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Billy Budd

3.08  ·  Rating Details ·  11,908 Ratings  ·  658 Reviews
Billy Budd is a tragic story; yet can any story in which innocence is not corrupted be called tragic?

Billy's character is one of almost divine purity. Perhaps no real man has had his degree of virtue. Claggart is evil as few men are evil. Captain Vere, who is merely human, cannot contend with such forces.

The strength of Billy Budd, however, prevails over all.
Mass Market Paperback, 3rd Printing, 152 pages
Published 1968 by Scholastic Book Services (first published 1924)
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Dec 02, 2013 Darwin8u rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
“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
Aug 19, 2007 Rob rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone desperate to close a book and yell "I get it, Christ-figure!"
Shelves: high-school
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 w
Mar 05, 2008 Werner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Classics fans; fans of "sailing-ship navy" yarns
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. ...more
Jul 05, 2009 Marcus rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ad
May 28, 2017 Jim rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Wrong edition. Mine is by Blackstone Audio & read by Stephen Rudnicki, one of my favorite narrators. I managed to get 1/4 of the way through before I gave up in disgust. Melville has a terribly obtuse writing style. The man couldn't find a point in a bag of pins. All that time & Billy barely got settled on the Navy ship. He was a nice kid & should have been named Sunshine. Got it. SMH
Aug 20, 2014 Alex rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anguished closet-case sailors
Shelves: 2014, rth-lifetime
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 th
Jason Koivu
May 05, 2011 Jason Koivu rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
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 ch
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 fore
Riku Sayuj
May 03, 2013 Riku Sayuj rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: r-r-rs
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.
Jul 18, 2009 Ashleysmith10 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
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.
Feb 07, 2017 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A soul remains very pure.
Ahmad Sharabiani
704. Billy Budd, Foretopman, Herman Melville
بیلی باد ملوان - هرمان ملویل (فردا) ادبیات
Jul 16, 2013 Sandra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: usa
Una trama semplice e lineare: siamo nel 1797, a bordo di una nave militare britannica. Un giovane marinaio, Billy Budd, viene forzatamente arruolato al servizio di sua maestà britannica in un periodo di turbolenze e ammutinamenti conseguenti agli effetti della rivoluzione francese. Il giovane, benvoluto da tutto l’equipaggio per la sua indole allegra e pacifica, viene accusato dal maestro d’armi Claggart di ammutinamento. Il capitano Vere predispone immediatamente un tribunale militare che lo gi ...more
Feb 21, 2017 Nick rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, own
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.
Jan 25, 2014 Andrea rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
So short, yet so very plump with taxing digressions, long-winded commentary, and mortal doses of Biblical references.

A couple of examples:

For what can more partake of the mysterious than an antipathy spontaneous and profound such as is evoked in exceptional mortals by the mere aspect of some other mortal, however harmless he may be, if not called forth by this very harmlessness itself?

And here be it submitted that apparently going to corroborate the doctrine now popularly ignored, it is observa
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 ...more
Jan 26, 2013 Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Bettie, Carey
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
Nov 23, 2008 Matthew rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
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 e
Sep 12, 2014 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: big-white-square
My favourite bit is when the captain asks his hammock-boy to smuggle the handsome sailor to his cabin. And the hammock-boy looks at the camera and pulls a face like Frankie Howerd.

"'Mr. Wilkes!' summoning the nearest midshipman, 'tell Albert
to come to me.' Albert was the Captain's hammock-boy, a sort of
sea-valet in whose discretion and fidelity his master had much
confidence. The lad appeared.
'You know Budd the Foretopman?'
'I do, Sir.'
'Go find him. It is his watch off. Manage to tell him out of
J. Boo
Dec 07, 2015 J. Boo rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Guest review by sixteen-year old me. Me, what did you think?

"Soooo boring. And will Mrs. Whateverhernamewas shut up about the symbolism? It's bad enough that she's making the whole class read the book without trying to push significance into every paragraph. At least there wasn't an omnipresent lurking Scarlet A."

Haven't been back to re-read this. Probably should; Melville's been a recognized major force in American Literature for a long time.
K.M. Weiland
It’s an interesting morality tale, but beyond that, frankly, it’s ghastly. Ridiculously self-indulgent telling and authorial asides—even for the period.
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 his
Oh dear, the ranting on school forced books continues....

Don't get me wrong. I love to read. I started a reading circle where we share books at school. I even turned a friend who was one of the "ill wait for the movie" kind of people into someone who is now calling me up everyday to discuss recently read books. But when it comes to reading books for school, I can never seem to get through them. I've never finished more than one full book for school, unless read out loud in class.

"Class, you're i
May 17, 2012 Ben rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My perception of this work has changed for the better upon a reread. The first time I read this I wrote: I expected more when I read the book; it is considered a classic. I found the character development and the plot unfulfilled, but I suppose this is to be expected to some extent, considering that it was unfinished at the time of Melville's death. I felt similarly about Fitzgerald's 'The Last Tycoon.' I do still hold these views to some extent but I can appreciate the work more now for what it ...more
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 ...more
Nov 07, 2015 Nooilforpacifists rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: naval-fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 09, 2012 Hannah rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-i-hate, classic
Oh, Herman Melville...How you do it, I'll never understand. This gentleman has a vocabulary like none other that made me feel small and juvenile to say the very least, but his readability? It may need a bit of working on. This is yet another novel all about men, with dry, ranting sentences that are enough to make Dickens seem a minimalist in return...In fact, now that I think of it, not only that made me dislike this book enough for it to make its way into the 'books-i-hate' shelf. There are man ...more
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Herman Melville was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. His first two books gained much attention, though they were not bestsellers, and his popularity declined precipitously only a few years later. By the time of his death he had been almost completely forgotten, but his longest novel, Moby-Dick — largely considered a failure during his lifetime, and most responsible for ...more
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“Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of the colors, but where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity.” 158 likes
“Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its jagged edges.” 100 likes
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