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Melville's Short Novels: Authoritative Texts, Contexts, Criticism

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Collected in this volume are Bartleby the Scrivener, Benito Cereno, and Billy Budd—presented in the best texts available, those published during Melville's lifetime and corrected by the author. Each text has been carefully edited and annotated for student readers. As his writing reflects, Melville was extraordinarily well read. "Contexts" collects important sources for each Collected in this volume are Bartleby the Scrivener, Benito Cereno, and Billy Budd—presented in the best texts available, those published during Melville's lifetime and corrected by the author. Each text has been carefully edited and annotated for student readers. As his writing reflects, Melville was extraordinarily well read. "Contexts" collects important sources for each novel, including writings by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Amasa Delano, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. "Criticism" includes twenty-eight essays about the novels sure to promote classroom discussion. Contributors include Leo Marx, Elizabeth Hardwick, Frederick Busch, Robert Lowell, Herschel Parker, Carolyn L. Karcher, Thomas Mann, and Hannah Arendt. A Selected Bibliography is included. --wwnorton.co.uk


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Collected in this volume are Bartleby the Scrivener, Benito Cereno, and Billy Budd—presented in the best texts available, those published during Melville's lifetime and corrected by the author. Each text has been carefully edited and annotated for student readers. As his writing reflects, Melville was extraordinarily well read. "Contexts" collects important sources for each Collected in this volume are Bartleby the Scrivener, Benito Cereno, and Billy Budd—presented in the best texts available, those published during Melville's lifetime and corrected by the author. Each text has been carefully edited and annotated for student readers. As his writing reflects, Melville was extraordinarily well read. "Contexts" collects important sources for each novel, including writings by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Amasa Delano, and Nathaniel Hawthorne. "Criticism" includes twenty-eight essays about the novels sure to promote classroom discussion. Contributors include Leo Marx, Elizabeth Hardwick, Frederick Busch, Robert Lowell, Herschel Parker, Carolyn L. Karcher, Thomas Mann, and Hannah Arendt. A Selected Bibliography is included. --wwnorton.co.uk

30 review for Melville's Short Novels: Authoritative Texts, Contexts, Criticism

  1. 5 out of 5

    Parthiban Sekar

    "I would prefer not to" "I would prefer not to"

  2. 4 out of 5

    Shawn Birss

    This book (a Christmas gift from my in-laws) was an absolute pleasure to read, beginning to end. It was also challenging, and often difficult to understand. But it was never less than engrossing and endlessly fascinating. This was my second time through Bartleby, a story I enjoyed reading so much last year that it led to my being given this beautiful Folio Society edition. I will include last year's thoughts on the story at the end of this review. I was happy to discover that the other two stori This book (a Christmas gift from my in-laws) was an absolute pleasure to read, beginning to end. It was also challenging, and often difficult to understand. But it was never less than engrossing and endlessly fascinating. This was my second time through Bartleby, a story I enjoyed reading so much last year that it led to my being given this beautiful Folio Society edition. I will include last year's thoughts on the story at the end of this review. I was happy to discover that the other two stories here included were also excellent. The following are my thoughts as I finished each. ☠ Benito Cereno Herman Melville January 16, 2018 There is a pervasive thread of sexism that runs through much of polite society that still lies under the awareness of some men, even those who imagine themselves "progressive". This particular idea which still infects so many is that women are nice. Now, on the surface, this may not immediately show itself as problematic. However, to examine the idea only a little, that a certain population has an inherent quality unique to them, even if it is one that may be considered mildly virtuous, the consequences of the idea can become apparent to the thoughtful examiner. First is the consequence of that which is imposed upon an entire population of people, an expectation that they are to act in a certain way to fulfill the assumption upon their sex. Second, though not last, is the imputation of "niceness" upon anyone of the sex, thus making the prejudiced viewer blind and deaf to that which the individual members of this population do or say. This prejudice is the one that is surprised at the anger of women at the plague of sexual harassment that has followed them as they have slowly moved out of the home and into the worlds still dominated by men. This is the prejudice that is surprised at all that women are willing to do, in their anger, to make justice for all who continue to be oppressed by this patriarchal system. We live according to a system that was made by and for white men of middle age. Thus, it prefers white men of middle age in every way. Until that system is uprooted, burned, and resowed, this will continue to be so. Part of this uprooting of the system is the weeding out of these prejudices, including the ones not obviously corrupting in the eyes of the "nice", progressive man, who still sees women as some holy, virtuous "other". This is similar to the politically correct prejudice of the narrator of Benito Cereno, though of the racist form, rather than sexist. Captain Delano is a good, white, American, Christian man in Massachusetts. He is clearly educated. He has a high opinion of himself. He probably likes how he has all the right ideas and proper opinions. When he sees a ship coming into port, and notices it is moving strangely, he goes out to her with supplies and comes aboard to see how he can help. He discovers a Spanish ship and captain, Benito Cereno, filled with black slaves on the deck, but with all the rest of the Spanish crew working down below. Benito Cereno explains that there was some illness on board that killed much of the crew, and then praises the black slaves for all the good they did to help keep the ship staffed. It would very likely be obvious to any contemporary reader what has actually happened on board the ship. I cannot know for certain, but suspect that it may have been less obvious to the original readers. Still, what follows remains extremely effective at exposing the naive, self-righteous prejudices of our narrator, Delano, while clearly justifying the actions of the revolting slave crew, as the tension mounts perfectly below the surface, tightening with every page at the anticipation of violence. Delano sees the black men and women as any proper, educated American of his time would. They are serene, beautiful creatures, to be observed as one would animals in nature. They are holy, described by Delano with language used for members of holy orders and servants of the church. His own excitement at his enlightenment blinds him to the anger and viciousness before his very eyes. The reader thus sees behind every sentence an entirely different vision than that which is described. It's terrifying and beautiful. Upon discussion of a slave of mixed race, Delano is obviously pleased with himself as he hopes aloud that the "improvement" in the colour of this person doesn't come with the unfortunate consequence of corrupting the beauty of black docility with our horrible whiteness. What to this character must seem like a humble and respectful view of "the black" is revealed in this story as the foundation of his complicity in these humans' suffering. This novella is brilliant. Were it written today, it might have been written as a revenge fantasy, perhaps by Tarantino. Were it written today by a person of colour, it may be more like a horror comedy akin to Get Out. But this story is a product of its time, not ours, and written to its proper white audience, not to us. Thus, it is a tragedy. I believe it is rightly so. The final image, in the shadow of a church, leaves the proper white audience under the penetrating, accusing gaze of their own victim. I doubt they were yet able to see it, or themselves. I hope that we are different. ☠ Billy Budd Herman Melville January 17, 2018 Billy Budd is not an easy story to understand. The last novel written by Herman Melville, it was published posthumously from incomplete texts. There were decades of controversy over the best version of the story. No conclusive interpretation has been given. As I began the story, I was aware of the many queer interpretations of the tale, and Billy Budd's occasional position as a gay icon. In the first chapters, I felt like I could see this coming, as the character's physical attractiveness is described in great detail, even so far as to be compared positively to a very attractive woman. This point is made a few times as Billy Budd is introduced. Feminine language follows descriptions of him for the first act especially. Melville also describes the existence in every crew of "The Handsome Sailor", one who is loved and protected by the rest of the crew, the position to which Billy Budd is ascribed in whatever crew he is a part. All of this introduction seemed to me clearly to point to a certain relationship of Billy Budd among the all male crew. However, after this introduction, what seemed to be an obvious direction in the narrative all but ended. Whether Melville expected the reader to make this assumption, and read the rest of the book accordingly, or it is something read into the text by readers over one hundred years removed from the culture in which it was written is something I do not have the sophistication to adequately discern. However, I did allow myself to hold the perspective lightly as I continued to read. The rest of the story leads us through tragic events of misunderstanding, jealousy, politics, and possibly mental illness as well. The strongest allusion apparent to me was one of crucifixion, with Billy Budd as the Christlike sacrifice. For the sake of politics, the letter of the law, and the pride of those in power, he is cut down. Though innocent, as far as this reader can tell, Billy Budd must silently fall victim to an unjust machine for the sake of others. The fears of those in power that lead to Billy's demise are of appearances of weakness, and the possibilities of revolt or mutiny. Once again, these themes, of fear of change and protection against vulnerability by those in power, do harmonize with a queer reading of the text. But such an interpretation is far from explicitly clear. Most difficult to interpret are the book's final chapters, which seem to render moot some of what was assumed in the text by all the pages before. I was simply confused, unable to parse it all, and eventually hung it up as a difficulty with an incomplete, posthumously published narrative. I loved the story. I wished as I read it to find a conclusive gay reading, since it did seem like such a reading worked so well. Whether it is so, or a more general and straightforward allegory of Christ, part of the appeal of the novel is this mystery. It may have been my least favourite of the stories contained in the collection in which I read it. But it is the one I am most likely to return to for rereading first. + Oh yeah... It was also fun to imagine Billy Budd looking like a very young William Shatner, knowing that he played the character in a made-for-television adaptation in the 1950s. ☠ (The following is pasted from my original review last year. My thoughts on the story have not changed much, except that I enjoyed reading it the second time even more than the first.) Bartleby, The Scrivener November 19, 2017 I blame Crispin Glover. Last year ended with an unfortunate dip into the deep end of literature as I made an attempt at Moby Dick. I had rightly concluded by my great enjoyment of East of Eden years before that there is something special about lengthy narratives, and of classics. Moby Dick being both, when I found a handsome edition, I gave it a try. This did not go well. I am happy to have found lengthy fiction and classic fiction since Moby Dick that has suited my tastes much better. But even though I could appreciate the biblical allusions and literary style of Moby Dick, on the whole i found it a bore that was only exacerbated by its great length. Ugh. I concluded that I had enough of Herman Melville, and would never again indulge his creations. Enter Crispin Glover. Of this enigmatic man I have had a serious interest, bordering on excessive, on and off for many years. He is like an itch in my brain, a puzzle that I must imagine is only one article, one performance, one piece of art or interview or appearance away from being solved. Yet, he eludes me. This lack of any conclusion to the questions he raises in me about the nature of celebrity, of art, of writing, of film, of activism, of the facade of Hollywood itself, just sticks like a burr in my mind, never satisfied, only swelling and abating in its need for my attention. Generally speaking, I will encounter something connected in some way to Crispin Glover, sparking a desire to explore the work of this strange person again for a month or two. This will fade, though never fully disappear, until my next encounter a month or six later, reminding me that no other public figure fascinates me in the way Crispin Glover does, and the cycle begins anew. Thus I found myself a few weeks ago at my local used book store, looking through the display glass at two new oddments, small hardcover books, foil embossed, with the name Crispin Hellion Glover upon them. Both were signed. Both were exorbitantly priced, as Glover's books are very difficult to procure at normal book prices outside of the United States, even besides the currency difference. Still, I was entranced. Upon looking at both, and experiencing major feels at both reviews, including but not limited to intrigue, horror, and disgust, I found myself making an out-of-character financial decision and returning the following day to take home one of these glorified zines, limited edition and hardcover though they may be. The book in question is Rat Catching, by Crispin Hellion Glover. My partner devoured the book upon my bringing it home, after which I immediately did the same, and then repeated the same for the three days following. I loved it. And my Crispin Glover curiosity bloomed once again. I borrowed his CD from the library. I watched his music videos. And I found another rare gem of an indie film starring Crispin Glover that I still had never seen. Bartleby. This was one of the most brilliant, one of the funniest, most interesting, most curiously stylish films I have seen in years. And Crispin Glover could not have possibly been more perfectly cast in the title role. He delivers a performance, again, as he always does, unlike any I have ever seen. There is one scene about twenty-eight minutes into the film that is among the funniest segments I have ever seen in any film in my life. This is almost entirely because of Crispin Glover's brilliant interpretation of the character. It is amazing. Therefore, I was thrust back into the arms of Herman Melville, though I did not care to be so thrust. What could I do? The enigma of Crispin Glover has once again bewitched me. That the author of Moby Dick is now entwined in the riddle is no fault of mine. I descended upon this novella, then, already assuming that I would love what I found within. Amazingly, I was not disappointed. This novella is one of the best books I have read in 2017. It is a social satire on the state of capitalism and its impact on the soul of humanity, as well as a criticism of the weakness inherent in the oppressive system - it only moves forward if those oppressed by it volunteer to participate in their own oppression. Personally, I would prefer not to. Whether the original text would have been read as blazingly hilarious to its contemporaries, or I am impacted by the ghost of Crispin reading all of Bartleby's dialogue to me as I read, I can not know. I do know that as much as I enjoyed the film, I actually enjoyed the book even more. It is as enigmatic and strange and funny and mysterious and biting and disturbing as the man who plays the title character in a film of our age, while still fully embodying the spirit of Wall Street in the age in which it was written. Put simple, it holds up. This is a timeless tale, and these are timeless characters. It is a fast read, though I recommend taking it slowly and letting yourself experience the subtext in every line. I very highly recommend this short novella. I also recommend the film. They are separate pieces, and could be enjoyed in either order, I'm sure. Without giving spoilers, I would say, though, that the criticism of Capitalism is much sharper, and more clearly and viciously and ironically displayed in the book than in the film. Please read this book and watch this film, for your own sake, won't you? Unless you would prefer not to. ☠ Folio Society, 1967 Illustrated by Garrick Palmer (woodcut) Introduced by John Hampden Five Stars January 12-17, 2018 ☠

  3. 4 out of 5

    John Pistelli

    [I am adding this Norton Critical Edition because I am using it in a class this semester; it contains "Bartleby, the Scrivener," Benito Cereno, and Billy Budd—which three short works, the editor informs us in his introduction, Melvilleans sometimes call "The Killer Bs." I have already written about "Bartleby" here and Billy Budd here, so I am going to use this review to say my piece about Benito Cereno.] Benito Cereno is one of the post- Pierre short works of the 1850s by which Melville hoped [I am adding this Norton Critical Edition because I am using it in a class this semester; it contains "Bartleby, the Scrivener," Benito Cereno, and Billy Budd—which three short works, the editor informs us in his introduction, Melvilleans sometimes call "The Killer Bs." I have already written about "Bartleby" here and Billy Budd here, so I am going to use this review to say my piece about Benito Cereno.] Benito Cereno is one of the post- Pierre short works of the 1850s by which Melville hoped to right the ship of his literary career. A novella of slavery, based on a true story, it is both an effective work of suspense and mystery and a remarkably intricate literary and political structure. Melville's protest—and protest it is—against slavery is written in code, a figure in the carpet. This technique was perhaps necessitated not only by proto-modernist artistic ambition but also by the crasser consideration that Melville's father-in-law, on whose largesse his family partially depended, was Lemuel Shaw, chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court and enforcer of the Fugitive Slave Law (despite his own hostility to slavery). Even so, the novella, like "Bartleby" before it, is so thorough a critique of the politics of sentimentality, benevolence, Christian charity, Transcendentalist idealism, and the general smugness of the New England elite's liberalism, that I doubt Melville would have wanted to write an outright protest fiction on the Stowe model even had he felt freer to do so. Later generations of critics have in any case approved his choice to demur from explicit advocacy: the space for politics Melville leaves open in his elliptical narrative can only be filled, as I will explain, by the black insurgent rather than by the white philanthropist. The novella's plot, simply stated, follows New Englander Captain Amasa Delano aboard a stranded Spanish slave ship off the coast of Chile. The scene on the ship is unsettling, even after captain and crew explain that they have suffered storm and fever. The titular character is the debilitated-seeming Don Benito Cereno, literally upheld by his apparently faithful enslaved body-servant, the diminutive Babo. Cereno's nervousness and reticence, along with the peculiar disposition of the ship's inhabitants—which includes a corps of black men sharpening hatchets amid a general restiveness among the white crew—arouses Delano's suspicion. In fact, most of the novella, narrated in third-person perspective with a rigorously maintained focalization through Delano's consciousness, is an oscillation between the New England captain's fears and his self-reassurances, an emotional wave motion miming the sea. Eventually, the truth is revealed: there was a mutiny of the enslaved on Cereno's ship, and Delano has been witnessing a carefully-staged pantomime masterminded by the chief of the rebels, Babo, whose constant attendance upon Cereno had been a technique to ensure the deposed captain's compliance. The story ends with Cereno's escape, the slaves' capture, and a legal deposition explaining the whole affair. The story, then, must be read twice, since its first three quarters or so make little sense without knowledge of the ending. Understanding is always retrospective, subsequent to the event. Or is it? Perhaps it depends on who beholds the event. The novella's power comes in part from its viewpoint character's limitations of perspective. A remarkable opening visual description sets the story's tone:The morning was one peculiar to that coast. Everything was mute and calm; everything gray. The sea, though undulated into long roods of swells, seemed fixed, and was sleeked at the surface like waved lead that has cooled and set in the smelter's mold. The sky seemed a gray surtout. Flights of troubled gray fowl, kith and kin with flights of troubled gray vapors among which they were mixed, skimmed low and fitfully over the waters, as swallows over meadows before storms. Shadows present, foreshadowing deeper shadows to come.Yet Captain Delano, we are told in the very next paragraph, is intellectually ill-equipped to dwell in a world of ambiguity (gray, as against black and white), of shadow (which must be distinguished from substance), or of suffering (the passion evoked by "rood," a synonym for "crucifix" as a well as a unit of measurement). Delano is, locally, a caricature of the Transcendentalist with his privative definition of evil and his complacent idealism, and is also, more expansively, a satire on the self-satisfied meliorism of the liberal sensibility at large:Considering the lawlessness and loneliness of the spot, and the sort of stories, at that day, associated with those seas, Captain Delano's surprise might have deepened into some uneasiness had he not been a person of a singularly undistrustful good nature, not liable, except on extraordinary and repeated excitement, and hardly then, to indulge in personal alarms, any way involving the imputation of malign evil in man. Whether, in view of what humanity is capable, such a trait implies, along with a benevolent heart, more than ordinary quickness and accuracy of intellectual perception, may be left to the wise to determine.Delano is unable to see the reality in front of him because he looks out through a haze of erroneous expectation. To him, black people are naturally docile, and so Babo's exaggerated performance of servility seems scarcely remarkable:As master and man stood before him, the black upholding the white, Captain Delano could not but bethink him of the beauty of that relationship which could present such a spectacle of fidelity on the one hand and confidence on the other.Not to mention this:When at ease with respect to exterior things, Captain Delano's nature was not only benign, but familiarly and humorously so. At home, he had often taken rare satisfaction in sitting in his door, watching some free man of color at his work or play. If on a voyage he chanced to have a black sailor, invariably he was on chatty, and half-gamesome terms with him. In fact, like most men of a good, blithe heart, Captain Delano took to Negroes, not philanthropically, but genially, just as other men to Newfoundland dogs.Similarly, Delano sees only the decadent exhaustion of arbitrary authority in Latin Catholicism, an Old World relic, which serves for him to explain Cereno's apparent swings between command and collapse:Upon gaining a less remote view, the ship, when made signally visible on the verge of the leaden-hued swells, with the shreds of fog here and there raggedly furring her, appeared like a whitewashed monastery after a thunder-storm, seen perched upon some dun cliff among the Pyrenees. But it was no purely fanciful resemblance which now, for a moment, almost led Captain Delano to think that nothing less than a ship-load of monks was before him. Peering over the bulwarks were what really seemed, in the hazy distance, throngs of dark cowls; while, fitfully revealed through the open port-holes, other dark moving figures were dimly descried, as of Black Friars pacing the cloisters. Upon a still nigher approach, this appearance was modified, and the true character of the vessel was plain—a Spanish merchantman of the first class, carrying negro slaves, amongst other valuable freight, from one colonial port to another. A very large, and, in its time, a very fine vessel, such as in those days were at intervals encountered along that main; sometimes superseded Acapulco treasure-ships, or retired frigates of the Spanish king's navy, which, like superannuated Italian palaces, still, under a decline of masters, preserved signs of former state.Yet in the story's Gothic atmosphere, its slave ship reminiscent of ruined abbeys and collapsing battlements, we may read a prophecy of America's own eventual decline, just as "Bartleby" describes a Wall Street as "deserted as Petra." When Cereno declares at the end of the story that "the negro" has cast a fatal shadow over him—in a passage that furnishes one of the epigraphs to Invisible Man—this sense of slavery as an ineradicable fault in the modern west, like the crack in the House of Usher, must be what he (or Melville) means to imply. Consider that the rebels have killed the slaveowner onboard the San Dominick and replaced a statue of Columbus as the ship's figurehead with the slaver's skeleton above the motto follow your leader. If the prophecy was opaque to Melville's audience, it should be clear to us. I conclude with Babo. For when Delano sees black people as animals— His attention had been drawn to a slumbering Negress, partly disclosed through the lace-work of some rigging, lying, with youthful limbs carelessly disposed, under the lee of the bulwarks, like a doe in the shade of a woodland rock. Sprawling at her lapped breasts was her wide-awake fawn, stark naked, its black little body half lifted from the deck, crosswise with its dam's; its hands, like two paws, clambering upon her; its mouth and nose ineffectually rooting to get at the mark; and meantime giving a vexatious half-grunt, blending with the composed snore of the Negress.—it means that he cannot see them as political actors. But Babo, with his genius for staging public spectacle in the interests of his people, is what but a master of politics. The character scarcely speaks, and we gain no access to his consciousness. The story's last paragraphs portrays his execution:Some months after, dragged to the gibbet at the tail of a mule, the black met his voiceless end. The body was burned to ashes; but for many days, the head, that hive of subtlety, fixed on a pole in the Plaza, met, unabashed, the gaze of the whites…The key phrase is the remarkable "hive of subtlety." Granted that "hive" is dehumanizing, it also hints at capacity and activity, a many-voiced throng of consciousness. Its intimation of the insectoid prepares us for the next noun, which recalls the Lord of the Flies via Biblical and Miltonic allusion. Satan in his guise as serpent is the "subtlest beast of the field," we read in Book IX of Paradise Lost, wherein Milton reprises Genesis 3:1. The Romantic rebel Melville would almost certainly have taken the devil's part when he read Milton, whose Satan stood, thought Blake and Shelley, for the human considered as Promethean freedom fighter. So too did Toussaint L'Ouverture, emblematic for the young, radical Wordsworth of "man's unconquerable mind." Norton editor Dan McCall notes the following in this edition: Captain Delano's narrative was a real document, but in adapting it for fiction Melville moved its date back from 1805 to 1799, into the decade of the Haitian Revolution, and changed the name of Cereno's ship to the San Dominick, calling to mind Saint-Domingue. C. L. R. James argues in an excerpt at the back of this Norton Critical Edition that "Babo is the most heroic character in Melville's fiction." There is no inconsistency, then, in seeing Babo as both devil and hero, the story's veritable protagonist, when you consider the Romantic writer's transvaluation of values: "evil be thou my good," a defensible if controversial interpretation of what it would actually mean for the last to be first, for black to stand in the place of white. Come forward a century and Robert Hayden, in his "Middle Passage," provides the needed gloss on Melville's cryptic tale, when he precedes a slaver's bitter monologue on the Amistad rebellion with the following credo addressed to the whites whose gaze Babo might meet: You cannot stare that hatred down or chain the fear that stalks the watches and breathes on you its fetid scorching breath; cannot kill the deep immortal human wish, the timeless will.

  4. 5 out of 5

    David Jacobson

    I would like to read more stories written by the author of the first two thirds of "Benito Cereno". This book (at least the version I read) is a collection of three "shorter novels" by Hermann Melville, of immortal Moby Dick fame. A quote early in "Billy Budd", the first of these stories (dramatizing an episode of law and order in the Royal Navy), drives home the unfortunate way in which it is similar to that more-famous work: "In this matter of writing, resolve as one may to keep to the main ro I would like to read more stories written by the author of the first two thirds of "Benito Cereno". This book (at least the version I read) is a collection of three "shorter novels" by Hermann Melville, of immortal Moby Dick fame. A quote early in "Billy Budd", the first of these stories (dramatizing an episode of law and order in the Royal Navy), drives home the unfortunate way in which it is similar to that more-famous work: "In this matter of writing, resolve as one may to keep to the main road, some bypaths have an enticement not readily to be withstood." In "Billy Budd", as in Moby Dick, Melville is of the belief that everything that is of interest to him must necessarily also be of interest to the reader. In Moby Dick, the extraneous information is about whales; in "Billy Budd", it is the author's Tolstoy-esque commentaries on human nature. This critique is all the more notable for what Melville does in the second story, "Benito Cereno" (in which an American merchant captain comes upon a Spanish vessel where nothing seems to make sense): he tells a spare, carefully constructed story marked by mystery and rising suspense. And this story came before "Billy Budd" and Moby Dick! In other words, Melville chose, at a certain point, to adopt the meandering, inaccessible style for which he is so known. What might he have produced if he had taken a different road? While I think "Benito Cereno" is the best piece of maritime literature I have ever read, it should be noted that an element central to the story makes it delicate for modern readers: the Spanish ship in question is a slaver, and the late-18th-century racism of all parties comes clearly to the fore. In my reading, these attitudes were confined to the characters in question, and the portrayal of the slaves themselves was more nuanced, but this is surely a fraught issue. The final piece, "The Enchanted Isles", is not a story, but rather a series of "sketches" of the Galapagos Islands, which Melville visited at one point. They center more on various strange personages than on natural history, and I think would only be of interest in a historical, rather than literary, context.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Cto3

    Bartleby, the Scrivener is one of those stories that--unexpectedly--draws you in and won't spit you back out till it's through. It's hilarious, infuriating, enthralling, and, in the end, somewhat devastating. The social commentary, or challenge thereof, is brilliantly subversive, offering that the only way to survive in our society is through conformity and acquiescence. As many others have said, Melville invented Kafka before Kafka was even around. Benito Cereno is, for one, an engaging work. Me Bartleby, the Scrivener is one of those stories that--unexpectedly--draws you in and won't spit you back out till it's through. It's hilarious, infuriating, enthralling, and, in the end, somewhat devastating. The social commentary, or challenge thereof, is brilliantly subversive, offering that the only way to survive in our society is through conformity and acquiescence. As many others have said, Melville invented Kafka before Kafka was even around. Benito Cereno is, for one, an engaging work. Melville's ability to employ conventions of suspense and eeriness, seemingly without cause or explicit distress, is top-notch. I couldn't wait for the events to unfold; it was so marvelously structured. The descriptions of the Black people in the story are undeniably racist. As I've read, there are many that suggest that the story is critical and remonstrative of The Atlantic Slave Trade, and I can certainly see that angle, (view spoiler)[although, at first glance, it felt a bit obscured, since Benito is more or less seen as the tragic victim... (hide spoiler)] (I'm aware that this was written in the 19th century, and that, for the time, Melville was considered more progressive and critical in terms of how he viewed and discussed race, just wanted to comment on how I felt as a modern reader.) Billy Budd is dense. Probably my least favorite of the three, although that isn't saying very much--I loved them all. The prose is the most challenging in terms of legibility, and that gave me some pause and hindered my overall comprehension and retention, but the psychological profile of Claggart (or Jimmy Legs) is a profound one, and one that has stayed remarkably intact over time. (view spoiler)[The tragedy of Billy Budd is sad, yes, but I also found it grimly funny. That he couldn't speak in defense of himself and therefore struck out makes an interesting (and incisive) commentary about masculinity, and the dangers of reactivity. (hide spoiler)] I read this because I wanted to watch 'Beau Travail', and I felt that the two heightened each other; knowing the subtext of Billy Budd elevated the sprawling beauty and tension of Beau Travail, and Beau Travail leaned into the homoeroticism and confusion in spite of oneself that Billy Budd lays down all but explicitly. God, I love Melville.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Craig Barner

    3.5 stars The universe is a cold, brutal and unforgiving place. That idea might not be original, but it is unexpected given that it comes from Herman Melville and the context of his early-nineteenth-century New England society. The novelist wrote during the little-remembered American Renaissance, which is often identified with the quasi-philosophical and -religious Transcendentalist movement. Among its core beliefs were the inherent goodness of man and nature, a focus on humanism with concomitant 3.5 stars The universe is a cold, brutal and unforgiving place. That idea might not be original, but it is unexpected given that it comes from Herman Melville and the context of his early-nineteenth-century New England society. The novelist wrote during the little-remembered American Renaissance, which is often identified with the quasi-philosophical and -religious Transcendentalist movement. Among its core beliefs were the inherent goodness of man and nature, a focus on humanism with concomitant rejection of Calvinism and doctrinaire piety and embrace of the infinite perfectibility of man. Melville is having none of this. Cruelty, complexity and absurdity characterize these stories. Bartleby the Scrivener is a confounding man suffering from depression who is without family, is homeless and ends in prison, Benito Cereno is the captain of a slave ship and Billy Budd is an innocent, angelic sylph accused of mutiny who murders his accuser. At the same time, the stories are balanced with a tincture of benignity. A put-upon lawyer cannot force Bartleby into the streets, an American sea captain rescues Benito Cereno from death at the hands of slaves in revolt and Captain Vere is sometimes seen as a good man trapped by bad law, even if he condemns Billy Budd to hanging. Bartleby the Scrivener is a masterpiece and something of a precursor to the absurdist quality of European existentialism that had yet to crystalize and dominate much twentieth century thought and expression. Indeed, the story might represent among the most trenchant depictions of that tangled philosophical and literary movement ever produced, though Melville is rarely identified with it. Melville's a writing style is a mixed blessing. It has a Victorian quality, with its eloquence and high style, but he often eschews simplicity when simplicity would suffice. Bartleby the Scrivener is an exception to this. At the same time, Melville's high style is something of a delight. Vere's prolix analysis of sea law and the legal deposition that forms that last section of Benito Cereno are pleasures to read.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Zo

    All three stories (Bartleby, Benito Cereno, and Billy Budd) are as good as any other 19th-century fiction as I've read, especially Bartleby and Billy Budd. The complexity with which Melville deals with questions of reliability, epistemology, truth/fiction, narrative form, interpretation, etc is mesmerizing, and it's hard to fathom how ahead of his time he was. In addition to these broader philosophical/meta-literary themes each story contains their own interesting ideas on work/modernity (Bartle All three stories (Bartleby, Benito Cereno, and Billy Budd) are as good as any other 19th-century fiction as I've read, especially Bartleby and Billy Budd. The complexity with which Melville deals with questions of reliability, epistemology, truth/fiction, narrative form, interpretation, etc is mesmerizing, and it's hard to fathom how ahead of his time he was. In addition to these broader philosophical/meta-literary themes each story contains their own interesting ideas on work/modernity (Bartleby), slavery/ownership/power (Benito), and law/justice/authority (Billy). There also are fascinating cross-text themes about the role of silence, and I'm sure many other things I'm forgetting or didn't pick up on. Because the stories are so layered and rich with ideas they aren't "easy reading," but when in the right headspace they are stimulating like few other works, and when I allowed myself to get into the stories the unique mystery/oddity of them is magnetic. He's not my favorite prose stylist, but his style is singular, and creates some wonderful images. Definitely worth going back to and reading in the future.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Frederick

    These classics of American literature are still very readable and enjoyable today although Benito Cereno would come across as somewhat racist by our standards. Still, if you could manage to put it in the right perspective it would still be very exciting. Bartleby is one of my favorite all time stories that transplants well into modern Capitalism for any drudge in an office or a factory. Billy Budd is a good read but not as intriguing as Benito and not as thought-provoking as Bartleby. I recommen These classics of American literature are still very readable and enjoyable today although Benito Cereno would come across as somewhat racist by our standards. Still, if you could manage to put it in the right perspective it would still be very exciting. Bartleby is one of my favorite all time stories that transplants well into modern Capitalism for any drudge in an office or a factory. Billy Budd is a good read but not as intriguing as Benito and not as thought-provoking as Bartleby. I recommend reading these stories. They are very rewarding and you will enjoy them.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Sam O’Brien

    All three are amazing on their own, but when read in sequence they seem to enhance one another. Each explores motivations and purpose and how those two concepts interact with morality and belief. All are absurd in some way: Bartelby does not follow any one's orders, Benito Cereno has gone insane, Babo is curiously obedient, Billy Budd is pure, Claggart is impenetrable. Put them in a room high up above the streets or on a ship in the middle of the ocean. either is a world unto itself, but ones th All three are amazing on their own, but when read in sequence they seem to enhance one another. Each explores motivations and purpose and how those two concepts interact with morality and belief. All are absurd in some way: Bartelby does not follow any one's orders, Benito Cereno has gone insane, Babo is curiously obedient, Billy Budd is pure, Claggart is impenetrable. Put them in a room high up above the streets or on a ship in the middle of the ocean. either is a world unto itself, but ones that we can measure our world against.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Klawitter

    "I am not certain whether to know the world and to know human nature be not two distinct branches of knowledge." -Mellville, in Billy Budd. The best story in this collection is Bartleby The Scrivner...an absolute classic in turns both funny and existential. It was so far ahead of its time and shows the genius of Mellville, a writer not fully appreciated until well after his death. I'm not sure why when I was in High School we read Billy Budd instead of Bartleby? "I am not certain whether to know the world and to know human nature be not two distinct branches of knowledge." -Mellville, in Billy Budd. The best story in this collection is Bartleby The Scrivner...an absolute classic in turns both funny and existential. It was so far ahead of its time and shows the genius of Mellville, a writer not fully appreciated until well after his death. I'm not sure why when I was in High School we read Billy Budd instead of Bartleby?

  11. 5 out of 5

    M

    Eh, the best thing I can say about these short stories is that they’ve made me intrigued about Melville’s use of colors in all of his descriptions (not just people, but things, emotions.) I suspect he might have been a closet abolitionist? The irony is interesting, but still didn’t love the stories. Someone should write a book about that.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Aran

    oh no it turns out i would prefer not to

  13. 5 out of 5

    DeAnn Kohlbeck

    Hard to read and understand...possibly because it was written so long ago. His writing is wordy, long winded, needs much editing. Not a fan.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Kinsey

    I feel like I should add the disclaimer that "Benito Cerano" was a required grad school reading. I wasn't a fan of Melville's descriptive plot style. I feel like I should add the disclaimer that "Benito Cerano" was a required grad school reading. I wasn't a fan of Melville's descriptive plot style.

  15. 5 out of 5

    L. Chung

    Good characters with interesting interplay. Recommend for those interested in classics and shortstories novels.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Bynum Reviews

    The characters and astonishing plot were engaging and made it hard to stop reading.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mandy

    Fast paced.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Paige Goodman Wolven

    Melville’s language is historically accurate of the time he is writing about. References to the French Revolution and the Navies of the time are sprinkled throughout almost every sentence. Also, there are many allusions to both the Bible and classical mythology both of which I have a limited understanding. Without any knowledge of this time in history, ships, mythology, etc I struggled a bit in understanding the story. In fact, I had to read the whole thing over several times to fully comprehend Melville’s language is historically accurate of the time he is writing about. References to the French Revolution and the Navies of the time are sprinkled throughout almost every sentence. Also, there are many allusions to both the Bible and classical mythology both of which I have a limited understanding. Without any knowledge of this time in history, ships, mythology, etc I struggled a bit in understanding the story. In fact, I had to read the whole thing over several times to fully comprehend it. The first time through with my dictionary close at hand because to top it all off Melville’s vocabulary is incredibly extensive. The narrator moves from character to character frequently and is thus very inconsistent in style. One chapter may be a million times more coherent than the next. Here is my “three second summary” of the story; Billy Budd is loved by all of his shipmates except for Claggart. Claggart’s only reason for his dislike of Billy is his jealousy of the young sailor. This hatred leads him to wrongly accuse Billy of inciting the crew to mutiny. When Claggart and Vere charge him of this he is shocked and enraged but he can’t say anything because of his stammer. He hits Claggart, killing him and his penalty is death. It took me quite a long time to put everything together and understand that basic premise. The thing is, I believe there are innumerable amounts of underlying messages some more hidden than others and some most obvious. Perhaps if I read the story another ten times I will be able to pick up on some of them!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Audrey

    The four stories in this book are "Bartlesby," "The Encantadas," "Benito Cerrano" and "Billy Budd." All are nautical except for "Bartlesby. "Bartlesby" appears to be about an autistic person, though no such diagnosis existed at the time. This was my favorite of the four. The Encantadas is a somewhat tedious description of the Galapagos Islands (each one of them separately, it seems) with a few anecdotes thrown in. Benito Cerrano is a mystery. And Billy Budd is an anecdote about beauty, duty and The four stories in this book are "Bartlesby," "The Encantadas," "Benito Cerrano" and "Billy Budd." All are nautical except for "Bartlesby. "Bartlesby" appears to be about an autistic person, though no such diagnosis existed at the time. This was my favorite of the four. The Encantadas is a somewhat tedious description of the Galapagos Islands (each one of them separately, it seems) with a few anecdotes thrown in. Benito Cerrano is a mystery. And Billy Budd is an anecdote about beauty, duty and misfortune. All had long, wordy passages that at times obscured more than illuminated the scenes. Interspersed in episodes of fast action, they made time seem to pass slowly in the novel.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Reenie

    Thanks to my boyfriend's grandfather, who loaned this to me, I think I may be becoming a Melville fan girl - all three of these stories were excellent. Bartleby was perfectly weirdly askew, and my favourite of the three, for being odd and prosaic and having no tendencies to drift into noble sailors. Benito Cereno is an exceedingly creepy thriller of a sea story, although I think it could have safely dispensed with everything after the climax.. the denouement really didn't add anything except some Thanks to my boyfriend's grandfather, who loaned this to me, I think I may be becoming a Melville fan girl - all three of these stories were excellent. Bartleby was perfectly weirdly askew, and my favourite of the three, for being odd and prosaic and having no tendencies to drift into noble sailors. Benito Cereno is an exceedingly creepy thriller of a sea story, although I think it could have safely dispensed with everything after the climax.. the denouement really didn't add anything except some filling in of details that weren't needed. Billy Budd was steeped in symbolism (and I probably missed a bunch of it, even) and morality, yet still surprisingly, enjoyably, readable.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Freedman

    I already read Typee and loved it! Oomo is the sequel dealing with his adventures in Tahiti. It's a wonderful study of the effect of the missionaries on Tahitian culture, which was in the process of disappearing in only a generation! The Tahitians were master canoe builders and they had stopped by the time Melville visited them. The missionaries from Protestant denominations were at war with the Catholic fathers from France and preached more about how bad the other sect was than about being Chri I already read Typee and loved it! Oomo is the sequel dealing with his adventures in Tahiti. It's a wonderful study of the effect of the missionaries on Tahitian culture, which was in the process of disappearing in only a generation! The Tahitians were master canoe builders and they had stopped by the time Melville visited them. The missionaries from Protestant denominations were at war with the Catholic fathers from France and preached more about how bad the other sect was than about being Christian! Splendid reading and really insiteful. I wish they'd make a movie or miniseries of it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany

    I have to say, I wasn't a big fan of Melville before I had to read these stories for a class. I'd read "Bartleby, The Scrivener" and thought it was pretty good (quirky), but other than that... Eh. But reading these short stories ("Bartleby," "Billy Budd," and "Benito Cereno"), I was surprised. Melville's short stories didn't suck as much as I thought they would ;) Most of them were even somewhat enjoyable! Shocking!! But you can get the short stories other places. The reason you buy the Norton's I have to say, I wasn't a big fan of Melville before I had to read these stories for a class. I'd read "Bartleby, The Scrivener" and thought it was pretty good (quirky), but other than that... Eh. But reading these short stories ("Bartleby," "Billy Budd," and "Benito Cereno"), I was surprised. Melville's short stories didn't suck as much as I thought they would ;) Most of them were even somewhat enjoyable! Shocking!! But you can get the short stories other places. The reason you buy the Norton's version is for the essays, and I found the critical essays dry and boring.

  23. 5 out of 5

    svnh

    despite the fact i have been heartily assured of how "queer and fabulous" melville is, and despite sedgewick's infamous article about billy budd, i still can't really do mr. herman. something i have against people who get paid by the word, i guess. i'm too into soft, delicate things; ships and sailors don't do it for me, even if homoeroticism usually does. i'm trying, with the whole "canonical" thing. i really am, this time! despite the fact i have been heartily assured of how "queer and fabulous" melville is, and despite sedgewick's infamous article about billy budd, i still can't really do mr. herman. something i have against people who get paid by the word, i guess. i'm too into soft, delicate things; ships and sailors don't do it for me, even if homoeroticism usually does. i'm trying, with the whole "canonical" thing. i really am, this time!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rory

    Bartelby, Benito Cereno and Billy Budd are the short novels included, as well as a wealth of secondary materials. Reams have been written about them so I have little to add. BB is an incredibly beautiful story, Benito Cereno is terrifying and a form of 20th century lit 50 years early, and that old high school favorite, Bartleby, gets more complex ech time I read it.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    I had to read "Bill Budd" and "Bartleby the Scrivener" for my grad school class on Melville. Pretty interesting stories and a good reminder on Melville's writing style before I start reading "Moby Dick" again. I had to read "Bill Budd" and "Bartleby the Scrivener" for my grad school class on Melville. Pretty interesting stories and a good reminder on Melville's writing style before I start reading "Moby Dick" again.

  26. 4 out of 5

    John

    I read Bartleby, Billy Budd, and Benito Cereno. Can't say I was a huge fan of Billy Budd but the other two were fantastic, especially Benito Cereno. Great story that is excellent for analysis. I would love to teach it I read Bartleby, Billy Budd, and Benito Cereno. Can't say I was a huge fan of Billy Budd but the other two were fantastic, especially Benito Cereno. Great story that is excellent for analysis. I would love to teach it

  27. 5 out of 5

    Meg

    The critical essays accompanying the original short fiction in this volume tend towards the dryly academic but do help illuminate three of Melville's most important shorter works, which are brilliantly constructed and pose interesting questions to this day. The critical essays accompanying the original short fiction in this volume tend towards the dryly academic but do help illuminate three of Melville's most important shorter works, which are brilliantly constructed and pose interesting questions to this day.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Cook

    I had read a few of Melville's short stories during high school, and did not like them very much. I had to read this Norton version for an Intro to American Lit class, and still didn't like them very much. "Benito Cereno" is overrated, "Bartleby" is just plain excruciating. I had read a few of Melville's short stories during high school, and did not like them very much. I had to read this Norton version for an Intro to American Lit class, and still didn't like them very much. "Benito Cereno" is overrated, "Bartleby" is just plain excruciating.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ron Palmer

    Finished reading "Bartleby the Scrivener (A Tale of Wall Street)" while sitting on a wooden bench in the woods next to Herman Melville's homestead in Pittsfield, MA, "Arrowhead." No matter where you read it, it is a classic! Finished reading "Bartleby the Scrivener (A Tale of Wall Street)" while sitting on a wooden bench in the woods next to Herman Melville's homestead in Pittsfield, MA, "Arrowhead." No matter where you read it, it is a classic!

  30. 5 out of 5

    Gerry LaFemina

    Just rereading these three terrific novellas by Melville: Bartleby, of course, is a perfect story, but it's easy to forget the powerful prose of Benito Cerino or the over stylization (that mocks naval/marital pomp) Billy Budd. Just rereading these three terrific novellas by Melville: Bartleby, of course, is a perfect story, but it's easy to forget the powerful prose of Benito Cerino or the over stylization (that mocks naval/marital pomp) Billy Budd.

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