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Abstract  

The idea of the noble savage is as early as Oroonoko; or, The Royal Slave (1688), a novel by Aphra Behn, or Friday, the cannibal in Robinson Crusoe(1719).In Chateaubriand's major novels with New World settings it mirrors European yearning for naivet and purity. In Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales both the “white savage” Natty Bumppo and his friend, the Indian chief, Chingachgook are destined to be outmoded by historical forces. An early novel, Typee: A Peep at Polyneasian Life during a Four Months' Residence in a Valley of the Marquesas, by Herman Melville discloses that the Typee way of life is not very conducive to upholding the European myth of the noble savage. Robert Louis Stevenson's relative success in falling into the embrace of the South Seas when he settled in Samoa is contrasted with Paul Gauguin's contradictory search for Rousseauesque refuge in a primitive culture and his yearning for recognition as an artist by European contemporaries. The idea of the noble savage has been a productive misprision or cultural lie in many respects but today its lingering clich supports a superannuated hord of lesser Gauguins.