every subject distinctly before the reader. When there is occasion, too, he is as sly, humorous, and pungent as need be. --London John Bull, April 17 1847

It would be difficult to imagine a man better fitted to describe the impressions such a life and scenes are calculated to call forth, than the author of Omoo. Every variety of character, and scene, and incident, he studies and describes with equal gusto. --London People's Journal, April 17 1847

Omoo, the new work (Harpers, pub.) by Mr. Melville, author of Typee, affords two well printed volumes of the most readable sort of reading. The question whether these stories be authentic or not has, of course, not so much to do with their interest. One can revel in such richly good natured style, if nothing else. We therefore recommend this "narrative of adventures in the south seas," as thorough entertainment -- not so light as to be tossed aside for its flippancy, nor so profound as to be tiresome. All books have their office -- and this a very side one. --Walt Whitman, in Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 5 1847

... Herman Melville sounds to us vastly like the harmonious and carefully selected appellation of an imaginary hero of romance. Separately the names are not uncommon; we can urge no valid reason against their junction, and yet in this instance they fall suspiciously on our ear. We are similarly impressed by the dedication. Of the existence of Uncle Gansevoort, of Gansevoort, Saratoga County, we are wholly incredulous. --John Wilson, in Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, June 1847

Omoo ... proves the author a born genius, with few superiors either as a narrator, a describer, or a humorist.... Yet [Typee and Omoo] are unmistakably defective if not positively diseased in moral tone, and will very fairly be condemned as dangerous reading for those of immature intellects and unsettled principles. --Horace Greeley, in New York Weekly Tribune, June 23 1847

The reckless spirit which betrays itself on every page of the book -- the cool, sneering wit, and the perfect want of heart everywhere manifested in it, make it repel, almost as much as its voluptuous scenery-painting and its sketchy outlines of stories attract.... The writer does not seem to care to be true; he constantly defies the reader's faith by his cool superciliousness; and though his preface and the first part of the first volume are somewhat better toned, the reader does not reach the second without ceasing to care how soon he parts company with him.
... He, who, by his own confession, never did anything to the islanders while he was among them but amuse himself with their peculiarities and use them for his appetites, is not the one to come home here and tell us the missionaries are doing little or nothing to improve them. --George Washington Peck, in New York American Review, July 1847

Herman Melville is as clever and learned as ever.....
That Mr. Melville will favour us with his further adventures on board the Leviathan, and upon new shores, we have no doubt whatever. We shall expect them with impatience and receive them with pleasure. He is a companion after our own hearts; his voice is pleasant, and if we could see his face we are sure we should find it a cheerful one. --London Times, September 24 1847

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