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Herman Melville (World's Greatest Writers…

Herman Melville (World's Greatest Writers Series)

by Herman Melville

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Showing 3 of 3
1. Moby Dick
2. The Confidence-Man
3. The Piazza Tales
4. Billy Budd
  heather_hexe | Nov 8, 2014 |
I'd say I'm neither a fan of Melville nor a detractor. I feel mixed about much of his work, but almost all of his work I've read were worth the read, original and influential, and memorable.

Moby Dick: This is a deeply weird book, not what I expected from a 19th Century classic, and my rating expresses my mixture of admiration, boredom and outright irritation at Melville's wretched self-indulgence and excesses. I know that's nigh to sacrilegious. Introductions to this book call it "the greatest American novel ever written" and the "greatest sea book ever written." I certainly recommend trying it on the grounds of cultural literacy and if you have any interest in modern literature or the art of writing. But as presumptuous as it might be to say so, I could wish Melville had a much more ruthless editor. Much of Moby Dick reads like a sloppy first draft. Then there's the just plain trippy. Loads of chapters that are essays on all things about whaling. Others that are prose poems or what seem to be displaced random snatches of Huh??? Yet some of Melville's Shakespearean language is striking and resonant. A lot of the characters are memorable, beyond just Ahab: Pip, the Harpooners such as Tashtego and Fedallah, the Carpenter and the Blacksmith, the three mates, Starbuck, Stubb and Flask. Cut away all the blubber...er...digressions, there's an epic mythic story at the core, Three-and-a-half

The Confidence-Man: This book had just about every aspect I do hate in Melville (other than the massive digressions) squared. For one, this is Melville at his least subtle. The title is "The Confidence Man: His Masquerade" and it takes place aboard the Steamer Fidele on April Fool's Day. By the third paragraph we read of a placard about an imposter in the area. And if by then you don't get that the theme is how confidence and trust plays into the ability to be swindled, worry not--the characters will go on and on about the subject in ways no real people converse. I've heard this described as more of a Socratic dialogue than novel. All I can say is I far prefer Plato. One-and-a-half Stars

Piazza Tales: This is a collection of 6 shorter pieces, not a novel, published in 1856. As a whole I far prefer them to Moby Dick or Billy Budd. I don't care for "The Piazza" (although it does boast the rarity of a female character in Melville) or "The Encantadas or Enchanted Isles" (10 sketches about the Galapagos Islands that are far more "tell" than "show.") "The Lightening-Rod Man" about a pushy door-to-door salesman is mildly amusing and "The Bell-Tower" is a rather traditional story reminiscent of Poe or Hawthorne. But the prizes of this collection are the two novellas: Benito Cereno and Bartleby, the Scrivener. Benito Cereno is a brilliant example of the "unreliable narrator" and the way that subverts the racist assumptions of the day (and the point of view character) is masterful. Bartleby I've heard described as Kafkaesque. It's black humor, but it is funny. Four Stars

Billy Budd: I've seen this described as allegory: like allegory, it often can come across as all too heavy handed. Billy Budd is the Christ-figure of almost pure good; Claggart is painted very much as a Satanic figure who hates Billy for his virtues. Captain Vere is a more complex figure. Given his position in this drama it would be easy to see him as Jehovah, as God the father, yet Melville speaks of his "mental disturbance." The narrator is intrusive--and he does things like say "for a literary sin then divergence will be"--and then goes on digressing. The narrator has a tone of omniscience, relates things only an omniscient narrator would know--then demurs he has complete knowledge and presents things as his guesses. The narration often struck me as ponderous, high-strung, melodramatic, and in describing Billy (described every several paragraphs as the "Handsome Sailor") so very, very gay. And yet there are some piercing psychological insights--and some really beautiful touches. (In the context of what was happening, the simple sentence "Billy ascended" was powerful and chilling.) Not a story I'd call a favorite, but worth reading. Three Stars ( )
1 vote LisaMaria_C | Oct 7, 2012 |
Skipped The Confidence-Man and Billy Budd ( )
  bookdreamer | May 13, 2012 |
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Billy Budd: A young sailor is sentenced to be hanged for inadvertently striking and killing an officer. He faces death with a blessing for the benevolent captain who is forced to carry out his execution.

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