Not long ago, having published two narratives of voyages in the Pacific, which, in many quarters, were received with incredulity, the thought occurred to me, of indeed writing a romance of Polynesian adventure, and publishing it as such; to see whether, the fiction might not, possibly, be received for a verity: in some degree the reverse of my previous experience. This thought was the germ of others, which have resulted in Mardi. New York, January, 1849.
Herman Melville's Mardi, and a Voyage Thither is an astounding work. After he got wildly famous for writing the South Seas adventure stories Typee and Omoo, Melville indulged his philosophical interests and wrote Mardi, which destroyed his reputation almost entirely. Ostensibly a tale about a voyage in the Pacific that goes horribly wrong, Mardi shows Melville spreading his literary wings. Aficionados of Sterne or Jonathan Swift should do themselves a favor and look into this mad satire: the protagonist's travels include stops at islands like Dominora and Vivenza which strangely resemble modern nations like Britain and America. There are episodes dealing with war, law, and academia, as well as running gags aplenty, that demonstrate a brilliant sense of humor that is seldom ascribed to Melville. For fans of extravagant philosophical fiction, Mardi presents a party of loquacious travelers conducting lively discussions on subjects like astronomy, ethics, religion, and prophecy. In retrospect, it's not too hard to believe that readers in 1849 weren't ready for Mardi. A couple of subsequent seafaring yarns weren't enough to bring his readership back, and then difficult masterworks like Moby-Dick and Pierre drove the nail in the coffin of his celebrity. This is a fascinating work that deserves a wider readership. Have any other bibliophiles here read or heard of this strange masterpiece?
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