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Billy Budd, Sailor (The Art of the Novella)

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Herman Melville's final masterpiece, found unpublished on his desk at his death. Billy Budd, Sailor would emerge, after its publication in 1924, as one of Melville's best-loved books--and one of his most open, with its discussion of homosexualty. In it, Melville returns to the sea to tell the story of Billy, a cheerful, hard working, and handsome young sailor, conscripted to/>Billy Herman Melville's final masterpiece, found unpublished on his desk at his death. Billy Budd, Sailor would emerge, after its publication in 1924, as one of Melville's best-loved books--and one of his most open, with its discussion of homosexualty. In it, Melville returns to the sea to tell the story of Billy, a cheerful, hard working, and handsome young sailor, conscripted to work against his will on another ship, where he soon finds himself persecuted by Claggart, the paranoid master-at-arms. As things escalate beyond the naive Billy's control, tragedy looms on the horizon like Melville's great white whale, and the story become Melville's final, sublime plunge into the classic tussle between civilization and chaos, between oppression and freedom, as well as the book in which he discusses homosexuality most openly. One of the major works of American literature.


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Herman Melville's final masterpiece, found unpublished on his desk at his death. Billy Budd, Sailor would emerge, after its publication in 1924, as one of Melville's best-loved books--and one of his most open, with its discussion of homosexualty. In it, Melville returns to the sea to tell the story of Billy, a cheerful, hard working, and handsome young sailor, conscripted to/>Billy Herman Melville's final masterpiece, found unpublished on his desk at his death. Billy Budd, Sailor would emerge, after its publication in 1924, as one of Melville's best-loved books--and one of his most open, with its discussion of homosexualty. In it, Melville returns to the sea to tell the story of Billy, a cheerful, hard working, and handsome young sailor, conscripted to work against his will on another ship, where he soon finds himself persecuted by Claggart, the paranoid master-at-arms. As things escalate beyond the naive Billy's control, tragedy looms on the horizon like Melville's great white whale, and the story become Melville's final, sublime plunge into the classic tussle between civilization and chaos, between oppression and freedom, as well as the book in which he discusses homosexuality most openly. One of the major works of American literature.

30 review for Billy Budd, Sailor (The Art of the Novella)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    Dear High School Curriculum Writers: I am positive that you can find a better novel than this one to use when introducing symbolism and extended metaphor to developing readers. "Christ-figure" is the most over-used of these extended metaphors; over-used to the point where its offensiveness ceases to be about the in-your-face religious aspect of it and becomes instead about the simple over-use of the symbols. If you want to "go there" with symbolism and metaphor and have high school ag Dear High School Curriculum Writers: I am positive that you can find a better novel than this one to use when introducing symbolism and extended metaphor to developing readers. "Christ-figure" is the most over-used of these extended metaphors; over-used to the point where its offensiveness ceases to be about the in-your-face religious aspect of it and becomes instead about the simple over-use of the symbols. If you want to "go there" with symbolism and metaphor and have high school age kids the ways in which literature can illuminate our experience not by representing it literally but by unhinging from it, try helping these students discover Garcia-Marquez or Allende. And that's just assuming you want to stay in the "safe" territory of the Western hemisphere. Ever your advisor, me.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    “Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its jagged edges.” ― Herman Melville, Billy Budd Reading 'Billy Budd' left me thinking of David Foster Wallace and his unfinished novel The Pale King. Both are unfinished literary works that -- despite their roughness (and yes incompleteness) -- seem to suggest or hint that if given time/space/temperament, etc., Melvi “Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its jagged edges.” ― Herman Melville, Billy Budd Reading 'Billy Budd' left me thinking of David Foster Wallace and his unfinished novel The Pale King. Both are unfinished literary works that -- despite their roughness (and yes incompleteness) -- seem to suggest or hint that if given time/space/temperament, etc., Melville and Wallace could have produced works equalling their respective magna opera. Both are full of a confident stillness that hint at a genius between the words and a soul and art floating just under the text. Is Billy Budd a greater work than Moby-Dick? Pshaw! Of course not, because perfection. But it shows that that damn book about an enigmatic, amelanist whale was not a fluke. Billy Budd's simplicity and shortness is deceptive -- the water here isn't wide, but it is deep with strong currents. At the end of reading this I was left with a dreamy visual of a giant wave which looks destined to break in a tremendous fashion against the ship I am sitting in. At the very last moment, however, the swell rolls under my lonely craft. While the ship survives, there is that one full-stop second; that heavy moment as the wave passes UNDER the portside where your bodymindandsoul recognizes the strength of the ocean and the power of that one beautiful wave that barely missed destroying you.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Werner

    Herman Melville's place in the literary canon is secure today, mainly on the strength of his novel Moby Dick; but ironically, that work was largely panned by critics and regular readers alike when it was published, and in the last decades of his life (he died in 1891) the author turned away from trying to publish fiction to write poetry instead. But he didn't give up writing fiction privately; and this novella, begun late in 1888, is the testament to the fictional achievement of his later years. It w Herman Melville's place in the literary canon is secure today, mainly on the strength of his novel Moby Dick; but ironically, that work was largely panned by critics and regular readers alike when it was published, and in the last decades of his life (he died in 1891) the author turned away from trying to publish fiction to write poetry instead. But he didn't give up writing fiction privately; and this novella, begun late in 1888, is the testament to the fictional achievement of his later years. It was discovered and pieced together among his disorganized papers in 1919 by his first biographer, Raymond M. Weaver, who had been given access by the author's widow, and was published a few years later. (The current Wikipedia article makes the claim that it was unfinished at Melville's death; but there's no internal or external evidence to that effect, to my knowledge. As it stands, the text reads like a complete and coherent whole.) I read it in college for my American Literature class, and appreciated it from the get-go. Like much of Melville's work, this is set on the sea, and benefits from his experience as a sailor on sail-powered ships. Unlike his other maritime novels, though, this is set in a British milieu and in the generation before the author's birth: the British navy during the Napoleonic Wars. This is a setting much explored in subsequent fiction. Though Melville wasn't the first writer to do so --he had several 19th-century predecessors, especially if we consider age-of-sail naval fiction more broadly (and Melville's own earlier novel White Jacket or, the World on a Man-of-War, though dealing with the American navy, was part of that 19th-century tradition), I think it's arguable that he was a significant influence on both the authors of Mutiny on the Bounty and C. S. Forester. If you like later works of this type, by the above-mentioned authors or others such as Patrick O'Brian, and you aren't put off by 19th-century diction, this read might appeal to you as well. Much shorter than Moby Dick, it lacks the latter's info-dumps and wordy philosophical digressions, and the tighter narrative benefits from this. The three main characters are very well-developed, the plot is well-organized and absorbing, and the tone and approach serious. Nautical terminology isn't so thick that a modern-day landlubber like myself can't understand it well enough to follow the basic narrative. Without giving out any spoilers, though, readers should be warned that this isn't a feel-good story. That wasn't the author's intention. The ambiguity of Melville's message(s) here have been, IMO, greatly exaggerated by interpreters who like ambiguity. It's definitely an exploration of the possible conflict between genuine justice and the letter of the law, and (through the last two chapters especially) of the ways that people knowingly or unknowingly distort reality by seeing it through their own lenses or using it to serve their own agendas. Unlike some critics, I don't see any clear Christ symbolism in the protagonist; I think that's something that's more read into the text than deduced from it. (A victim of a Calvinist religious upbringing that repelled him, Melville's attitude towards Christianity, at least when he wrote his earlier works, wasn't particularly positive.) Critics tend to treat Moby Dick as Melville's masterpiece; but I personally rated this tale higher, and stand on that. (I can't say it's his masterpiece, because I haven't read any of his other novels --but I definitely want to, someday!) Although Goodreads is more concerned with books than film, it's also worthwhile to note that the 1962 movie adaptation starring Terence Stamp, Peter Ustinov and Robert Ryan is a top-notch production very faithful to the original, and highly recommended.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Barry Pierce

    Jealousy's a green-eyed monster, folks.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Marcus

    Billy Budd adds to the evidence in Moby Dick that Melville was a master of the English language and a master of all things nautical. It's a great, short tale of good, evil and the sometimes harrowing injustice of circumstance. It was fascinating to see in Melville's last work, the dramatic difference in his earlier writing and the style of Billy Budd. For example, comparing two completely random sentences, first from Typee: In the course of a few days Toby had recovered from the effects of his adventure with th/>In Billy Budd adds to the evidence in Moby Dick that Melville was a master of the English language and a master of all things nautical. It's a great, short tale of good, evil and the sometimes harrowing injustice of circumstance. It was fascinating to see in Melville's last work, the dramatic difference in his earlier writing and the style of Billy Budd. For example, comparing two completely random sentences, first from Typee: In the course of a few days Toby had recovered from the effects of his adventure with the Happar warriors; the wound on his head rapidly healing under the vegetable treatment of the good Tinor. And from Billy Budd: Nevertheless, to anybody who can hold the Present at its worth without being inappreciative of the Past, it may be forgiven, if to such an one the solitary old hulk at Portsmouth, Nelson's Victory, seems to float there, not alone as the decaying monument of a fame incorruptible, but also as a poetic reproach, softened by its picturesqueness, to the Monitors and yet mightier hulls of the European ironclads. The language in Billy Budd is remarkably more dense and lush. It makes for a more difficult read, but also makes the effort that much more rewarding. A Digression The other reviews of Billy Budd by high school kids and adults who read Billy Budd in high school are indicative of the overall quality of education in the US. This isn't to come across as condescending, if I had read it in High School, my review would have probably been equally dismal since I was in no way prepared to appreciate a book that wasn't as exciting as a Bond movie or that used sentences more complex than Lord of the Flies. Billy Budd definitely shouldn't be required reading in high school, at least not until high school provides a competent enough education for students to appreciate a great work, even if they don't "like" it. But again, I digress. The story of Billy Budd isn't the most moving that I've ever read, but the characters are good and it's interesting moral dilemma. I think the criticism that it is too blatantly a metaphor for Christ come from people who either don't understand Billy Budd or don't understand the basics of the life of Christ. Budd is probably a metaphorical character and maybe even for Christ, but it's naive to give up on the book and characterize him as simply a mechanical metaphor for Christ. There are enough differences, enough other issues raised and enough nuances to make Billy Budd stand on its own as a solid book and a precautionary tale of the harsh realities of justice and circumstance.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    Billy Budd, another in Melville's oeuvre of nautical tales of gay passion, is shorter than his masterpiece and not as rewarding. The problem is that it's kindof boring and not much happens. It was Melville's last work, and he never really finished it - he just left a ton of scribbles and sketches and conflicting drafts kicking around - and maybe that's why it feels like a bit of a mess: because it literally was, before various people tried to stitch it together. Your basic story is th Billy Budd, another in Melville's oeuvre of nautical tales of gay passion, is shorter than his masterpiece and not as rewarding. The problem is that it's kindof boring and not much happens. It was Melville's last work, and he never really finished it - he just left a ton of scribbles and sketches and conflicting drafts kicking around - and maybe that's why it feels like a bit of a mess: because it literally was, before various people tried to stitch it together. Your basic story is that there's this super-pretty guy, Billy Budd, and this other dude on the ship, Claggart, is deeply closeted and therefore confused and eventually enraged by his unstoppable attraction to him. So of course he (view spoiler)[accuses him of plotting mutiny, and then Budd punches him in the face and kills him, and then the also-possibly-closeted captain has Budd martyred. (hide spoiler)] And that's about it, and there are the usual Melvillian tangents into, like, the history of mutinies and whatever. "But," you say, "What makes you so sure this is a story of gay unrequited love? Maybe Claggart just doesn't like the guy." Glad you asked. I underlined all the stuff that sounds kinda gay - what, you don't do that? - and I have a lot of underlines. Like when Claggart would gaze at Billy, his eyes strangely suffused with incipient feverish tears. Then would Claggart look like the man of sorrows. Yes, and sometimes the melancholy expression would have in it a touch of soft yearning, as if Claggart could even have loved Billy but for fate and ban.Just sayin'. "But," you say, "Melville goes out of his way, once or twice, to be like 'It wasn't a sex thing!'" For instance, in a long discussion of Claggart's "depravity according to nature," in which he's described as "a nut not to be cracked by the tap of a lady's fan," Melville specifically says "the depravity here meant partakes nothing of the sordid or sensual." And "well," I respond, "I said closeted." Melville is like Shakespeare in that if you suspect his words may have a double meaning, you'd be a sucker not to assume he knows what he's doing. He's a master of language; if he can mean two things, he generally does. And here, thanks probably in part to his natural desire to leave things open (he is a brilliant writer, after all, and the best books aren't easily defined), and in part to the fact that he himself was (I think) a closet case (whose own unrequited crush on Hawthorne ended up causing a rift between them), and of course also due to the obvious fact that back in 1824 one couldn't just run around writing gay love stories whether or not one wanted to - a fact that Oscar Wilde could still attest to 75 years later - he's written a book that never explicitly says it's a story about the thin line between closeted love and hate. But, I mean, let's be serious, that's definitely what it is. "A mantrap may be under the ruddy-tipped daisies," he says, optimistically.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Quo

    Melville's Billy Budd, Sailor represents an unfinished work but one that was in its 3rd draft at the point when the author died in 1891 & which was subsequently tended to by his widow before being published to great acclaim 30+ years later in 1924 and then in a 2nd revised format in 1948. In reading the book a 3rd time, I continue to find Melville's novella a most captivating tale and one conveying considerable psychological depth. With each draft, there was a broadening of the 3 principal charact Melville's Billy Budd, Sailor represents an unfinished work but one that was in its 3rd draft at the point when the author died in 1891 & which was subsequently tended to by his widow before being published to great acclaim 30+ years later in 1924 and then in a 2nd revised format in 1948. In reading the book a 3rd time, I continue to find Melville's novella a most captivating tale and one conveying considerable psychological depth. With each draft, there was a broadening of the 3 principal characters, 1st Billy Budd, then the master-of-arms John Claggart and finally the ship's captain, Edward Fairfax Vere. With Herman Melville, so much of the detail within his novels is reflective of his experiences at sea on whaling ships, for as Melville put it: I ascribe all the honor & glory of my life to whaling; for a whale ship was my Yale College & my Harvard. It was said that at this time, men often ran away to the sea as women took themselves to a nunnery, in an attempt to expiate past sins or alter their fate by somehow transforming themselves. And so much of the author's nautical education involved a study of how men at sea interacted with one another, observing the complexity of personalities on long whaling ship voyages & particularly in view of the rigid hierarchy of roles in the case of Billy Budd, set on board a British man-of-war in 1797. At the novel's outset, Billy has just been transferred to the Bellipotent, biding an audible farewell to the Rights of Man, that being the name of his former merchant ship, quickly providing a framework though which Billy is measured as a newcomer & forced to adapt. However, Billy Budd is no ordinary sailor but rather an exceedingly innocent lad who his shipmates quickly come to love, excepting the one named Claggart who is both transfixed by Billy's seeming purity of spirit and his stature among his fellow seaman. Is Billy to be seen as a Christ-figure or a gay icon of some sort, with reviewers following both camps? I sense that Billy is far more complex than a character who can be quickly shoehorned into a single type. My focus has remained that Billy, a foundling, somehow appears childlike & untainted, seemingly so natural so as to confound those he encounters, displaying a quality that both amazes & captivates those who observe him on board the man-of-war. But the ability to attract attention due to his good looks & sense of youthful uprightness causes the master-of-arms to work at undermining Budd, with Claggart's conniving belligerence not unlike that of Shakespeare's Othello. Claggart is described as a man of "constitutional sobriety, an ingratiating deference to superiors, a peculiar ferreting genius capped by a certain austere patriotism" & with it all, an abject fear of Billy's ability to charm, merged with a supremely antagonist suspicion of the man who some on board called "Baby". For, Billy came on board...like a Catholic priest striking peace in an Irish shindy (disturbance). Not that he preached to his fellow sailors or did anything in particular; but a virtue went out of him, sugaring the sour ones. They took to him like hornets to treacle; all but the buffer of the gang, the big shaggy chap with the fire-red whiskers, who perhaps out of envy of the newcomer & thinking that such a "sweet & pleasant fellow" could hardly have the spirit of a gamecock, bestirred himself to get into a row with Billy, insultingly giving him a dig in the ribs. Quick as lightening Billy let fly his arms & gave Red Whiskers a terrible drubbing. And, will you believe it, the fellow now really loves Billy!But with Billy Budd's ability to mesmerize his fellow seamen, while ably performing his duties as foretopman on the ship, he did have an Achilles heel as it were, manifesting an occasional nervous stutter that made it difficult for Billy to speak when he most needed to, a state that led to the primary confrontation of Melville's brief novel. *At this point, I am forced to issue a Spoiler Advisory! Another character on board is "Dansker", an older sailor who warns Billy of Claggart's potential to harm him but Billy is so naïve & without guile that he seems unable to comprehend why he could possibly be the source of anyone's discomfort, let alone malice. In spite of Billy's abiding innocence, Claggart does lay a trap that ultimately leads to the demise of both with Captain Vere presiding over a "drumcourt" that condemns Billy for striking a superior officer, shortchanged of a vocal defense of himself by his temporary speechlessness. Captain Vere is forced to follow military code, though he had despised Claggart & had grown to revere Billy:He was old enough to have been Billy's father. In spite of the austerity of military duty, he let himself melt back into what remains primeval in our formalized humanity & may in the end have caught Billy to his heart, even as Abraham may have caught young Isaac on the brink of resolutely offering him up in obedience. But there is no telling the sacrament, seldom if ever revealed to the world. That the condemned one suffered less than he who had mainly effected the condemnation was apparent. The night before Billy Budd is to die, he is visited by "a minister of Christ receiving his stipend from Mars", a man who doesn't know quite how to comfort the young sailor but before departing, kisses Billy's cheek. It is said that Budd was incapable of conceiving what death really is & wholly without irrational fear of it. Billy listened to the man but less out of reverence than from a certain natural politeness. And this sailor way of taking clerical discourse was not unlike the way in which the primer of Christianity, full of transcendent miracles, was received long ago on a tropic isle by a superior savage--a Tahitian say, of Captain Cook's time. Out of natural courtesy he received but did not appropriate it. It was a gift placed in the palm of an outstretched hand on which the fingers do not close. And at the moment of his undoing & without a hint of irony, Billy Budd shouts: God bless Captain Vere! Yes, Melville creates a sacrificial lamb and if memory serves me, in the excellent black & white film version with Terrence Stamps as Billy, Robert Ryan as Claggart & Peter Ustinov as Captain Vere, there is a kind of epilogue suggesting that justice will live as long as the human heart and law will live as long as the human mind. There is also an excellent operatic depiction of Melville's tale by Benjamin Britten. And so ends a tragedy of wonderfully rendered force that is somehow uplifting, at least for me. And for Billy's fellow sailors on the Bellipotent it was said that the spar from which the foretopman was suspended became sacred, like a chip from the cross on which Christ died. The novel ends with a poem composed by one of Billy's mates, an epitaph entitled Billy in the Darbies, with that word employed to describe the chains or handcuffs in which Billy spent his final night. It is a most fitting conclusion to this powerful story, one with many biblical references and very memorable characters. * My University of Chicago Press version of Billy Budd, Sailor (1962) featured a comprehensive "post-mortem" of the original Melville manuscript, housed at the Houghton Library at Harvard University, done by Harrison Hayford (Northwestern) & Merton Sealts (Harvard) with many references to the Melville's "genetic text" vs. the "reading text". There is terminology within the work that is at times oblique but the novel remains a classic work in spite of some occasionally distracting minor flaws & I feel comfortable with my 5* rating.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Calista

    It's an story from English Lit and honestly I remember very little. I didn't even remember I read it, so you see how it stuck with me.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    The tragic story of Billy Budd is a captivating and interesting read. Melville is a master of physical and psychological description and an expert at ships at sea and this makes for a great story. I am all too familiar with rumor-mongering and how poisonous and destructive it can be and this posthumously published novella serves as a sort of naval parable about it. A must read after Moby Dick.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

    I had hoped that during the time that has lapsed between having had to read this and Moby-Dick or, The Whale as an undergraduate and now I would have warmed up a bit more to Melville, who along with Dickens holds the dubious distinction as being my least favorite "canonical" authors. No dice. I found this just as difficult to read and even more difficult to sustain any kind of interest in, and was most grateful for the relative brevity of Billy Budd, especially as Melville's writing style can charitably b I had hoped that during the time that has lapsed between having had to read this and Moby-Dick or, The Whale as an undergraduate and now I would have warmed up a bit more to Melville, who along with Dickens holds the dubious distinction as being my least favorite "canonical" authors. No dice. I found this just as difficult to read and even more difficult to sustain any kind of interest in, and was most grateful for the relative brevity of Billy Budd, especially as Melville's writing style can charitably be described as impenetrable, if not at times actually unreadable. The thing is, I really, really WANT to like Melville. I love reading interpretations of Melville's writing, as they are of the type that fracture and fragment under postmodern analysis, bursting with utterly fascinating queer resonances. Certainly the all-but-slavering characterization of the titular character throughout the novella is one of the glories of homoerotic 19th century literature: "He was young; and despite his all but fully developed frame, in aspect looked even younger than he really was, owing to a lingering adolescent expression in the as yet smooth face all but feminine in purity of natural complexion but where, thanks to his seagoing, the lily was quite suppressed and the rose had some ado visibly to flush through the tan." Of course, Billy's corporeal beauty is rather problematically utilized by Melville as a symbol for purity, innocence, and moral as much as physical beauty, something that ultimately creates a rather blank and even unsympathetic cipher of a character. Not that, Claggart, his shadowy nemesis, is accorded any particularly interiority either that would help rationalize the hatred he develops that will eventually destroy Billy… But Melville's silence in regards to the character of Claggart is also one of the most evocative qualities of the novella, creating an opening that has often been interpreted as sexual in nature: that Claggart is motivated by an attraction that is almost inevitably one-sided, that his fateful claim against Billy is rooted in a self-hatred caused by this attraction, etc. One way or the other, what interests me about Billy Budd is that Melville's elusively was appropriated by director Claire Denis for her lyrical and (very) loose adaptation Beau Travail (France, 1999). In Denis's capable hands the bare bones of Melville's story is transformed into a beautiful meditation on postcolonialism, homoeroticism, the human (specifically male) body, marginality, movement, race relations, etc, etc, etc that in its own way is just as elusive and endlessly evocative as Melville's text. Only rendered, if you excuse my (very) biased opinion, with a masterfulness and density that Melville's text barely hints at.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jason Koivu

    Melville, what are you about man? That's just too much telling for the story's own good! In Billy Budd, Sailor we have what could've been a grand, character-driven swashbuckling adventure. However, Melville apparently wanted to write about sailing and the early navy, and must have felt he needed to throw in a story to justify the book. The two subjects needed to merge more seamlessly for this to work. Otherwise two separate books should have been published, a treatise and a tale, for they a Melville, what are you about man? That's just too much telling for the story's own good! In Billy Budd, Sailor we have what could've been a grand, character-driven swashbuckling adventure. However, Melville apparently wanted to write about sailing and the early navy, and must have felt he needed to throw in a story to justify the book. The two subjects needed to merge more seamlessly for this to work. Otherwise two separate books should have been published, a treatise and a tale, for they are two entirely different ships passing in the night.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Matty-Swytla

    Boring and meandering - the writing style too, is not to my taste. Why is this a classic and on the 1001 book you need to read list?

  13. 4 out of 5

    John Pistelli

    (Note: I read the version of this book collected in The Norton Anthology of American Literature; I chose this edition on Goodreads for convenience's sake and because it also contains the text of the novella—that of Hayford and Sealts—the Norton uses.) It seems odd that this novella should ever have been required reading in American high schools and introductory literature courses. Its unfinished text remains in an uncertain state; its prose is maddeningly involuted, its sentences clogged with historical, relig (Note: I read the version of this book collected in The Norton Anthology of American Literature; I chose this edition on Goodreads for convenience's sake and because it also contains the text of the novella—that of Hayford and Sealts—the Norton uses.) It seems odd that this novella should ever have been required reading in American high schools and introductory literature courses. Its unfinished text remains in an uncertain state; its prose is maddeningly involuted, its sentences clogged with historical, religious, and mythological allusion and blunted by circumlocution and periphrasis; its theme is desire between men and the perversions created by that love's interdiction; its moral is either fascism—the necessity of order above all and at all costs—or revolution—the absolute primacy of man's natural right against all prohibition. It is a riddling novella; to teach it in a literature course is to feel that one is posing a word problem. The plot is simple enough. During the Napoleonic wars, a beautiful young sailor, a foundling of mysterious origin and indomitable innocence named Billy Budd, is impressed, forced from a ship called the Rights of Man to one called the Bellipotent. On the ship, he is beloved of all, except for the master-at-arms, one John Claggart. In the paranoid atmosphere of mutiny surrounding the French Revolution and its aftermath, Claggart schemes to get Budd accused of conspiring against order. When the aristocratic Captain Vere brings Budd before Claggart to answer the charge, the stammering Billy inadvertently kills Claggart with one blow. Vere hastily convenes a drumhead court, at which he is the only witness, and ensures that Billy is condemned. In short order, Billy is hanged, his dying words: "God bless Captain Vere!" Such a summary, though, does not account for the immense freight of allusion and suggestion with which Melville loads his novella. Billy Budd is compared to everyone from Christ to Apollo, Adam to Isaac, a rustic beauty to a vestal virgin, a Tahitian "barbarian" to an ancient Saxon. The upshot is that Billy represents unfallen nature, the best of humanity, albeit defective in those two postlapsarian arts of civilization: knowledge and language. As for Claggart, he desires pretty plainly to possess Billy Budd, as we learn in a passage of extraordinary eroticism:The ship at noon, going large before the wind, was rolling on her course, and he, below at dinner and engaged in some sportful talk with the members of his mess, chanced in a sudden lurch to spill the entire contents of his soup-pan upon the new scrubbed deck. Claggart, the Master-at-arms, official rattan in hand, happened to be passing along the battery in a bay of which the mess was lodged, and the greasy liquid streamed just across his path. Stepping over it, he was proceeding on his way without comment, since the matter was nothing to take notice of under the circumstances, when he happened to observe who it was that had done the spilling. His countenance changed. Pausing, he was about to ejaculate something hasty at the sailor, but checked himself, and pointing down to the streaming soup, playfully tapped him from behind with his rattan, saying in a low musical voice peculiar to him at times, "Handsomely done, my lad! And handsome is as handsome did it too!" And with that passed on. Not noted by Billy, as not coming within his view, was the involuntary smile, or rather grimace, that accompanied Claggart's equivocal words. Aridly it drew down the thin corners of his shapely mouth.Melville's narrator tries to explain "what was the matter with the master-at-arms," and ends up referring us to the Biblical "mystery of iniquity." I suspect many readers over the years (Cold-War-era high school teachers and students perhaps?) have taken the hint that Claggart's queer desire is the thing amiss, but Melville's language is precise, however difficult:In a list of definitions included in the authentic translation of Plato, a list attributed to him, occurs this: "Natural Depravity: a depravity according to nature." A definition which tho' savoring of Calvinism, by no means involves Calvin's dogmas as to total mankind. Evidently its intent makes it applicable but to individuals. Not many are the examples of this depravity which the gallows and jail supply. At any rate for notable instances, since these have no vulgar alloy of the brute in them, but invariably are dominated by intellectuality, one must go elsewhere. Civilization, especially if of the austerer sort, is auspicious to it. It folds itself in the mantle of respectability. It has its certain negative virtues serving as silent auxiliaries. It never allows wine to get within its guard. It is not going too far to say that it is without vices or small sins. There is a phenomenal pride in it that excludes them from anything mercenary or avaricious. In short the depravity here meant partakes nothing of the sordid or sensual. It is serious, but free from acerbity. Though no flatterer of mankind it never speaks ill of it.The narrator, attempting a credible impersonation of a conservative philosopher, leaves just enough clues in his labyrinthine rhetoric to allow us to find our way to the revolutionary meaning actually intended. To be clear, Claggart's desire to touch Billy, his sensual satisfaction in smacking the young man's bottom, is the only part of him not depraved. Later we hear that he "could even have loved Billy but for fate and ban." What, then, is the matter with Claggart? Precisely that he is over-civilized, over-intellectual, over-refined: everything that Billy is not. If I am reading this correctly, Melville here makes a stunning reversal, not only of homophobic culture but even of the Platonic homoerotics of the fin de siècle, whose gay writers were producing heavily idealized fictions in which there is much looking and no touching (The Picture of Dorian Gray, Death in Venice). According to Melville in this anti-Platonic mode, queer desire of the most sensual variety is as fresh and natural as unspoiled nature, pre-Christian tribes, Greek mythology, the body of Christ, while its proscription or even sublimation is the unnatural work of war-mongering civilization. Once we understand this, we are prepared to call into question the intellectual reactionary Captain Vere's courtroom speeches about the necessity of overlooking nature and sentiment to preserve order. And, schooled by the novella in the reading of desire, we can perceive Vere's own desire for Budd, perhaps the main secret concealed by his mystagogy of power. I came to this reading with the help of Caleb Crain's treatment of the novella as a false palinode in his American Sympathy; for Crain, the narrator "sets out all the lies that love must take back." A gravely ironic fiction, Billy Budd asks us to reverse its ostensible meanings until we see that what looked like tragic advocacy of the strictest realism is in fact a revolutionary romance, however foiled by the work of war and civilization. But irony is like a mercenary force: it is not necessarily loyal to the one who has hired it, and blowback is therefore always possible. Where does the narrator's unreliability end? The novella concludes with a ballad commemorating Budd's last night before his hanging, and it presents a mature, sophisticated, punning, and heterosexual sailor, not at all the "Baby Budd" we have known. If this is the view of the common sailor, of "the people," then how should we take the novel's queer thematics, which the people reject? Can the people be trusted after all? Moreover, is the novel's Rousseauism not rather at odds with its own manner? That is, how could a "natural man" have ever produced a text this cryptic, so cryptic as to be positively Decadent? Or are we to believe that we can find our way "back to the garden" through irony alone? That seems unlikely. Finally, it is not as if Budd does not commit violence, does not in fact substitute physical force for language. Is his unfallen person really a model for man as redeemed by revolution? A pun lurks in the ship's name, doesn't it? Bellipotent: war's power, yes, but also its beauty. Maybe this is a tragedy, after all: maybe revolutionary irony has slipped the leash and led us into a labyrinth from which there is no escape. I doubt there is any coming to the end of Melville's final fiction; it may not offer any liberation but the modernist freedom, equivocal indeed, of the reader in the maze of meaning. Needless to say, I am absolutely enamored of it.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    I feel like I should ask forgiveness for allotting only two stars to a Melville, but I felt adrift while reading Billy Budd, Foretopman. Perhaps, children, for whom this book was written, were more acclimated to reading books awash with philosophy about working relationships aboard a Royal Navy vessel, but I see few children in today's world tuning into this story.I had a hard time tuning in until more than halfway through... Billy Budd aka The Handsome Sailor, orphan, and already a seasoned for I feel like I should ask forgiveness for allotting only two stars to a Melville, but I felt adrift while reading Billy Budd, Foretopman. Perhaps, children, for whom this book was written, were more acclimated to reading books awash with philosophy about working relationships aboard a Royal Navy vessel, but I see few children in today's world tuning into this story.I had a hard time tuning in until more than halfway through... Billy Budd aka The Handsome Sailor, orphan, and already a seasoned foretopman at the age of nineteen (I believe) finds himself conscripted to the Indomitable and away from his happy employment on a merchant vessel. As with his previous vessel, he is the perfect soul and well-liked by the officers and crew alike. There is a cheesy sense of too-perfect young man here. Of course, something upsets the apple cart in the form of an officer, Claggart, who is jealous of Billy's perfectness. He sets him up for a fall and that is where the book finally takes off and becomes somewhat interesting. Melville does an excessive amount of analyzing the motives of Claggart, the perception of people in regards to Billy, etc. Melville also obsesses about Billy's perfect appearance and how it made people love him. I felt this put undue emphasis on something that few children can change drastically. I almost put the book down and screamed, but it was only 126 pages with lots of illustrations of perfect Billy, so I went ahead and finished it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Riku Sayuj

    I buy none of the characters Melville, and that is a first with you. The story is there though and it was a good adventure story - Sir Walter could have told it better, and that too is a first with you. But, despite the cribs, the foretopman and the motley crew will stay with me, but not for the telling. Adieu, Rights of Man! No irony intended, only Paine! Or not.

  16. 4 out of 5

    David Stephens

    Melville's late masterpiece, Billy Budd, recounts the tragic tale of the eponymous sailor. That is, it recounts what little tale there is to tell. The narration and descriptions waver back and forth so much as if caught in a breeze at sea that, at times, it becomes difficult to tell whether there is any narrative at all. This, of course, isn't a bad thing as Melville's writing is superb: "In fervid hearts self-contained, some brief experiences devour our human tissue as secret fire in a ship's h Melville's late masterpiece, Billy Budd, recounts the tragic tale of the eponymous sailor. That is, it recounts what little tale there is to tell. The narration and descriptions waver back and forth so much as if caught in a breeze at sea that, at times, it becomes difficult to tell whether there is any narrative at all. This, of course, isn't a bad thing as Melville's writing is superb: "In fervid hearts self-contained, some brief experiences devour our human tissue as secret fire in a ship's hold consumes cotton on the bale." And it goes on like this. While the book is pretty short, it makes up for what it lacks in length by what it contains in symbolic and philosophical depth. Each occurrence and each description seem like they might have double meanings. The fact that the narrator keeps insisting on his storytelling accuracy while portraying Billy Budd as a holy figure calls into question what is true and what is exaggerated. The central moral question of the novel asks whether people should follow the law as designated by institutional authorities or instead go with their moral intuitions. Billy is eventually put in a position where the law dictates one outcome for him while personal intuition suggests another. It is also questionable as to whether Captain Vere, the man in charge of Billy's fate, acts courageously in his decision to adhere to the law or cowardly in his decision to thoughtlessly hide behind it. And yes, Billy can clearly be called a Christ-figure and that seems to be a cliched symbol by this time. However, if anyone sees Billy's connection to Christ and wants to immediately put down the book, I feel that they are overlooking many other important aspects of the novel. For one thing, there are differences between Billy and Christ. I can't imagine this was a mistake on Melville's part, so already readers must decide why these differences exist: Does it suggest that Billy is so naive as to be amoral or so naive he doesn't understand he is actually committing sins? The depth of the book, the moral questions posed, and the narrator's shifting focus can all be a bit off putting, as they don't lend themselves to easy answers, but as soon as I finished this book, I was ready to pick it up and start again.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Ashleysmith10

    This stands out as one of best punishments my parents ever doled out. We had to read this in high school over Christmas break. I just so happened to get grounded at the same time. My mom decided that I would be ungrounded when I finished this book. It's about 100 pages (so really short), and since we were on break from school I had literally nothing but time on my hands. It still took me 3 days--seriously--with nothing else to do to get through this. When we returned to school, I was one of 2 in This stands out as one of best punishments my parents ever doled out. We had to read this in high school over Christmas break. I just so happened to get grounded at the same time. My mom decided that I would be ungrounded when I finished this book. It's about 100 pages (so really short), and since we were on break from school I had literally nothing but time on my hands. It still took me 3 days--seriously--with nothing else to do to get through this. When we returned to school, I was one of 2 in the ENTIRE class who actually read it. Now, there's a chance that, as an adult, I appreciate classic literature. It left such a bad taste, though, I don't anticipate ever trying. Great punishment, mom, you sneaky woman!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    While the themes of justice and law were interesting, what really stood out to me was the gay subtext of the novella. The last 5 chapters were intense, filled with memorable passages and analysis from different perspectives.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Robin Friedman

    Reading "Billy Budd" For Independence Day In 2012, I celebrated Independence Day by reading and reviewing Melville's 1855 novel "White-Jacket". In his book, "Melville: His World and Work", Andrew Delbanco described "White Jacket" as Melville's 'paean on behalf of democracy". The book includes scenes in which the sailors celebrate the Fourth of July with a pageant. A major character in "White Jacket" is a sailor named Jack Chase, a man whom Melville deeply admired. In chapter 4 of "Whi Reading "Billy Budd" For Independence Day In 2012, I celebrated Independence Day by reading and reviewing Melville's 1855 novel "White-Jacket". In his book, "Melville: His World and Work", Andrew Delbanco described "White Jacket" as Melville's 'paean on behalf of democracy". The book includes scenes in which the sailors celebrate the Fourth of July with a pageant. A major character in "White Jacket" is a sailor named Jack Chase, a man whom Melville deeply admired. In chapter 4 of "White Jacket" the narrator says of Jack Chase: "Wherever you may be now rolling over the blue billows, dear Jack! take my best love along with you; and God bless you, wherever you go!" For Independence Day, 2015, I found myself rereading Melville's novel, "Billy Budd, Sailor". Melville was working on this book at the time of his death in 1891 and his near-final draft remained unpublished. Scholars discovered the manuscript in the 1920s, and its first publication in 1928 was critical in the discovery of Melville and in his literary reputation. Late in his life, Melville remembered his friend Jack Chase. Melville dedicated "Billy Budd" to "Jack Chase, Englishman", "Wherever that great heart may no be. Here on Earth or harbored in Paradise. Captain of the Maintop in the year 1843 in the U.S. Frigate United States" "Billy Budd, Sailor" is a difficult, deep short philosophical novel written in a gnarled prose. It has religious themes of the fall of man and of the moral law, but there is no God. The book is about the beauty of innocence and its fate in the world. The book also considers the too-easy invocation of rights in a world of complexity . The story is set on an English warship, the Bellipotent (warpower) in 1797 during Britain's war with revolutionary France and following a large attempted mutiny of British seamen. The three main characters of the book are Billy Budd, John Claggaart and Captain Vere. Billy Budd has impressed from a merchant ship tellingly called the "Rights-of-Man." Billy is loved by nearly all who know him for his innocence and his grace. John Claggart is the sergeant at arms on the Billipotent and the embodiment of evil. He hates Billy for his beauty and goodness and concocts a story about Billy plotting a mutiny. The third character, Captain Vere, is the most complex of the three. When Claggart tells his story in the presence of Captain Vere and Billy, Billy lashes out, punches Claggart, and accidentally kills him. An agonized Captain Vere, realizing what has transpired, caused Billy to be sentenced to death and hung. In a private scene, Vere communicates the sentence to Billy Budd. Billy Budd's last words are "God bless Captain Vere!" Most of the book turns on Vere's decision and on the ambiguous responses it provokes in Melville, Vere, and the reader. Melville shows a strong admiration for Captain Vere. In Chapter 7, he writes: His settled convictions were as a dike against those invading waters of novel opinion social, political, and otherwise, which carried away as a torrent no few minds in those days, minds by nature not inferior to his own. ... Captain Vere disinterestedly opposed them not alone because they seemed to him insusceptible of embodiment in lasting institutions, but at war with the peace of the world and the true welfare of mankind." Later in the book, after the execution of Billy Budd has been carried out, Captain Vere says:: "With mankind, forms, measured forms are everything; and that is the import couched in the story of Orpheus with his lyre spellbinding the wild denizens of the wood." A critical passage of the book captures the ambiguous, difficult nature of reality and of moral decision. Melville uses a metaphor which in recent discussions has been used for a different and not entirely consistent purpose. For Melville, the rainbow is a metaphor of the difficulty of understanding as colors grade insensibly into one another. Melville writes at the beginning of Chapter 21 of the book. "Who in the Rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of colors, but where exactly does the one first blindingly 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 namable but that some men will, or undertake to, do it for pay." "Billy Budd, Sailor" has been the subject of much controversy since its 1928 publication, much of which is outlined in Delbanco's excellent biography of Melville mentioned above. Delbanco writes: "Charting the attitudes pro and con toward Captain Vere is one way to follow the contours of twentieth-century political thought. At times of high regard for constituted authority, Vere tends to come off as a heroic figure who, with tragic awareness of his responsibilities, sacrifices an innocent for the sake of the state. At times of public suspicion toward established power, Vere tends to be condemned as a despot whose callous commitment to the letter of the law, 'however pitilessly' it grinds the innocent, is ultimately no different from Ahab's doctrinaire will." I learned a great deal from rereading and thinking about "Billy Budd, Sailor" during this week of Independence Day. I also learned from thinking about "White-Jacket" again. Vere's decision in Melville's story may be questioned but I find much wisdom in his observation that "with mankind, forms, measured forms are everything." With this Independence Day, I hope Americans may come together and live as members of a community which they love and revere. Robin Friedman

  20. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC Radio 3 - Drama on 3: The playwright Keith Dewhurst adapts Herman Melville's powerful story of persecution and retribution in the aftermath of the Naval Mutinies at Nore and Spithead in 1797. He also tells the story of the man who wrote it. Part of Radio 3's Britten centenary weekend, this play provides an alternative context to Britten's opera, which is also being broadcast on the station. Herman Melville was a man who himself had more than a passing acquaintance with mutiny. There was a his From BBC Radio 3 - Drama on 3: The playwright Keith Dewhurst adapts Herman Melville's powerful story of persecution and retribution in the aftermath of the Naval Mutinies at Nore and Spithead in 1797. He also tells the story of the man who wrote it. Part of Radio 3's Britten centenary weekend, this play provides an alternative context to Britten's opera, which is also being broadcast on the station. Herman Melville was a man who himself had more than a passing acquaintance with mutiny. There was a history of it amongst his forebears and his own escapades as a sailor in the South Pacific involved him in a mutiny of his own. Starring Gerard Murphy, Robert Portal and Monica Dolan and with effects specially recorded off the Cornish coast, this is a story steeped in the naval history of two nations. It is also a touching account of creative aspiration, failed adventuring and a family haunted by misfortune.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Anand

    What a great little novella. The prose is complex, filled with allusion, strong voice, an allegorical spirit, cadences and parallelism, and many of the characteristics of Melvillean prose. It's not always pretty prose, and the unfinished state leaves a bit of roughness in its syntax and diction. But overall, it's well-written, considering how much has been pieced together. As for Billy Budd, he's one of the finest allegorical creations. Much of what we know is explained by What a great little novella. The prose is complex, filled with allusion, strong voice, an allegorical spirit, cadences and parallelism, and many of the characteristics of Melvillean prose. It's not always pretty prose, and the unfinished state leaves a bit of roughness in its syntax and diction. But overall, it's well-written, considering how much has been pieced together. As for Billy Budd, he's one of the finest allegorical creations. Much of what we know is explained by the narrator's voice; yet somehow, I buy Billy's allegorical spirit, his good spirit, his admirable features, his preternatural male beauty. Even with his stutter and ethereal spirit, he's still one of America's most convincing literary creations. Same with Claggart and Captain de Vere. The narrator obviously depicts these characters allegorically, and the allegory is convincing. Wonderful book. Melville's a wonderful writer. One of my favorites, though a more difficult favorite than others.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Corinna

    I read this in my teens. It depressed the ever-loving heck out of me.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nathan "N.R." Gaddis

    Some time ago I watched the 1962 production of this Melville novella. At the time I had no particular attachment to the story so felt no transgression seeing the film first. The opposite being the case with Bartleby to which I'd become attached via Zizek's lionization of The Big B's passive act of defiance. Let me put it this way ; no harm was done in seeing the film before reading Billy Budd. The film is quite well done. And since we're dealing with a novella rather than a novel, the film gets Some time ago I watched the 1962 production of this Melville novella. At the time I had no particular attachment to the story so felt no transgression seeing the film first. The opposite being the case with Bartleby to which I'd become attached via Zizek's lionization of The Big B's passive act of defiance. Let me put it this way ; no harm was done in seeing the film before reading Billy Budd. The film is quite well done. And since we're dealing with a novella rather than a novel, the film gets pretty much every duck into its line. And Melville was writing at a time prior to stories-as-film, so to accuse him of writing a film script is no accusation (the film being itself based on a play by some unknown). His novella is built out of clumsy baroqueisms which I'd never in a million years inflict upon high school sophomores ;; but I might with Moby-Dick because, well, you know.... But the Billy Budd film is really to be req'd. Here's the trailer and a link to purchase some form of viewing (nothing to disclose) :: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0055796/?... Seriously, staring Peter Ustinov whom you will recall (and can't stop seeing him) as Lentulus Batiatus from Spartacus. Btw, I can't help but think that this is some kind of perfect fictional exemplar to include as an illustrative thing in some course on Hegel, like when, I dunno, the Beautiful Soul is found in contradiction with the needs of the State or something like this (or maybe the Antigone thing in which the domestic is in contradiction with the public). You'll also note to include it in that List of Innocents which will include such as The Sot-Weed Factor and The Idiot. If you're into that kind of thematic arrangement. [Yeah, I'm right -- totally Hegelian].

  24. 5 out of 5

    Betsy Gant

    “Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its jagged edges.” ― Herman Melville, Billy Budd Go, Herman Melville! Crazy as this sounds, I think I enjoyed this story much more than Moby-Dick (this could be just due to the fact that I only had to read thirty-one chapters of plot and dialogue as opposed to one hundred and thirty-four chapters about whaling, anchors, and blubber!). Some really great symbolism, themes, and Christian allegory goin' on here. While I could write a lengthy discussion about “Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its jagged edges.” ― Herman Melville, Billy Budd Go, Herman Melville! Crazy as this sounds, I think I enjoyed this story much more than Moby-Dick (this could be just due to the fact that I only had to read thirty-one chapters of plot and dialogue as opposed to one hundred and thirty-four chapters about whaling, anchors, and blubber!). Some really great symbolism, themes, and Christian allegory goin' on here. While I could write a lengthy discussion about all the great wordsmithing and plot features Melville uses, I'll just highlight one key feature (this review isn't for an English or Sociology essay, lol). I found it neat to see society vs. individual played out over and over again within this short story. As a quick example, in the beginning, we are introduced to the fact that Billy Budd was forced into service aboard the warship Bellipotent leaving behind his former ship Rights-of-Man. The ships' names symbolize and foreshadow the many times within the novel that the characters are wrestling with the powerful force and influence of their society. Highly recommend Billy Budd, Sailor to anyone looking for a soul-searching, sad, short story!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    Billy Budd is one of those extremely rare examples of a movie that is better than the book. Melville's original fails to take advantage of a book's natural ability to get inside the heads of its characters and, in so doing, gives up the advantage that books so traditionally have over their film adaptations. Instead, he wastes pages and pages on irrelevant physical descriptions which, of course, are taken care of in a split second when presented on screen. The details of the story are presented effic Billy Budd is one of those extremely rare examples of a movie that is better than the book. Melville's original fails to take advantage of a book's natural ability to get inside the heads of its characters and, in so doing, gives up the advantage that books so traditionally have over their film adaptations. Instead, he wastes pages and pages on irrelevant physical descriptions which, of course, are taken care of in a split second when presented on screen. The details of the story are presented efficiently enough but the moral consequences and the "damned if you do, damned if you don't" quandry in which the lead characters (and, by implication, the audience) find themselves is far more central to Peter Ustinov's brilliant 1962 film than it is to this decent but overrated book. Nine times out of ten, I would advise you to read the book before you see the movie. This exception is number ten.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Bates

    As the first chapter opened, I realized with alarm that Melville's vocabulary is challenging. Fortunately, my long longstanding eclectic reading interests serve me well. In the 1800s when Billy Budd was published Melville's historical references to British naval battles and the country's ships were well-known to his audience. In 2012, however, each time I came across one of the historical facts, my mind "sailed" off to ponder its relevance. This book is on the Palomar College English Department As the first chapter opened, I realized with alarm that Melville's vocabulary is challenging. Fortunately, my long longstanding eclectic reading interests serve me well. In the 1800s when Billy Budd was published Melville's historical references to British naval battles and the country's ships were well-known to his audience. In 2012, however, each time I came across one of the historical facts, my mind "sailed" off to ponder its relevance. This book is on the Palomar College English Department reading list for Fall semester and I anxiously await a raised-on-the Internet-befuddled student attempting to write an essay about it. Wonderful book–even by today's modern writing standards–which captures the human condition in all its vagaries.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    I am on the fence with this book. About halfway through I started to pick up on the rhythm of the language and become interested in the story. Melville's sentences are so labyrinthine and filled with archaic words that I struggled to understand what was going on, let alone enjoy it. By the end of the book though I see where Melville was going with it and can appreciate this story. I did not enjoy the telling of it, though, so I'm going to give it 2 1/2 stars.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Frank

    Well this is a short compact story for Melville. Great dialogue and setting. Billy Budd a good sailor in general who has a bad experience on board his ship and suffers the severe consequences of his acts.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    A soul remains very pure

  30. 5 out of 5

    Martha

    It’s funny, after reading this great yarn, how I feel emotionally; serene and tranquil, and, I want to ruminate this story over and over in my brain then start from the beginning and read it again. Melville does that to me. What a genius. You know, this powerful novella is only 86 pages long in my book, Billy Budd and The Piazza Tales. You’d think it to be a one or two-day read, huh? Well, to digress a little, my husband and I have a new Goldador puppy. Oh, my, have we got our hands full of puppy fun. It’s funny, after reading this great yarn, how I feel emotionally; serene and tranquil, and, I want to ruminate this story over and over in my brain then start from the beginning and read it again. Melville does that to me. What a genius. You know, this powerful novella is only 86 pages long in my book, Billy Budd and The Piazza Tales. You’d think it to be a one or two-day read, huh? Well, to digress a little, my husband and I have a new Goldador puppy. Oh, my, have we got our hands full of puppy fun. So, to some, Billy Budd could be a one-day read, but for me, now, it took much longer. As many may know, Melville is famous for his writing digressions. He seemed to rebel against the literary critics and wrote as he pleased, which brings life to everything he wrote. This is Herman Melville as himself. I love it! “In this matter of writing, resolve as one may to keep to the main road, bypaths have an enticement not readily to be withstood. I am going to err into such a bypath. If the reader will keep me company I shall be glad. At the least, we can promise ourselves that pleasure which is wickedly said to be sinning, for a literary sin the divergence will be.” Oh, Mr. Melville, I will keep you company each and every time. I will never skim-read your prose; you have my attention always! This is what keeps me wanting for more. The story starts in the year 1797 on the ship the “Rights-of-Man” where Billy Budd has been impressed into naval duty. Billy is well liked by most of the sailors. He is a beautiful specimen of a man, and his demeanor is peace loving, a happy go lucky, innocent sort who is very appealing. When Lieutenant Ratcliff, came on board the “Rights of Man”, to look over the crew for a pick of the best for the “Bellipotent”, Captain Graveling was not happy the Lieutenant picked Billy Budd. “Beg pardon, but you don’t understand, Lieutenant. See here, now. Before I shipped that young fellow, my forecastle was a rat-pit of quarrels. It was black times, I tell you, about the Rights here. I was worried to that degree my pipe had no comfort for me. But Billy came, and it was like a Catholic priest striking peace in an Irish shindy. Not that he preached to them or said or did anything in particular; but a virtue went out of him, sugaring the sour ones. They took to him like hornets to treacle; all but the buffer of the gang, the big shaggy chap with the fire-red whiskers. He indeed, out of envy, perhaps, of the newcomer, and thinking such a ‘sweet and pleasant fellow,’ as he mockingly designated him to the others, could hardly have the spirit of a gamecock, must needs bestir himself in trying to get up an ugly row with him. Billy forebore with him and reasoned with him in a pleasant way . . . .“ "So, in the second dogwatch one day, the Red Whiskers in presence of the others, under pretense of showing Billy just whence a sirloin steak was cut – for the fellow had once been a butcher—insultingly gave him a dig under the ribs. Quick as lightning Billy let fly his arm. I dare say he never meant to do quite so much as he did, but anyhow he gave the burly fool a terrible drubbing. . .” “And lord bless you, the lubber was astonished at the celerity. And will you believe it, Lieutenant; the Red Whiskers now really loves Billy. . . ." After reading Billy Budd, now I realize how significant this piece above was for the rest of the story. What a good-hearted fellow Billy Budd is, but do not cross him. The character development throughout is superb. Captain the Honorable Edward Fairfax Vere (Starry Vere) – Captain of the H.M.S. Bellipotent - a bachelor of 40 years old is described by Melville as a “sailor of distinction”. Captain Vere had seen much service and been in various engagements sometime before the Bellipotent naval mission. (Side note: he is my favorite character in this sea-faring story; a father-like figure who warms my heart.) He always absolved himself for the welfare of his men. Vere is confident and unafraid of danger, and, he does not tolerate an infraction of discipline. He is an intellectual who loves his library which he brings on board with each tour. He has trouble connecting mentally with the other officers. He’s a little too intellectual for their liking. “But between you and me now, don’t you think there is a queer streak of the pedantic running through him? Yes, like the King’s yarn in a coil of maybe rope?” John Claggart (Jemmy Legs)– the master-at-arms (chief policeman) on board the “Bellipotent”. Hmm. This fellow is an envious sort. He is described by Melville as fit and handsome. His face is a notable one, except for his chin – this is his one flaw (and this brought up more than once; Claggart’s chin that is). I am not sure what the symbolism of his chin may be, but part of Melville’s description is: “the features all except the chin cleanly cut as those on a Greek medallion; yet the chin, beardless as Tecumseh’s, had something of strange protuberant broadness in its make that recalled the prints of the Revered Dr Titus Oates, the historical deponent . . .” Claggart dresses impeccably. He is very envious of Billy Budd from their first meeting. How Melville describes Billy Budd (Baby Budd), you cannot help but love him. As stated earlier, “What a beautiful specimen of a man” he is, inside and out. One theme in this novella that is distinct is the innocent vulnerability within Billy Budd. Oh, my heart ached for him remembering my younger days in this position. Very happy kid on the block, loved life, but there was “that” bully, like Claggart, who just had to ruin a sunshiny day each and every time. Darn; it just turned me into a cynic. There is interesting history recounted regarding the Spithead and Nore mutinies; the Nore being referred to as “The Great Mutiny”. Billy Budd takes place in 1797, just after these two events. The Battle of Trafalgar with Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson was also narrated. Melville gives tribute to Lord Nelson. This history is apropos to the story as a whole. Another great read from Herman Melville. I wonder, out of the sailing expeditions Melville experienced, what parts of his stories actually may have taken place. This is what makes Melville’s writings all the more intriguing for me.

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