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Billy Budd, Sailor (1924)

by Herman Melville

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2,272395,221 (3.29)94
In 1797, young Billy Budd is impressed into naval service. It is a perilous time for a British Royal Navy still reeling from mutinies and marauding French ships. When Billy is forcibly transferred to HMS Bellipotent, he evokes the wrath of John Claggart, the ship's Master-at-arms. Claggart falsely accuses Billy of conspiracy to mutiny, a charge that will have a profound effect on the fates of both seamen.… (more)

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English (36)  French (1)  Italian (1)  German (1)  All languages (39)
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
Having a stammer myself, I found the use of it as a literary device quite entertaining. Melville's tragic story is very well written and asks a lot of philosophical questions. Its a lot of thought for quite a small amount of book. I do recommend it. ( )
  Neal_Anderson | Aug 1, 2021 |
On the surface, this novella is a simple story about a naive sailor on an English warship in 1797 who inadvertently kills a superior and gets his just consequences. Upon closer examination, Herman Melville has deliberately crafted the tale so that the characters represent important societal messages. He integrates symbols, allusions, and timeless themes into this novella.

Billy is a foundling and wants very much to please his superiors on The HMS Indomitable (Bellipotent in some editions of the book), but does not have the wherewithal. He mistakes cruel comments for good-natured kidding and learns too late how cruel humans can be. John Claggart, the master of arms aboard the ship, who believed that Billy had contempt for him, represents humanity's evil and ugly side. It seems that Claggart could not accept Billy's popularity and happy-go-lucky spirit. He also seemed obsessed with Billy's good looks. Instead of guiding Billy, the sinister Claggart sets him up for wrongdoing and reports him for planning a mutiny. The charges seem absurd, but the military rules are strict and Edward Vere, the ship's captain, brings Billy into a meeting to discuss charges. At the meeting, Billy strikes Claggart, and he dies. Now, Billy is a murderer. A very torn, Captain "Starry" Vere follows protocol and schedules a hearing that results in sentencing Billy to death for murder.

Melville is an esteemed American author, and his words are replete with complex meanings. None of the characters is fully developed, though, and it seems that the reader is provided a life lesson of good/evil and how those in authority rule. The character trait of innocence and naivete is a strong theme. The reader is reminded that humans are forever shaped by the child within. Billy has never learned impulse control or the danger of disagreeing with and harming one's superior, especially in the military. Much literary critique of the book is widely available, and an opera based on the work is still performed. Although I am glad to have read it, I don't really recommend it, and I hope youngsters are not being forced to read books with such stilted language to study the classics.

https://quipsandquotes.net/?p=424 ( )
  LindaLoretz | Mar 15, 2021 |
[Review written by my younger self]
Reading Herman Melville's book for the second time, I found that it made an interesting perspective on the law and human judgment, and how they sometimes come into conflict.

Throughout life and history, laws have been around to define the boundaries between right and wrong, and providing appropriate punishment for those who overstep these boundaries. Most would say that the definitions for these boundaries are reasonable and easy to abide to.

Sometimes, though, these definitions come into question. In Billy Budd the law defining the firm criteria of what constituted mutiny--the martial law--was contested by one of the ship's officers, the virtuous and seemingly flawless Billy Budd. The punishment facing him was death by hanging.

Billy Budd was well-loved by all his workmates (except Master-at-Arms Claggart) and was called the "Handsome Sailor". On the ship, the Bellipotent Billy finds himself in an interesting situation as an envious Claggar is intent on framing Billy for treason.

What makes Billy's breaking of the law different is the unique circumstances surrounding it. One of the characters, Captain Vere, makes no apology for this and instead justifies the punishment by saying that law can sometimes contradict human nature, and one must always show allegiance to the king and their duties as crew members.

Though he mentions human nature, established law takes precedence in conflicts. Still, because humans make these laws, there is the possibly of human error and judgment. The law in this novel shows how the leaders keep order in society. Crew members made half-hearted attempts to refute him, but none could deny the existence of that law, so plain in existence and so straightforward in content.

As with all of Melville's work, this was not an easy reading. There are the author's distinctive character descriptions and his digressions, but that does not mean that the book is entirely inaccessible. Some editions of this book have other stories included, as well as readers' supplements and bibliographies. There are a couple of movie editions of this book, including one with Terence Stamp and Peter Ustinov, as well as an opera. ( )
  irrelephant | Feb 21, 2021 |
death of innocence
  ritaer | Jun 6, 2020 |
When one has to balance the law against moral right and wrong, sometimes there is no choice. Billy Budd was a good person. ( )
  LindaLeeJacobs | Feb 15, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (130 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Melville, Hermanprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Busch, FrederickEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Di Biagi, FlaminioTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Freeman, Frederic BarronEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hayford, HarrisonEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Moering, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Palm, Johan M.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Plomer, WilliamIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sealts, Merton M., Jr.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weaver, Raymond M.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Wherever that great heart may now be
Here on Earth or harbored in Paradise

Captain of the Maintop
in the year 1843
in the U.S. Frigate
United States
First words
In the time before steamships, or then more frequently than now, a stroller along the docks of any considerable seaport would occasionally have his attention arrested by a group of bronzed mariners, man-of-war's men or merchant sailors in holiday attire, ashore on liberty.
The Chaplain is the minister of the Prince of Peace, serving in the host of the God of War - Ares.
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In 1797, young Billy Budd is impressed into naval service. It is a perilous time for a British Royal Navy still reeling from mutinies and marauding French ships. When Billy is forcibly transferred to HMS Bellipotent, he evokes the wrath of John Claggart, the ship's Master-at-arms. Claggart falsely accuses Billy of conspiracy to mutiny, a charge that will have a profound effect on the fates of both seamen.

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