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Pierre, Israel Potter, The Piazza Tales, The Confidence-Man, Uncollected…

by Herman Melville

Other authors: Harrison Hayford (Editor)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
460239,701 (4.26)10
Forgoing the narratives of the sea that prevailed in his earlier works, Melville's later fiction contains some of the finest and many of his keenest and bleakest observations of life, not on the high seas, but at home in America. With the publication of this Library of America volume, the third of three volumes, all Melville's fiction has now been restored to print for the first time. Pierre; or, The Ambiguities, published in 1852 (the year after Moby-Dick), moves between the idyllic Berkshire countryside and the nightmare landscape of early New York City. Its hero, a young American patrician trying to redeem the secret sins of his father, elopes to the city, discovers Bohemian life, attempts a literary epic, and struggles his way through incest, murder, and madness. Long a controversial work, it is Melville's darkest satire of American life and letters and one of his most powerful books. A pivotal work, both for Melville's career and for American literature, Pierre was followed by Israel Potter, the story of a veteran of the Revolution, victim of a thousand mischances, and a long-suffering exile in England. Along the way are memorable episodes of war and intrigue, with personal portraits of Benjamin Franklin, John Paul Jones, and George III. In the exploits of this touchingly optimistic soldier, Melville offers a scathing image of the collapse of revolutionary hopes. The Piazza Tales demonstrates Melville's dazzling mastery of many styles, including "The Encantadas," about nature's two faces--enchanting and horrific; the famous "Bartleby the Scrivener," about a Wall Street copyist who "would prefer not to"; and the enigmatic "Benito Cereno," about a credulous Yankee sea captain who stumbles into an intricately plotted mutiny aboard a disabled slave ship. The Confidence-Man, Melville's last published novel, is in many ways a forerunner of modernist American fiction. An extended meditation on faith, hope, and charity as these are manifested on board a Mississippi riverboat one April Fools' Day, it presents a menagerie of Americans buying and selling, borrowing and lending, believing and mistrusting, as they are carried toward the auction blocks of New Orleans. Many pieces never before collected are also included: the "Authentic Anecdotes of Old Zack" (burlesque sketches of Zachary Taylor's Mexican campaign), "Fragments from a Writing-Desk" (Melville's earliest surviving prose), reviews of Hawthorne, Parkman, and Cooper, and all the tales Melville published in magazines during the 1850s. Finally, there is the posthumously published masterpiece Billy Budd, Sailor, the haunting story of a beautiful, innocent sailor who is pressed into naval service, slandered, provoked to murder, and sacrificed to military justice. While encouraging questions for which there are no answers, it invites us to meditate on the conflicts central to all Melville's work: between freedom and fate, innocence and civilized corruption. LIBRARY OF AMERICA is an independent nonprofit cultural organization founded in 1979 to preserve our nation's literary heritage by publishing, and keeping permanently in print, America's best and most significant writing. The Library of America series includes more than 300 volumes to date, authoritative editions that average 1,000 pages in length, feature cloth covers, sewn bindings, and ribbon markers, and are printed on premium acid-free paper that will last for centuries.… (more)

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This review is for The Confidence Man

How does one go about having a philosophical conversation with one's self? By setting up a bunch of straw men and shooting them down. This is Melville's tack on this discussion of cynicism and confidence. He takes us from a crippled ( or is he) black man demanding only confidence in his being a cripple, to a sophisticated, educated cosmopolitan seeking confidence in the form of a substantial chunk of change, gratis. I want to say Melville doesn't take an active side in this discussion, but I can't, his confidence men are all just glib talkers with plans to lighten the rubes of their loads.

Each one of the several confidence men on this trip down the Mississippi, that crookedest of rivers, aboard the Fidele, Latin for faith, takes a different approach to playing on the faith of the crowd or the individual with whom they are engaged in their philosophical discussions. But each one of these discussions seems to come down on the side of the skeptical mark, rather than the man who would turn the other cheek, give the shirt off of his back, or pray for his enemies. Melville treats this open-hearted, unselfish perspective as seriously unserious, benighted, and only to be indulged by fools.

In some of these discussions one can catch glimpses of other philosophies being taken hold and jostled a bit. This book is not to be read lightly, in fact, Melville's style demands any work he writes be taken seriously. When you begin to get the jist of what he's saying and think you can begin to fly over the words, he hits you with a sentence construction shaped like a red, octagonal sign saying STOP! Are you sure you know what was just said? This may be why many can't seem to get into Melville. He doesn't want you to "get into him". He wants you to understand him, and sometimes that means drawing you up short, making you think about what was just said.

This book is not a novel, although it has a theme, it doesn't tell much of a story. If you need a story, a beginning and an end, this is not it. If youn are looking for an escapist read, this is not it. If you are looking for an entertainment, then unless you are one of those who take their entertainment in mind-stretching thought, you will not be entertained. It covers one day in the life of faith, April First, no less, what does that mean? That faith is a practical joke spread by confidence men? This is not about religious faith, although, Christian faith as charity certainly plays a role here, but faith in our fellow man. In its own way this book shows us how fragile, and on what an irrational foundation, our sense of faith in others rests. But, if we were not able to trust others at all, we would all end up as the man in the bearskin coat, a loner, living alone in the forest primeval, unable to be around one's fellows any longer than we could stand. There would be no pyramids, no Taj Mahal, no United States, nothing. We would be as the Tea Party suspicious and afraid all the time. This thought brings to mind the dangers of radical individualism as faith in one another crumbles and money becomes the one sole arbiter of value.

What an interesting book. I'll bet I could write a different review of it each day for a week and still not touch on all there is here. Melville was a genius.

If you are ready for a serious study of what's wrong with America today, you can't do better than slowly devour this 150 year old look at faith and cynicism and how each have their own deadly faults. Indeed, there is "No Trust". ( )
9 vote geneg | May 23, 2011 |
I love Melville! Therefore, my objectivity is somewhat lacking.
I read this volume some 30 years ago.
This is an excellent book (i.e., a 5 on a 5 point scale), which is much more than I expect when I buy a book.
I have currently misplaced this book.
These are seafaring tales of the South Seas.
Melville is a good writer with a very good vocabulary. His plot and character development are very good.
I was involed in all of the stories.

Positives:
This is a Library of America book.

Negatives:
None. ( )
  TChesney | Feb 25, 2009 |
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Hayford, HarrisonEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Forgoing the narratives of the sea that prevailed in his earlier works, Melville's later fiction contains some of the finest and many of his keenest and bleakest observations of life, not on the high seas, but at home in America. With the publication of this Library of America volume, the third of three volumes, all Melville's fiction has now been restored to print for the first time. Pierre; or, The Ambiguities, published in 1852 (the year after Moby-Dick), moves between the idyllic Berkshire countryside and the nightmare landscape of early New York City. Its hero, a young American patrician trying to redeem the secret sins of his father, elopes to the city, discovers Bohemian life, attempts a literary epic, and struggles his way through incest, murder, and madness. Long a controversial work, it is Melville's darkest satire of American life and letters and one of his most powerful books. A pivotal work, both for Melville's career and for American literature, Pierre was followed by Israel Potter, the story of a veteran of the Revolution, victim of a thousand mischances, and a long-suffering exile in England. Along the way are memorable episodes of war and intrigue, with personal portraits of Benjamin Franklin, John Paul Jones, and George III. In the exploits of this touchingly optimistic soldier, Melville offers a scathing image of the collapse of revolutionary hopes. The Piazza Tales demonstrates Melville's dazzling mastery of many styles, including "The Encantadas," about nature's two faces--enchanting and horrific; the famous "Bartleby the Scrivener," about a Wall Street copyist who "would prefer not to"; and the enigmatic "Benito Cereno," about a credulous Yankee sea captain who stumbles into an intricately plotted mutiny aboard a disabled slave ship. The Confidence-Man, Melville's last published novel, is in many ways a forerunner of modernist American fiction. An extended meditation on faith, hope, and charity as these are manifested on board a Mississippi riverboat one April Fools' Day, it presents a menagerie of Americans buying and selling, borrowing and lending, believing and mistrusting, as they are carried toward the auction blocks of New Orleans. Many pieces never before collected are also included: the "Authentic Anecdotes of Old Zack" (burlesque sketches of Zachary Taylor's Mexican campaign), "Fragments from a Writing-Desk" (Melville's earliest surviving prose), reviews of Hawthorne, Parkman, and Cooper, and all the tales Melville published in magazines during the 1850s. Finally, there is the posthumously published masterpiece Billy Budd, Sailor, the haunting story of a beautiful, innocent sailor who is pressed into naval service, slandered, provoked to murder, and sacrificed to military justice. While encouraging questions for which there are no answers, it invites us to meditate on the conflicts central to all Melville's work: between freedom and fate, innocence and civilized corruption. LIBRARY OF AMERICA is an independent nonprofit cultural organization founded in 1979 to preserve our nation's literary heritage by publishing, and keeping permanently in print, America's best and most significant writing. The Library of America series includes more than 300 volumes to date, authoritative editions that average 1,000 pages in length, feature cloth covers, sewn bindings, and ribbon markers, and are printed on premium acid-free paper that will last for centuries.

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