Tag Archives: Charles Warren Stoddard

‘SOUTH SEA IDYLS’ BY CHARLES WARREN STODDARD

‘South Sea Idyls’ is a collection of tales written by Charles Warren Stoddard, which recounts his journeys to Hawaii and French Polynesia. The book was first published in 1873. Its English edition is called ‘Summer Cruising in the South Seas’.

SOUTH SEA IDYLS

Summary

The Blue Continent is the place where Charles Warren Stoddard feels at home. In love with the islands and most of all in their inhabitants, he often returns to Oceania to appreciate the nature and simple life people lead there.

As he spends time with the native islanders, he discovers their beguiling cultures and takes delights in whatever is being offered to him. He quickly notices that in the Pacific, life is just sweeter, easier, and more beautiful than anywhere else.

Review

When this book was first published, it stirred up some controversy. Even today some people may consider it… slightly off-putting, if you will. Because, contrary to what you may expect, this account is not just about travels to foreign and exotic lands.

Before we delve into Charles Warren Stoddard’s personal experiences in the South Seas, let’s focus on the region itself. It is remarkably well described. The author made sure readers could ‘see’ the places he went to. Every single page is full of word-pictures, which show the extraordinary beauty of Polynesia. No detail is spared. Everything is so vivid you feel as if you were standing right next to the writer. Smells, tastes, views, sounds, sensations are almost real. This book is like a watercolour painting – mesmerizing to such a degree you can’t take your eyes off of it.

Now, if the book is the painting, Charles Warren Stoddard is the painter. I am not sure if he had ever held a brush in his hand, but what he managed to achieve with this travelogue-cum-memoir suggests he might have. All the stories presented in this collection are limned  with painterly skill. The author’s poetic and flowery language is in full blossom here and you can’t help but marvel at his tremendous talent. However, for some readers this distinctive writing style may be a little overwhelming. The account is not very ‘action-packed’; it thrives on detailed depictions of places, people, customs, traditions, and cultures. If this is not the type of literature you find enjoyable to read, this book will not be a good fit for you.

I know what you must be thinking right now: what exactly is controversial about this work? Well, apart from being a nice travelogue, it is also a homoerotic memoir. Now, let me be clear here, sexual references do not dominate the stories. In some tales (‘The Last of the Great Navigator’, for example), they do not appear at all. Nevertheless, a perceptive reader will easily notice a great number of young, handsome, and usually naked men who show up in most of the chapters. Interesting is the fact that even in these intimate descriptions, Charles Warren Stoddard is very subtle and completely devoid of vulgarity. But again, if this is something you don’t feel comfortable reading about, this book is not for you.

‘South Sea Idyls’ is a classic of travel literature. And as such it is without a doubt worthy of anyone’s time and attention. Yes, some of the author’s words may shock a little, but the islands… The islands are as stunning, as real as in no other book.

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THE REAL PASIFIKA

‘Let’s get one thing straight before we start. The South Pacific is not Paradise. […] But you will come here for the same reason the adventurers, mutineers, wanderers, pirates and hunters came – for the dream. And it is still here, the way it should be. Put your toes in the water of the clear warm lagoon, listen to the reef’s thunder and gaze into the middle distance as the sun blazes through the breeze-shuffled palms. It’s not Paradise here – it only seems that way.’

Graeme Kennedy, ‘New Tales of the South Pacific – Paradise NOT’


‘The simple and natural life of the islander beguiles me; I am at home with him; all the rites of savagedom find a responsive echo in my heart; it is as though I recollected something long forgotten; it is like a dream dimly remembered, and at last realized; it must be that the untamed spirit of some aboriginal ancestor quickens my blood.’

Charles Warren Stoddard, ‘Summer Cruising in the South Seas’


‘When I first visited the islands of the South Pacific as an adult twenty years ago, I was in no way disappointed by what I found there. The islands’ shores, reefs, lagoons and forests captivated me. From their coasts or mountains the Pacific Ocean’s beauty and changing moods could be readily observed: silken and docile one day, tempestuous and threatening the next. And every day, spellbinding.’

Graeme Lay, ‘The Miss Tutti Frutti Contest: Travel Tales of the South Pacific’


‘Careful scrutiny of a world map, however, shows that only these small islands of the Pacific are both remote enough and pleasant enough for serious paradise potential as generally defined. For most, isolation has proved a protection from the ugly contagion of an urbanizing and traveling world. The climate is right, tourism is thin, and valuable mineral resources rare. The military or strategic value that was once attached to some of these places is almost gone. Most have proved insufficiently interesting for permanent takeover by outsiders, and are peopled by their old clans. And most are simply lovely.’

Andrew Rayner, ‘Reach for Paradise’


‘Few men who come to the islands leave them; they grow grey where they alighted; the palm shades and the trade-wind fans them till they die, perhaps cherishing to the last the fancy of a visit home, which is rarely made, more rarely enjoyed, and yet more rarely repeated.’

Robert Louis Stevenson, ‘In the South Seas’