Read Billy Budd and Other Stories by Herman Melville Frederick Busch Online


Tales of compelling power by one of America's greatest writersStung by the critical reception and lack of commercial success of his previous two works, Moby-Dick and Pierre, Herman Melville became obsessed with the difficulties of communicating his vision to readers. His sense of isolation lies at the heart of these later works. "Billy Budd, Sailor," a classic confrontatioTales of compelling power by one of America's greatest writersStung by the critical reception and lack of commercial success of his previous two works, Moby-Dick and Pierre, Herman Melville became obsessed with the difficulties of communicating his vision to readers. His sense of isolation lies at the heart of these later works. "Billy Budd, Sailor," a classic confrontation between good and evil, is the story of an innocent young man unable to defend himself against a wrongful accusation. The other selections here--"Bartleby," "The Encantadas," "Benito Cereno," and "The Piazza"--also illuminate, in varying guises, the way fictions are created and shared with a wider society.In his introduction Frederick Busch discusses Melville's preoccupation with his "correspondence with the world," his quarrel with silence, and why fiction was, for Melville,"a matter of life and death."Bartleby --The piazza --The Encantadas --The bell-tower --Benito Cereno --The paradise of bachelors and the tartarus of maids --Billy Budd, sailor....

Title : Billy Budd and Other Stories
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ISBN : 9780140390537
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 416 Pages
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Billy Budd and Other Stories Reviews

  • Rebecca McNutt
    2019-05-14 18:13

    Herman Melville is one of my favourite authors in the realm of classic fiction in that his stories start off rather mundane, even almost boring, but suddenly in each of them, it becomes apparent that there's much more excitement in-store than meets the eye.

  • Jonathan
    2019-04-22 17:15

    This, ladies and gents, is what we call round these parts a darn good sentence: "By the side of pebbly waters--waters the cheerier for their solitude; beneath swaying fir-boughs, petted by no season, but still green in all, on I journeyed--my horse and I; on, by an old saw-mill, bound down and hushed with vines, that his grating voice no more was heard; on, by a deep flume clove through snowy marble, vernal-tinted, where freshet eddies had, on each side, spun out empty chapels in the living rock; on, where Jacks-in-the-pulpit, like their Baptist namesake, preached but to the wilderness; on, where a huge, cross-grain block, fern-bedded, showed where, in forgotten times, man after man had tried to split it, but lost his wedges for his pains--which wedges yet rusted in their holes; on,where, ages past, in step-like ledges of a cascade, skull-hollow pots had been churned out by ceaseless whirling of a flint stone--ever wearing, but itself unworn; on, by wild rapids pouring into a secret pool, but soothed by circling there awhile, issued forth serenely; on,to less broken ground, and by a little ring, where, truly, fairies must have danced, or else some wheel-tire been heated--for all was bare; still on, and up, and out into a hanging orchard, where maidenly looked down upon me a crescent moon, from morning."According to many reviewer on here and other sites such a sentence is "unreadable" or "meandering" or "too long and confusing". It is interesting (well, mildly interesting) to note how stating a text is "unreadable" (as though this was some sort of universal category into which it can be placed) allows one to deflect the potential damage to one's self-esteem in admitting the truer statement that one was unable to read it. The blaming of the text rather than admitting one's own limitations is usually also accompanied by a dismissal of any other reader who had a more positive view as being "pretentious", or somehow something performative designed to shape the way the reader is perceived. The idea that someone could read the above quote and receive nothing but sincere joy, genuine pleasure, from the reading, is rejected. I am not quite sure why I am writing this, other than that I am bored at work. I am growing increasingly convinced that no one reads these reviews anyway. I would be lying if I did not admit that part of the reason for writing them is my own thinking out loud, as well as the fact that I like typing word after word after word and seeing where they take me. The lure of the echo chamber remains. After all, this is Melville for god's sake. What on earth can I possibly add to the discussion? Anyway. All the stories here are well worth your time, particularly those (if you are anything like me) you may have read before and forgotten or never even heard of. Billy and Bartleby and Benito (he does like his "B" names!) are pretty damn essential reading.

  • Jonfaith
    2019-05-11 01:34

    Distinctly we see the difference of the colors, but where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity.Billy and Bartleby are old friends, portraits of bejeweled philosophy. Strange as it may appear, the selection which punched me in the jaw was Cock-A-Doodle-Do: a tale told by a fellow traveler (he drinks porter and reads Rabelais) about a magical fowl which is a fount of bliss, an actual agent of earthly happiness.

  • Edward
    2019-05-08 21:11

    Introduction--Bartleby--The Piazza--The Encantadas--The Bell-Tower--Benito Cereno--The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids--Billy Budd, Sailor

  • Ben Winch
    2019-05-13 20:20

    Herman Melville – of course, it’s understood – was a genius, but I find his work difficult and, more importantly, not always enlightening. His prose, to say the least, is mannered and contorted; reading it can oftentimes seem like negotiating a thornbush. But at its root (and this is what makes the going slow, since I can’t simply push through without its grasping me) it’s strong, wedded to meaning as to earth, deep-reaching. As a prose-writer, then, Melville is dazzling, always sure of what he wants to say even as the twists and turns of his sentences make the likelihood of his having planned them unlikely, able to think on his feet, deft, agile, and most importantly, always alive-seeming, his effects all movement and indrawn-outdrawn breath, not the static wood-carvings of too many mannered nineteenth century writers. That said, its the meaning – the roots of it all – where I take exception, or at the very least question what could possibly motivate the man, whose more obscure concerns seem rarefied at best and semi-autistic at worst, and when the message is clear (or seems so; am I missing something?), as in “Benito Cerino”, is so clear as to be confounding, because surely he couldn’t have required 100 pages just to tell us that, could he? (Where’s the mystery? Within ten pages everyone, surely, knows the score, except for his witless narrator. A nice trick, for ten pages.) Of course “Bartleby” is the exception, a masterpiece, but it makes me all the sadder when I can’t find that heft (or what seems to me heft; let’s just say a plane on which our concerns/perceptions can meet) in the other stories. Which is to say, so much of meeting, of seeing, of finding a book comes down to temperament, the author’s and the reader’s. It’s not just what Melville writes, nor how he writes it, but why he does so, why he thinks it’s important. I may not grasp that why, may not be able to elucidate it, but I have to share a sense of it, an inkling. In Melville’s case, for the most part, I have an inkling, but not much more. Except for in “Bartleby” never does he blow me over. The power of “Bartleby” comes from its being both a howl and a chuckle, and granted that’s a common theme here. But why’s he howling? I may come to grasp it; I’m not ruling it out. For now let’s just say he’s a genius, but not quite my kind of guy.

  • Lobstergirl
    2019-04-25 21:09

    Unbelievably, Melville had a hard time making a living from his writing.[That was sarcasm.]His style is overly archaic. I read a fair amount of classic literature, but this is just ridiculous. In the mid to late 19th century, were people still saying "Hark!"? And "Blah, blah, blah, thought I"? Really? You can't convince me. 1. From that tree-top, what birded chimes of silver throats had rung. 2. Dire sight it is to see some silken beast long dally with a golden lizard ere she devour.3. Himself became reserved.REALLY? Himself?? Because "he" is just too simple?I don't care if you are writing in the fourth century, the fifteenth century, the 19th century, or the 55th century; if you write a sentence like "himself became reserved" you deserve every heap of scorn and lack of income that comes your way.Billy Budd and Benito Cereno, the two longest stories here, are actually the least offensive and most readable, stylistically. (Least offensive stylistically, I must stress; Benito Cereno is quite offensive racially and makes a fascinating study of that issue.) But The Piazza is one of the most ridiculous things I've ever read. The Encantadas is just barely fiction - it's more of a travelogue. If you can get through its ten sketches, give yourself a pat on the back. The Lightning-Rod Man and The Bell-Tower made me want to throw myself off a cliff they were so dull.I did feel like his homoeroticism was a little ahead of its time, though. If Billy Budd is not a gay icon, I can't understand why."You have but noted his fair cheek. A man-trap may be under his ruddy-tipped daisies."Now the Handsome Sailor, as a signal figure among the crew, had naturally enough attracted the Captain's attention from the first. Though in general not very demonstrative to his officers, he had congratulated Lieutenant Ratcliffe upon his good fortune in lighting on such a fine specimen of the genus homo, who in the nude might have posed for a statue of young Adam before the Fall.And "The Town-Ho's Story?" Yes....of course I thought that meant the town ho.

  • Jeremy
    2019-05-03 17:37

    This review pertains to ‘Bartleby’Nothing so aggravates an earnest person as a passive resistance.My interest in the ideas of Slavoj Zizek led me back to Melville’s collected short stories to read ‘Bartleby’, a scrivener who would almost always prefer not to. Whenever asked to do something other than his most basic understood task, he would prefer not to, no matter how reasonable the claim. And, eventually, even so for his most basic understood task.On errands of life, these letters speed to death.Bartleby’s resistance expands and expands, until it resists life itself; and out comfortable lawyer narrator charts its movement (or lack thereof) around him in high style. It charms him, bewitches him; even if it does not Bartleby’s erstwhile colleagues, who resent it. They would also prefer not to, but they do not resist. Everyone, in fact, would prefer not to. Bartleby’s heroism lies in the fact that he follows through on it. In out desperate affirmative self-help-guru go-get-’em cultural desert, his negation shines as a positive and constructive note, a silent scream. He was more a man of preferences than assumptions.Again, Melville seems ahead of his times in the ideas he is exploring through his work, just as Whitman was so in his form. Do we ever really know what’s up with Bartleby? Our narrator comes up with theories, and maybe he gets close to the mark. Dead letters are like dead men. Where do our messages go, really? Is there a recipient? Or is it the fire? And he finally sees in Bartleby something tragic that connects his lot with humanity as a whole. But he still must retreat from it, just as he kept retreating from Bartleby’s negations throughout. ‘I know where I am,’ he replied, but he would say nothing more, so I left him.This review pertains to ‘Billy Budd, Sailor’Passion, and passion at its profoundest, is not a thing demanding a palatial stage whereon to play its part.I find it interesting that two writers like Melville and Whitman co-existed, and how they must have co-existed; and, while the latter won the war of style and almost single-handedly cut from the log of world literature a new and ever-lasting American brand of aesthetic energy and poetics, the former that failed, and remained poised always in the before-hand, produced the true great American work of writing, and while maybe just as few people have read Moby-Dick as Leaves of Grass, many more will have an awareness of the former, even if their own writing is married more firmly to the latter.I came to this short work of fiction though through my political anarchist channels, and through my love of aforementioned tome, Moby-Dick, a novel I would rank in my top five ever written. And while this work did not hit such heights of human insight and subtle universal irony, it was a worthy read, with achingly beautiful sentences once you allow your reading breath to match the demand of the stiff-walking pace. It’s a kind of inner reading ear. You need to let it settle in a bit.After scanning their faces he stood less as mustering his thoughts for expression, than as one inly deliberating how best to put them to well-meaning men not intellectually mature, men with whom it was necessary to demonstrate certain principles that were axioms to himself.And it’s worth it—even just for ‘inly’. There is certainly an anti-Statist them to be drawn out of this story, but it strikes me more of a kind of Old Testament critique of the vanity of man requiring a King-on-earth (see Saul...) instead of the great King of Earth, or Nature. And this theme is certainly not hidden away in the poop deck. Budd is snatched away into military service for the King on the ‘Bellipotent’ (Mighty in War) from a free merchant vessel called ‘Rights-of-Man’, and there’s angelic/god-like language used regularly to describe Budd, the ‘Handsome Sailor’ model (and Melville was writing before the Carry On films, so let’s click pause on the homoerotic angle, please...) almost like some Edenic Adam of pre-Fall purity and grace ... with his one and only flaw a flaw of communication: he stutters, but only when put under pressure, like many people so-afflicted who have fought the affliction back. But there’s just as much a Hellenic vibe as Hebrew: Life in the foretop well agreed with Billy Budd. There, when not actually engaged on the yards yet higher aloft, the topmen, who as such had been picked out for youth and activity, constituted an aerial club lounging at ease against the smaller stun’sails rolled up into cushions, spinning yarns like the lazy gods, and frequently amused with what was going on in the busy world of the decks below.Budd can do anything, and is loved by all, no matter what he does or where he goes ... with a notable exception, and through this, comes the conflict. Ag’in the Handsome Sailor comes Jemmy Legs, the Belipotent’s Master-at-Arms, John Claggart. He is an Iago-like figure who Budd, due to his purity, has not the ability to suss out. He has been......dropped into a world not without some man-traps and against whose subtleties simple courage, lacking experience and address and without any touch of defensive ugliness, is of little avail; and where such innocence as man is capable of does yet in a moral emergency not always sharpen the faculties or enlighten the will.And his judge, Captain ‘Starry’ Vere, is a learned man of both compassion and understanding, but must always fall back on the King as his ruler, so that any offence ends with that sense of service, even if to hold with a sentence is to cross Nature (God) itself. ”Struck dead by an angel of God! Yet the angel must hang!”There is an irony (albeit a little ham-fisted) in play regarding the nature of man in relation to power. The English are at war with the French, and a revolutionary spirit is at work among the common men of the soldiery, not to mention the fact that many of them are prisoners forced to serve, ‘impressed men’, and fight against those that were liberated from the Bastille... Yet, since Nature and the heavens et al are regularly danced with here, a wider sense of power and servitude could be taken from the narrative. ”Be direct, man; say impressed men.”And this line worked on me heavily. We are impressed upon and we are also impressed by things that then we follow, perhaps into war, or even a metaphorical war. An impression can be from both within and without. And it is Vere’s line. The one who works out the King’s justice over God’s, and has God’s worked on him above the King’s. An anarchist is not necessarily an atheist, but the two tend to go hand-in-hand in contemporary politics. And it’s in the manner of Budd’s demise that the contemporary anarchist will have little association with, and find it’s propaganda just as thick as that of the King’s version of events... Nevertheless, its aesthetic engine is as pure as a Handsome Sailor.

  • Nathan
    2019-05-08 17:25

    Piazza Tales plus Billy Budd ; because I could no longer wait/shop for the correct edition. Which would be the Northwestern-Newberry from Hayford and Parker, ie, Piazza Tales and Other Prose Pieces, 1839-1860. But I’ll still be looking for it.Here’s the clever One=Liner Review, piece by piece ::Billy Budd : A lesson in the objective nature of The Law, or, Why one might prefer the capricious judgment of The Wise.“The Piazza” : An important piece for the thesis that all fiction is (nothing but) autobiography.“Bartleby” : Prerequisite for the study of Žižek’s strategies of resistance.“Benito Cereno” : Another lesson ; this one either for The Reactionary in how to put down the movement of freedom ;; or for The Freedom=Mover in how to bore within [we may need this one in coming years]. “The Lightening-Rod Man” : Originally about the silly guy selling salvation from hell ; now a story about atheists saving us from The Poison of Religion.“The Encantadas, or Enchanted Islands” : Some cool shit in those islands.“The Bell-Tower” ; < spoiler > Is this one habitually counted among 19th cent. proto=Sci-Fi? < /spoiler > or, maybe an unrecognized genre, the Renaissance=Man Fiction, because it’s distinct from the Rocket=Man variety, science being what it was at that time.... “The Town-Ho’s Story from Moby-Dick ; Did not (re)read. As the only chapter of The Big Dick to be magazine pub’d, this would be an early instantiation of what would become (near) habitual for the encyclopedic novel, it’s work-in-progress’ing. Pierre is definitely on the menu (still looking for that correct edition) ; and probably Clarel ;; but I’m undecided about Melville’s First Five. Aren’t they little more than Verne-esque adventure stories? ...other hand, didn’t Schmidt dig Verne?

  • Adrian Astur Alvarez
    2019-05-15 00:27

    I would prefer not to say what I thought.

  • Patrick
    2019-05-05 20:18

    Some words regarding the stories collected in this volume:BARTLEBY THE SCRIVENERI’m sure that nobody could have predicted that a stage in the afterlife of poor Bartleby would be to become a semi-niche meme amongst literary millennials. You can buy t-shirts and coffee mugs with ‘I would prefer not to’ on; it seems unlikely that most other characters from Melville’s other fiction could become currency in the same way. I don’t have any particular problem with this but it does mean the story now comes with baggage which is at least worth unpacking before we dispose of it altogether. Something of its popularity has to do with its form: it’s a short existential comedy about a strange man who will never leave his office; it is not a million miles from the bits of Kafka that everyone knows about, and it’s not far removed from Seinfeld either. It is funny, and it’s accessible. It’s about work. It’s about the opposite of the ambition we are all supposed to nurture. It’s about a certain kind of resignation which is not felt in terms of surrender but in terms of safety. If you ever find yourself in a job you don’t especially like, but which you find it impossible to leave, you will find something to enjoy here.In this regard the story has broad appeal, just as it was intended to have: Melville originally wrote it for a magazine to make money after the critical and commercial failure of Moby-Dick, and in terms of his prose it at least has the vibe of a straightforward story, simply told. But ‘simply told’ does not necessarily equate to ‘simple’. The narrator is an intelligent man, an elderly lawyer; worldly as far as his profession is concerned, but entirely lacking in imaginative faculties. His flustered incomprehension at Bartleby’s permanent state of reluctance is entertaining on the level of a bewildered boss in a sitcom. But more troubling is the total absence of any other perspective.A different narrator — Ishmael, perhaps — would know the questions to ask of a Bartleby. And he would know the limit of any such questions. He would take an axe to his skull if necessary. But in this instance, there is no such room for deliberation. The narrator’s concern for his welfare is contemptible and founded in self-interest: ‘…to humor him in his strange willfulness, will cost me little or nothing, while I lay up in my soul what will eventually prove a sweet morsel for my conscience.’ As it turns out he will not even have the patience to humour him for very long. Self-abnegation is not a viable strategy in the modern world, not even for those as monastic in their habits as Bartleby. It enrages others when it comes to their attention.We are supposed to find a certain relentless horror in the repetition of this image: a man alone, facing a window day after day behind which there is nothing to see; a man going slowly blind. It is the horror of the condition of the worker who willingly gives up space in his brain to accommodate the capital of his employer. But it’s also the horror of his employer who can only see before him a machine gone wrong.There is something perpetually inscrutable about almost everything Melville ever wrote. This extends even to the popular conception of him: the title alone of Moby-Dick has become shorthand in public life for the great unreadable novel. But Bartleby the Scrivener is a story about the human cost of becoming unreadable. Presenteeism will not do; it is not enough to show up, and technical mastery will not suffice, in any vocation; if one cannot (or ‘would prefer not to’) perform the requisite emotional labour required to engender human empathy, one's presence can only ever be a net loss on society. The only rational action remaining is to erase oneself entirely from the world, or to allow oneself to be erased. COCK A DOODLE DOO!Talk about relentless: this is a tale with all the pace and vigour of the steam trains the author so deplores in the first few pages. Part picaresque, part parody of Wordsworth, it’s a bizarre story about a man who becomes preoccupied with the crowing of a local cockerel. With all the clear-eyed obsession of a character from Poe, he sets out to find it, and its owner.(Wikipedia gives an uncited description of this as: ‘one of Melville's experiments in utilizing sexually explicit metaphors, in an effort to challenge what Melville saw as a culture of sexual repression and the subjugation of women in contemporary America’. If this is the case then I missed it entirely.)It starts out like a stand up comedy routine. The words come in long, rampaging paragraphs, along the lines of Sterne (who the narrator sits down and reads at one point). Our man is much too busy pronouncing on the state of the world to much care about the debt collector lingering at his door. From time to time appears something that looks like an allegory — the old farmer struggling to repair his swaying fence that rests on rotten pins — but until he finds his cockerel, the story cannot settle.He has to follow the voice of the cockerel to its source. And what he finds there is terrible: a man who has forsaken his wife and children in favour of worshipping his cock. He lives in a poor shack, and while dedicated to his pursuits, he seems utterly deluded about the state of his existence:‘Poor man like me? Why call me poor? Don’t the cock I own glorify this otherwise inglorious, lean, lantern-jawed land? Didn’t my cock encourage you? And I give all this glorification away gratis. I am a great philanthropist. I am a rich man — a very rich man, and a very happy one.’Much the same might we find amongst the bios of certain wags on Twitter. This one has pursued his artistic vision to the extent that it has required him to forego every other part of his life. Is the world grateful? They are not. Only he and this other man, our narrator, recognise the greatness in his crowing. He is probably some kind of monster. But it does not follow that he is wrong, either.THE ENCANTADASWhen Melville served on a whaling vessel, he visited the Galapagos islands on board the Acushnet. Many years later, his experiences there formed the basis for this series of ten sketches. He does not paint an especially alluring picture; but then he did jump ship, and spend many days and nights living off the land before he mustered up the courage to approach the locals. Still, one might think it a little strong to describe these islands as if they were an image of evil ‘glued into the very body of cadaverous death’. It is far removed from the sort of travel writing he wrote when he was younger: the author now seems bent on conveying the absolute seriousness of his tone through his insistence on the dearth of mammalian life on the island. There are only reptiles in sight — and the tortoises, with which he develops an obsession:'Nay, such is the vividness of my memory, or the magic of my fancy, that I know not whether I am not the occasional victim of optical delusion concerning the Gallipagos. For, often in scenes of social merriment, and especially at revels held by candlelight in old-fashioned mansions, so that shadows are thrown into the further recesses of an angular and spacious room, making them put on a look of haunted undergrowth of lonely woods, I have drawn the attention of my comrades by my fixed gaze and sudden change of air, as I have seemed to see, slowly emerging from those imagined solitudes, and heavily crawling along the floor, the ghost of a gigantic tortoise, with " Memento * * * * * " burning in live letters upon his back.'Nobody would set a story in such a place if they did not wish to make a point about something. But as ever, Melville’s intentions remain elusive. The sketches vary wildly: one describes the ascent of a local rock, describing the birds that live on it in accumulating layers; another the ascent of that same rock and how it and the islands came to be discovered and named; all conventional stuff, prettily written. But the stories get progressively more strange.Sailors escape in the Encantadas and make it their home. One sets up a sort of buccaneer rule there, keeping a rough sort of order by the pack of vicious dogs he breeds there. It’s a rough sort of allegory for a nascent America, I suppose; needless to say they do not last long in Melville’s imagination. More durable is Hunilla, a woman left alone on one of the islands for years, after the sudden death of her husband and his friend. The book approaches the tragedy of her condition, and attempts a depiction, but it keeps a distance. The implication is that she has suffered a profound kind of awfulness, and even the narrator doubts his ability to convey it, to the extent of interrupting himself mid-sentence:‘Against my own purposes a pause descends upon me here. One knows not whether nature doth not impose some secrecy upon him who has been privy to certain things. At least, it is to be doubted whether it be good to blazon such. If some books are deemed most baneful and their sale forbid, how, then, with deadlier facts, not dreams of doting men? Those whom books will hurt will not be proof against events. Events, not books, should be forbid. But in all things man sows upon the wind, which bloweth just there whither it listeth; for ill or good, man cannot know. Often ill comes from the good, as good from ill.‘When Hunilla—‘Dire sight it is to see some silken beast long dally with a golden lizard ere she devour. More terrible, to see how feline Fate will sometimes dally with a human soul, and by a nameless magic make it repulse a sane despair with a hope which is but mad. Unwittingly I imp this cat-like thing, sporting with the heart of him who reads; for if he feel not he reads in vain.’The doubt here is notable. As with many of his little stories, Melville borrowed Hunilla’s tale from the real story of a lone woman who was rescued from San Nicholas Island. And here he is, taking her story, adapting it and selling it for money. ‘Events, not books, should be forbid,’ is a disclaimer of sorts — a way of saying ‘don’t blame me for taking this story; in its common awfulness it belongs to humanity’. The extent to which this convinces may depend on the nature of the reader.THE BELL TOWEROn a superficial level this is a gothic parable about the folly of ambition. But it is also a rather odd, half-developed allegory for race relations. This much is actually announced by the anonymous epigraph (from one of the author’s own manuscripts) that precedes it: ‘Like negroes, these powers own man sullenly; mindful of their higher master; while serving, plot revenge.’It is set in Italy, sometime in the early Renaissance, a master architect named Bannadonna designs and builds a great tower — one of the tallest ever conceived. (In my mind it looks something like the Torre del Mangia in Sienna, though there are countless other campaniles that would serve just as well.) To cap it, he conceives of a system of clock and bells that functions in a unique fashion; he reveals to nobody how it will work, but those who have been near the top claim to hear a set of footsteps where no person should be at the top of the tower.The end comes soon, and almost by accident; Bannadonna is putting the finishing touches to the artwork of the clock when he is killed. He had created an automaton from black iron to ring the bell — it so happened that the creator’s skull, distracted with creative thought, intervened between the hammer and bell. It’s not dissimilar to the man preoccupied with the sound of his own cock in Cock-a-doodle-doo! but there’s something else going on here too. A certain inevitability: the feeling that Bannadonna must die, and that his tower must fall, is surely evident to the reader as soon as the comparison to Babel is mentioned on the very first page. But that death should come via a figure so fundamentally imbued with blackness suggests themes that Meville would explore in more depth and complexity in a later story…BENITO CERENOWe are back at sea. It is a story told in retrospect by Delano, the captain of a whaling ship. They encounter an old Spanish man o’ war, apparently drifting in some distress. He visits and boards the ship and finds that it has been lately converted to carry slaves. But something seems odd, and Delano cannot quite put his finger on it. The slaves are not in chains but walk openly amongst the Spanish on deck; a group of them sit on the quarter-deck, forever sharpening hatchets; a black man is seen striking a white sailor in anger, and no punishment is issued. Cereno, the captain, seems inexplicably nervous, even in the presence of his favourite slave Babo. And why is he asking about the armaments carried on Delano’s own ship? Could these be pirates plotting some kind of assault on the whalers?This tension is drawn out over what feels like a long reminiscence. To a reader it’s likely to be fairly evident what has happened, but Delano is fairly stupid, and has no idea until he tries to leave. While his crew are rowing him away, Cereno leaps from his own ship and into Delano’s boat. It is not until Babo pursues and tries to kill Cereno that Delano comes to realise what has happened: the Spanish ship has been taken over by the slaves, who are holding the Spanish crew captive so as to pass undetected.It is this which creates the uncanny atmosphere aboard the old ship. That atmosphere is perhaps the strongest aspect of the story, though as ever Melville’s style lays the sense of strangeness on thick at every opportunity. It is actually a tale taken from true life — the actual memoirs of the real Captain Delano — but Melville adds a great deal of embellishment.Most curious of all is an extended section following Delano’s first-person narrative that is written as if the text of a legal document: it explains in detail the circumstances leading up to the uprising of the slaves, but it also effectively exonerates the sailors of much of the responsibility. Needless to say it says next to nothing about the lives of the black people aboard the ship. Delano’s casual unreliability as a narrator is thus contrasted; here is a supposedly authentic, accurate record of experience that nevertheless clearly and deliberately omits a vast further range of experience that goes unspoken, unwritten for this story.It’s a feeling elegantly underlined by the coda here. Melville puts Delano and Cereno together again in a scene now overlooked by an omniscient narrator. Delano is optimistic but Cereno is deeply melancholic:‘You generalise, Don Benito; and mournfully enough. But the past is passed; why moralise upon it? Forget it. See, yon bright sun has forgotten it all, and the blue sea, and the blue sky; these have turned over new leaves.’‘Because they have no memory,’ he dejectedly replied; ‘because they are not human.’Cereno’s sadness comes from his sense of dereliction of duty. But what Cereno does not understand is that the problem was the duty itself, not his failure to inhabit it:‘…The dress, so precise and costly, worn by him on the day whose events have been narrated, had not willingly been put on. And that silver-mounted sword, apparent symbol of despotic command, was not, indeed, a sword, but the ghost of one. The scabbard, artificially stiffened, was empty…’‘Artificially stiffened’ would be an adequate way to describe the pages and pages of legalese that follow Delano’s narrative. Sincere to the end, on the other hand, is the character of Babo - if that is even his name. ‘On the testimony of the sailors alone rested the legal identity of Babo’. He is silent when questioned; when placed before the judge, he faints. He is a person turned into a fiction enabled by slavery. The human being behind that character has been erased by the process of history.BILLY BUDDIt is odd that this novella should find its way into this volume at all. All the stories written above were originally written for magazines and published in a collection called Piazza Tales in 1856. After that, there would be another novel (The Confidence Man) and various poems, but very little in the way of critical or financial success. Eventually Melville gave up writing full time altogether. In 1866 he became a customs inspector, a job which he held for some 19 years; apparently he was quite good at it. What he wrote in his free time he published privately in small quantities, or kept to himself — Billy Budd wasn’t discovered until after his death, and even then went unreleased until 1924.It is, in its way, a simple story. Billy is a sailor who is pressed into the service of the British navy during the time of the Napoleonic wars. He is a beautiful creature, a likeable innocent — a sort of noble savage — who for no particular reason attracts the attention of Claggart, the master-at-arms. Claggart comes to hate Billy. In front of the captain, a man named Vere, Claggart accuses Billy of treasonous thoughts and deeds; in response, Billy hits Claggart, who dies. As a result, Vere sentences Billy to death, and Billy is executed by hanging.In terms of action, there isn’t much too it. It is supposedly unfinished; yet Billy’s story has a beginning, a middle, and a very definitive end. All of this is divided over 30 very short chapters, some of which are as digressive and discursive as anything in Moby-Dick. The writing has all the old mystery but it feels like a work of late style — the characters don’t seem to animate as one would expect from a work of historical fiction (and it was historic even when it was written) but rather they feel like moral abstractions brought to life. The author is trying to explain to the reader what life was like on a such a ship at the time; but he is also trying to say something about the way in which humanity orders its affairs; and these two things aren’t so carefully balanced here as they were in Moby-Dick. Yet as ever there is the same sense we always have in Meville of exhaustion, even impatience, with the limitations of the novelistic form.The point is that Billy’s situation is inherently absurd. He has been put in an impossible situation by the lies of a senior officer, and that officer is now dead. Vere is intelligent enough to see and understand all this quite well, but he also knows that in the interests of maintaining order on his ship (and throughout the fleet) Billy must be put to death. On the level of the individual, his execution is in nobody’s interest, but society demands it regardless.The intent, I suppose, is that this is not only a story about the Navy but about the world at large. Belief in Billy’s fate is besides the point; we are only expected to recognise that this is the way the world works. From time to time it is necessary that a perfectly innocent person must suffer in order for the rest of the world to persist in the delusion that justice can be blind. Similarly, it was necessary to throw Bartleby in jail out of fear that we might all become Bartlebys. But at any distance of consideration it starts to look more like what it is: the sacrifice of one small man’s life to placate the shadow of a larger abstraction; an action born out of the fear that if overlooked, the abstraction might consume them all.

  • Jan-Maat
    2019-05-08 01:24

    "Bartleby...just step round to the Post Office, won't you?"..."I would prefer not to.""You will not?""I prefer not."

  • Richard
    2019-04-27 23:31

    Otherwise known as "Billy Budd, Sailor", this, along with the other book, about the white whale, never brought fame to Herman Melville during his lifetime. In fact, "Billy Budd", a novella, started in 1886, was left unfinished at Melville's death in 1801, and was not published until 1924. Like "Moby-Dick", it contains elements from Melville's personal experiences aboard sailing ships in the Nineteenth Century, and plumbs the dark depths of human emotion.Billy is a strong, capable, cheerful and charismatic fellow who is happily employed as a seaman aboard the English merchant "Rights-of-Man" when the ship is boarded by a press gang on the high seas, from the Royal Navy ship "Bellipotent." This occurs during the early years of the Napoleonic Wars, in 1797. The Royal Navy was chronically short of manpower throughout this period, due not only to the need to fill crews for a hugely increased number of ships built for the war, but also to compensate for the constant desertions caused by the poor food, exhausting work conditions and draconian punishment served on the sailors as freely as their daily rum rations and dollops of figgy dowdy pudding on Sundays. Billy, true to his nature, performs his duties as foretopman cheerfully as a member of the "Bellipotent" crew after his impressment into the navy. He becomes an admired role model to all of the crew except one, the dastardly ship's master-at-arms Claggart, who apparently never met a saint he didn't hate. While remaining outwardly friendly to the gullible Billy, Claggart retains a growing hatred which culminates in a visit to the ship's commander, Captain Vere. Since Claggart's position on the ship is a sort of First Sergeant to the ordinary sailors, he is allowed to approach the Captain. He falsely tells Vere that Billy is involved in mutinous conversations with other crew members and urges Vere to take action against him.This is a very serious accusation to make against any sailor, but it was especially alarming at this time in history. It is no coincidnce that Melville picked 1797 as the date of the story. That was the year that the Royal Navy was beset by mutinies on ships and at its naval bases; the latter included the mutiny at Spithead and what became known as the "Great Mutiny at Nore." These disturbances were put down by force in some instances, and by promises by the navy to improve living conditions for sailors. Now the surviving mutineers could rest assured that their efforts were rewarded, with living conditions for sailors in the navy improving from intolerable to barely tolerable. Nevertheless, the officers on every ship in the Royal Navy at this time were extremely sensitive about hearing rumors of anything that sounded like mutiny.Captain Vere addressed this accusation by having Billy brought to his cabin to be confronted by Claggart's accusations. Billy was allowed to voice his defense after hearing the case against him. Unfortunately, Billy spoke in a stammer which caused him to be increasingly incomprehensible the more excitable he became, and he was virtually speechless. In his extreme frustration, he lashed out and struck a blow to Claggart's head. Claggart died on the deck of the ship almost instantly. Vere, aware that justice had been served on Claggart, spontaneously declared "Struck dead by an angel of God! Yet the angel must hang!" Pontious Pilate couldn't have said it any better. Vere almost immediately convenes a drumhead court martial on the ship to try Billy. This is a form of military summary court convened under field or sailing conditions. The court was presided over by three of Vere's officers. The deck was stacked against Billy, since the court's officers were commanded by the Captain and no defense counsel was provided. A case could be made that a trial could have been delayed until the ship returned to port, or to the remainder of the fleet, where other naval officers could be used. Nevertheless, the officers, especially the Royal Marine commander, were fair in their personal assessments of the justifiability of Billy's actions. Couldn't a finding of guilt with extenuating circumstances be rendered? Vere, in a meeting with the three officers, reminded them that it was their duty to observe the law, in particular the Articles of War (which prescribed a mandatory sentence of death for such crimes as mutiny; deliberate burning of a ship; murder; and buggery or sodomy of man or beast), and that swift and decisive action to acquit or condemn was required. In the case of the former, they were told to consider the possible encouragement a finding of not guilty would have on other mutiny plotters.The court of course felt it had no choice but to find Billy guilty, and he was ordered to hanged from a yardarm at dawn the next morning. As the time approached for Billy to be taken up on deck for his execution, the ship's chaplain kissed him on the cheek. Billy's last words were "God bless Captain Vere" as the sun's rays shot through the clouds to create "a soft glory as of the fleece of the Lamb of God" when he was hanged. Waves of danger and anger break over this well told story. Its meaning can be considered from different perspectives. Frederick Busch, in his introduction to the Penguin Classics edition, describes the story as allegory for, first, the Christian Passion, and second, for the anguish Melville felt in his own life after the (apparent suicide) death of his son in the Melville home. Captain Vere can be seen as a father figure. Later in the novel, Vere is mortally wounded in a sea battle, and he dies with the name of Billy Budd on his lips. It can also be seen as a an example of the realities that the condition of war means that individual lives are expendable in pursuit of greater ends; and that the preservation of individual human rights are sometimes sacrificed by institutions when they feel themselves in peril.Melville's motivation may also be driven from the need to air examples of man's inhumanity to man that occurred in his own life. Ian W. Toll, in his excellent "Six Frigates" (W.W. Norton & Company, 2006, p. 474) notes that Melville enlisted as an ordinary seaman on the United States Navy frigate "United States" in Honolulu in 1843. There were 163 reported floggings on the ship during the fourteen months he spent there, an example of extreme naval discipline still in use 46 years after the events in "Billy Budd." Toll connects these experiences with the stories told in Melville's novel "White-Jacket" and "Billy Budd."

  • Matt
    2019-05-11 00:07

    "Billy Budd", as far as I'm concerned, was an airball. A good attempt but it just came up short. The language fairly throttles the story, which is insightful and compelling. "Bartleby" is a masterpiece. So applicable to today's culture- passivity, negative capability, the ravaging effects of routine, capitalism, The Law, resignation, nothingness. "I would prefer not to".....Brilliant!"Benito Cereno" is an excellent moral parable about racism, which again I felt was slightly ruined by the voluminous detail (there's such a thing as too much, you know) and over-elaborated plot and storytelling. One could cut about twenty pages from it and I think the narrative would come shining through. Very interesting especially when applied to Hegel's master/slave dialectic....where the slave is REALLY the one in charge, since without him the master's nothing....!"The Encantadas" I picked up by chance in a bookstore one day and was quickly drawn in. Hypnotic, mediative, surreal, cinematic. Luminous. A slow dream, with travelogue and mystical ruminations for the mind's eye to follow.

  • Jim Coughenour
    2019-05-08 17:35

    I first read Billy Budd in grad school and recall myself being irritated by its stupidity. This time through – well, I can't say I enjoyed it, but I was impressed by Melville's deliberately structured, elevated, almost archaic style. On one level the tale is simply told, with the stark clarity of a myth – or so it appears. In fact the telling is riven, ragged. There are echoes of Greek myths, the Old Testament, the Gospels; of tales of the sea; of legal explication; and of course the mysterious carnality persistent in Melville's glowing descriptions of the Handsome Sailor. As decades of criticism impress, there's no simple reading of the story. Billy Budd is haunted by harm, but the source of that harm is manifold – in the universe, in judicial self-deception, in envy, in beautiful innocence maybe most of all.

  • Aaron Arnold
    2019-05-04 23:15

    I'm glad that Moby Dick isn't the only good thing Melville ever wrote - after having finally actually read it, it was great to be reminded how satisfying it is when something that's been endlessly lauded manages to live up to that reputation. Melville's short stories don't have the iconic status that Moby Dick does, but no one capable of turning out that masterpiece could fail to show some signs of that talent for exploring human nature in his lesser works, and there's plenty for anyone who likes his distinctively discursive but acute style to enjoy here. "Bartleby, the Scrivener", "The Encantadas", and "Benito Cereno" are excellent, with other stories like "Billy Budd, Sailor" still being highly enjoyable.- "Bartleby, the Scrivener". This is possibly the greatest story ever written about the importance of an HR department, as well as a good look at how people cope with the inexplicable in their daily lives. It reads like a 19th century ancestor of the movie Office Space, with the title character's battle cry of "I would prefer not to" encapsulating the oppressed office drone's secret wish of being able to assert at least some volition in a world of meaningless drudgery. That Bartleby was driven into his catatonia of productivity by working in a dead-letter office before his scrivener position in the law firm prefigures a surprising amount about the modern workplace, and the mysterious inability of the unnamed narrator to just fire Bartleby and replace him with someone more like his other copyist assistants is also pretty interesting: when an immovable object like Bartleby drops into your life, what do you do, and what does that say about your management style? A management consultant might have a lot to say about the impact of one bad apple on teamwork and productivity; most other people will identify either with the narrator's inexplicably determined kindness, or Bartleby's justified horror of scrivening and steadfast determination to do his own thing.- "The Piazza". I read this as a straightforward study in perception vs reality wrapped in parody of pastoralism. Behind the dense, Shakespearean verbiage, the difficulty the narrator and Marianna have communicating about what they each see as desirable is a good, if somewhat anodyne elaboration on "the grass is always greener".- "The Encantadas". One of Melville's great gifts is how good he is at turning something insanely boring into a riveting, almost hypnotic journey. This starts off as a series of "sketches" of Galapagos-ish islands, with Melville seemingly determined to describe every rock and tortoise in ten thousand leagues, but slowly he builds it up until you find yourself actually enjoying things like his slurs on that noble avian the pelican:"But look, what are yon wobegone regiments drawn up on the next shelf above? what rank and file of large strange fowl? what sea Friars of Orders Gray? Pelicans. Their elongated bills, and heavy leathern pouches suspended thereto, give them the most lugubrious expression. A pensive race, they stand for hours together without motion. Their dull, ashy plumage imparts an aspect as if they had been powdered over with cinders. A penitential bird, indeed, fitly haunting the shores of the clinkered Encantadas, whereon tormented Job himself might have well sat down and scraped himself with potsherds."The nature descriptions alone would be fine, the envy of travel writers everywhere, but eventually he gets to the adventures of the visitors and inhabitants of the islands and it gets really good. Melville is always very interested in how human nature deals with nature nature, and I see this as a response to the "state of nature" philosophy like Hobbes's work that was so popular in the 18th century. He spends so much time describing how miserable and hellish the islands are so that you're hardly surprised that human beings use them for murder, piracy, slavery, and all that other fun stuff in the sixth through ninth sketches. In particular, the eighth sketch about the marooned newlywed who's lost her husband, brother, and most of her dogs would make the whole story worth the read by itself.- "The Bell-Tower". A criticism I had with this one is that Melville tips his hand too early that Banadonna, the chief horologist who's seeking to create the finest clock tower in Italy, is up to something sinister and hubristic. It's fine to drop Tower of Babel allusions on the first page (his creation of the servant automaton Haman also obviously parallels Frankenstein), but the continuous reminder that something about the project is off got a bit repetitive, and made the comeuppance ending anti-climactic.- "Benito Cereno". In contrast, this was a fantastic case of well-built tension, where the hints of something amiss actually worked well. A big challenge for an author is to let the reader know things the characters don't from the first person without just coming out and saying so. American captain Amasa Delano's rescue of Spanish captain Benito Cereno's seemingly weather-damaged slave-ship proceeds through a lot of curious incidents, but while the Big Clues in "The Bell-Tower" were clumsily telegraphed, in this story Delano's attempts to rationalize away Cereno's odd behavior in the presence of his sinister "assistant" Babo are actually pretty psychologically revealing. Just like in "Bartleby", when confronted with unusual situations, people with power and authority are just as susceptible to strange lapses as anyone. The contrast between Delano's assessment of the character of the ethnicities and their actual capabilities is another example of skillful ironic juxtaposition, and the climactic reveal of the other meaning of the "follow your leader" slogan is also well-done.- "The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids". An extended analogy about sexism which boils down to: sucks to be a woman. He contrasts the lavish lifestyle of London lawyers with the grim existence of mill-workers, about which you could probably write some good essays for a gender studies course, or about how different social classes spent the Industrial Revolution.- "Billy Budd, Sailor". Cobbled together from draft notes dating from 40 years after Moby Dick, and very reminiscent of its more famous older brother, this is an entertaining but somewhat odd story of a sailor who ends up on trial for a murder at sea. Set in the immediately pre-Napoleonic era following famous British naval mutinies, this is apparently often cited in Law and Literature-type classes for passages like the following, which somewhat reminds me of the parts in Heinlein novels where he'd go off for a few pages about how great military discipline is:"We proceed under the law of the Mutiny Act. In feature no child can resemble his father more than that Act resembles in spirit the thing from which it derives - War. In His Majesty's service - in this ship, indeed - there are Englishmen forced to fight for the King against their will. Against their conscience, for aught we know. Though as their fellow creatures some of us may appreciate their position, yet as navy officers what reck we of it? Still less recks the enemy. Our impressed men he would fain cut down in the same swath with our volunteers. As regards the enemy's naval conscripts, some of whom may even share our own abhorrence of the regicidal French Directory, it is the same on our side. War looks but to the frontage, the appearance. And the Mutiny Act, War's child, takes after the father. Budd's intent or non-intent is nothing to the purpose."Even though I liked the story for the most part, there's a weird tone to the whole thing, in particular the constant reminders of how good-looking and Christ-like the title character is to the rest of the crew, that keeps this from being truly great, especially in comparison with Moby Dick. Budd is no Ishmael, Captain Vere is no Ahab, the central impulsive crime that Budd is tried for lacks the resonance of Ahab's obsession, there's a closing "what really happened here?" section that doesn't add much thematically, and just in general this can't help but suffer in comparison. In part this is due to its unfinished nature, however it's still well-written in typical Melville style, and he never forgets to leave you with thoughtful metaphors for his themes:"Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of the colors, but where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity. In pronounced cases there is no question about them. But in some supposed cases, in various degrees supposedly less pronounced, to draw the exact line of demarcation few will undertake, though for a fee becoming considerate some professional experts will. There is nothing nameable but that some men will, or undertake to, do it for pay."Good stuff.

  • Lindsey
    2019-05-03 23:17

    Melville's syntax can be a pain, but he is nonetheless a great writer who is very aware of the larger issues in society.Benito Cereno and Bartleby are absolute masterpieces, though Billy Budd is a phenomenal critique on law and human rights as well. Regarding Benito Cereno, I think it offers society a realist's gaze to slavery and slave revolts, which 19th-century America failed to understand. The response to violent and brutal slave revolts, like the Haitian Revolution, are not Uncle Tom's Cabin, which show slaves as colonized, Christianized people. Instead, slaves are rightfully angry and vengeful; they are also intelligent enough to play the white man and his ignorance for fools. While some might say that Benito Cereno fails to condemn racism, I would say Melville's satire, irony, and mockery went directly over their heads.

  • Frankie
    2019-05-11 23:30

    Having never read Melville beyond Moby Dick and Billy Budd, and with a mild distaste for "seafaring tales," I was pleasantly surprised to read several quite good, non-seafaring stories in this collection. Bad news first. Billy Budd to me has, and always will, represent that stark allegory of fable or parable, without the blessed brevity of a fable or parable. I don't enjoy reading constant reminders that Billy's character represents pre-fall Adam. Without the agony of the details, this story boils down to a very interesting paragraph. If Melville's verbose and choppy style is meant to simulate tossing waves, he succeeds. For example, his use of reverse negatives ("not unabashed" or "seldom unheeded") make reading slow. The story Benito Cereno exhibits similar problems, though with a more interesting twist. Unfortunately, Melville grinds out 10 extra pages explaining the twist at the end, just in case the reader hasn't understood. The intro to this story, however, deserves mention for its uncommonly poetic and lovely opening description– "The sky seemed a gray surtout [19th century word for overcoat]. Flights of troubled gray fowl, kith and kin with flights of troubled gray vapors among which they were mixed, skimmed low and fitfully over the waters, as swallows over meadows before storms. Shadows present, foreshadowing deeper shadows to come."Melville proves himself capable of natural description most in The Piazza, a subtle allegory of the experienced writer withdrawing from the world. The story Bartleby is my favorite. The setting is more modern and apt than any other. It's a dark, middle class office-worker tale about a man that loses his reason. The mystery of the tale balances with the pathos of his effect on those around him. The Encantadas is a group of journalism/collected folklore about the Galapagos Islands. Fairly good and easy in style. Finally The Bell-Tower is an interesting story, told in a gothic style. It seems to be an indictment of industrialism, and feels upon reading like an H.G. Wells. It may be the very first appearance of a robot in literature.*Added August 2012*The story "The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids" (not in this edition, in Penguin's Billy Budd and Other Stories) is a sort of binary parallel. The style is very jovial, especially in the warm, sumptuous first half, but by the second half Melville's elemental nature returns. Gender difference is a major theme, with industrialism and class pictured as well. I was surprised by the narrator's affected voice. Was Melville just playing his character emphatically, or was he being sarcastic? His delight at low ceilings, hushed conversations, taking snuff… I'm not sure I understood...

  • Michael
    2019-04-25 01:07

    Standing on equal footing with Moby Dick, Herman Melville’s Billy Bud, Sailor resurrects ancient questions about good and evil, innocence and violence, and explores the interplay between these most basic and fundamental of conflicts and the paradox of moral justice. Eponymous Billy Bud, the Handsome Sailor, is Melville’s Adam, and his shocking fall from grace challenges a captain and crew who only love him, but who are for better or worse bound to the sanctity of order. Establishing his belief in the impermanence of human purity through strong symbolism biblically and mythically grounding the parable, Melville can’t really add much to the whole discussion, and doesn’t have to, because his tale is as old as man. Billy Budd, Sailor, is moral drama at its deepest and darkest. When innocent Billy Budd hangs aboard the Indomitable for the accidental death of John Claggart, the man who overrun with jealousy plotted his end, we are hopeless to resist that fated close. And this is Melville’s genius: we’re disturbed more by what we do know than what we don’t know. Billy Budd’s execution is all the more haunting for his innocence as narrative truth than his innocence as existential possibility. In this way, Melville’s approach to storytelling in ¬Billy Bud, Sailor, is masterful and beautiful. With a perfect handling of conflict, – intensified by controlled tension between the objectivity of events and the often-fateful subjectivity of each member of the cast – a fast pace unusual for Melville and his contemporaries, and a mature sense of thematic depth, Melville strives to both engage and enlighten us. Now, while Melville may impose upon the modern reader a heavy, burdensome, sprawling floweriness that was perhaps only typical of the writers of his time, we can still reap great rewards from reading Billy Budd, Sailor, a book I wholeheartedly recommend, whose greater message carries over ever urgently into our own world and our own time.

  • Sanjay Varma
    2019-04-29 22:31

    I read the 3 novellas in this collection: "Benito Cereno", "Billy Budd", and "Bartleby". I heartily recommend all three. Melville is extremely gifted at foreshadowing, symbolism, and moral ambiguity. His characters are allegorical and fatally flawed like greek heroes, but with detailed psychologies like you would expect from a Dostoevsky novel. However, Melville is mediocre at depicting action sequences, and quite terrible at endings."Benito Cereno" is a novella about a ghost ship, in which the easy assumptions we bring with us to interpret new situations are shown to be inadequate to explain the crew's behavior on a ship in distress. The story is narrated from the point of view of Captain Delano, of a whaler ship. When captain Delano comes aboard, he constantly tries to see reality through his expectations of how a crew will behave on a ship at sea. But he is baffled by the odd behavior of Captain Benito Cereno, and the sensation that nothing is quite what it seems to be. "Billy Budd" is a slow developing character study. The captain, Billy, and the master-at-arms are all portrayed with a fatal depth. Then they proceed to act out their respective fates. Billy, an innocent young sailor, earns the enmity of a minor officer, the master-at-arms, who then contrives to frame Billy Budd for mutiny. When Billy is called before the captain and accused of this crime, it sets off a chain of events that lead to tragedy."Bartleby" is an unbelievably prescient story, as relevant today when the plight of the 99% is debated by politicians as it was in the 19th century. Bartleby is a clerk who arbitrarily stops complying with some of his boss's orders, but will only say "I'd rather not." The boss does not know how to deal with this unresponsive employee! He tries reasoning, authoritative force, pleading, and bribery. Melville has found a spooky way to depict his social commentary on the economics and the class system.

  • Tim Paul
    2019-05-15 00:17

    A good friend introduced me to an alternative reading of this novel, in which the narrator is obsessed with upholding the heroic myth of Billy Budd. Every incident is spun out by the narrator to show Billy in the most positive light possible, and Claggart as his evil opposite. If you look closely at the text for the 'facts' of the story though there's not a shred of evidence to support this romantic view of Billy.[return][return]In fact, reading between the lines, it's possible to read Claggart as a basically decent man stuck in an impossible situation, and Billy as a charismatic psychopath with a tyrannical grip on his shipmates.[return][return]A benefit of this interpretation is that it makes sense of the circumlocutions of the narrator's dialogue, as he turns somersaults trying to maintain the myth of The Handsome Sailor.[return][return]It's also an appropriately cynical response from an author near the end of his life, looking back at the success of his earlier, more romantic, adventure stories.

  • Lani
    2019-05-02 23:07

    Melville writes beautifully. His descriptions at times are near poetic yet concise. I thoroughly enjoyed every story included in this book; however, I didn't like the format of a bunch of random tales told in regards to the volcanic isles in the short, "The Encantadas", and this one was also a bit too eerie for me. But as it was intended to be on the creepy side, Melville delivered. "The Bell Tower" could have been a bit better developed, in my opinion, but if it had had more length, the maybe it could have been. It was a clever idea, though, with a very logical conclusion to the mystery. All in all, this book is worth reading.

  • Scott
    2019-04-21 00:31

    I read Billy Budd in 2006 and read Bartleby the Scrivener sometime later. This time I read all the remaining tales in this volume, most of them from the Piazza Tales.I wrote the other day on my blog about The Lightning-Rod Man. That was my favourite of the bunch. Some of the stories aren't as strong or engaging, but even they express Melville's command of the language and the sense of dread and the exotic which overhangs everything. Plus, they keep your interest.

  • Bill Leigh
    2019-04-26 17:13

    Brilliant stories, fables almost. After reading 'Bartleby, the Scrivener' the expression "I would prefer not to" will never sound quite the same again. There is a mysterious sense of power and doom in Melville's writing quite unlike anything I've read before, except perhaps the Bible and Shakespeare. Reading Billy Budd is a almost a religious experience. Billy's cry of "God bless Captain Vere!" still resonates a sympathetic echo.

  • Mike
    2019-04-21 17:34

    When writing about the ocean Melville gives the reader a chance to feel what concerns the ocean. His writing is shot through with an inhuman vitality. Sometimes the psychology of the novel makes us forget that the total of human thought weighs nothing, that pain is less material than grass. Not here.Were I still in high school I would hate this book.

  • Linda
    2019-04-25 18:17

    I enjoyed Billy Budd and Bartleby and Benito Cereno of The Piazza Tales. The Town-Ho's Story (Ch 54 of Moby Dick) reminded me why I have started reading Moby Dick several times, yet finishing it remains on my bucket list. If you read only one of the novellas/short stories in this collection, I recommend Benito Cereno.

  • Amantha
    2019-05-15 20:15

    DNF. Melville can't get to the point to save his life. At least Billy Budd was mildly entertaining, but the rest I couldn't concentrate on for more than a page or two at a time because it meandered so much.

  • Kristopher
    2019-05-18 18:24

    These stories are dense, yes, but reward upon further readings. Particularly, the title story will give you quite a bit to think about if you allow it. When you read these, think of the nature of evil, the nature of ambiguity, the nature of interpretation. And plan a rereading.

  • Mike Jensen
    2019-05-01 20:25

    Judging by the way some respond to Melville's other masterpiece, I think this book does not suit our times. For me this story of a man too good to live makes a book too good to put down. I remian a Billy Budd fan.

  • Jay
    2019-04-30 00:20

    "that peculiar glance which evidences that the man from whom it comes has been some way tampered with and to the prejudice of him upon whom the glance lights"

  • Luke Paulsen
    2019-05-07 17:13

    If you want a taste of Herman Melville's best work, then whatever you do, don't read Moby Dick. It's a massive, ambitious, cumbersome white whale of a book. Obviously there's some great writing there, but there's also no end of digressions. At the very least you should sample Melville before starting out, and his later stories are an excellent way to do that.I'll go further and claim that you shouldn't start with Billy Budd, which though a lot shorter than Moby Dick (about 100 pages in my edition) is, if anything, even more packed with digressions and winding prose. Another writer could probably present the story's core-- the simple, stark, powerful plot that Melville is concerned to illuminate-- in a quarter the space. It's a great and unforgettable story for all that, but it took me a bit of wading through.You shouldn't even start with Benito Cereno, a kind of sea-going detective / horror story that absolutely oozes with tension and atmosphere. Melville's slow burn is slow indeed-- though amazing-- and the story's racism, though arguably tongue-in-cheek, is inescapable. The fifty-ish pages of the story went by pretty slowly for me as a result, even though I was on the edge of my seat the whole time.No, the place you should start has to be Bartleby. It's an incredible classic of a short story. If you don't know the plot, I won't spoil it for you. Melville's genius is to combine thoroughgoing naturalism-- events in his writing are always strange, but never uncanny-- with such a richness of symbolism and weight of meaning that even the natural takes on terrible metaphorical significance. In a word, it's intense. It may not be for everyone-- I have some reservations myself, and I tend to like Poe and Hawthorne better. But if you're interested in reading some Melville, this collection would make a great starting point.