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Billy Budd and Other S...
Herman Melville
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Billy Budd and Other Stories

3.48 of 5 stars 3.48  ·  rating details  ·  3,684 ratings  ·  188 reviews
If Melville had never written Moby Dick, his place in world literature would be assured by his short tales. "Billy Budd, Sailor," his last work, is the masterpiece in which he delivers the final summation in his "quarrel with God." It is a brilliant study of the tragic clash between social authority and individual freedom, human justice and abstract good. Melville also exp ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published by John Lehman (first published 1853)
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Jun 29, 2014 Lobstergirl rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Thad Cochran
Shelves: own, fiction

Unbelievably, Melville had a hard time making a living from his writing.

[That was sarcasm.]

His style is overly archaic. I read a fair amount of classic literature, but this is just ridiculous. In the mid to late 19th century, were people still saying "Hark!"? And "Blah, blah, blah, thought I"? Really? You can't convince me.

1. From that tree-top, what birded chimes of silver throats had rung.

2. Dire sight it is to see some silken beast long dally with a golden lizard ere she devour.

3. Himself b
Adrian Astur Alvarez
I would prefer not to say what I thought.

"Billy Budd", as far as I'm concerned, was an airball. A good attempt but it just came up short. The language fairly throttles the story, which is insightful and compelling.

"Bartleby" is a masterpiece. So applicable to today's culture- passivity, negative capability, the ravaging effects of routine, capitalism, The Law, resignation, nothingness. "I would prefer not to".....Brilliant!

"Benito Cereno" is an excellent moral parable about racism, which again I felt was slightly ruined by the volumin
"Bartleby...just step round to the Post Office, won't you?"...
"I would prefer not to."
"You will not?"
"I prefer not."
Otherwise known as "Billy Budd, Sailor", this, along with the other book, about the white whale, never brought fame to Herman Melville during his lifetime. In fact, "Billy Budd", a novella, started in 1886, was left unfinished at Melville's death in 1801, and was not published until 1924. Like "Moby-Dick", it contains elements from Melville's personal experiences aboard sailing ships in the Nineteenth Century, and plumbs the dark depths of human emotion.

Billy is a strong, capable, cheerful and c
Jim Coughenour
I first read Billy Budd in grad school and recall myself being irritated by its stupidity. This time through – well, I can't say I enjoyed it, but I was impressed by Melville's deliberately structured, elevated, almost archaic style. On one level the tale is simply told, with the stark clarity of a myth – or so it appears. In fact the telling is riven, ragged. There are echoes of Greek myths, the Old Testament, the Gospels; of tales of the sea; of legal explication; and of course the mysterious ...more
Don Incognito
This is a review only of Billy Budd, not this entire collection of stories.

I just read Billy Budd for the first time since college. Budd, the protagonist of this novella, is a symbol of innocence, and makes a better symbol than a character. His retains his innocence and simplicity (he is also illiterate and uneducated) throughout the story, and that naturally makes him lack any complexity. Assuming we're meant to take Budd's innocence completely seriously, as a Christian reader I find Budd a chi
Standing on equal footing with Moby Dick, Herman Melville’s Billy Bud, Sailor resurrects ancient questions about good and evil, innocence and violence, and explores the interplay between these most basic and fundamental of conflicts and the paradox of moral justice. Eponymous Billy Bud, the Handsome Sailor, is Melville’s Adam, and his shocking fall from grace challenges a captain and crew who only love him, but who are for better or worse bound to the sanctity of order. Establishing his belief i ...more
Melville writes beautifully. His descriptions at times are near poetic yet concise. I thoroughly enjoyed every story included in this book; however, I didn't like the format of a bunch of random tales told in regards to the volcanic isles in the short, "The Encantadas", and this one was also a bit too eerie for me. But as it was intended to be on the creepy side, Melville delivered. "The Bell Tower" could have been a bit better developed, in my opinion, but if it had had more length, the maybe i ...more
I really enjoyed Moby Dick about five years ago and don't know why I haven't read anything by him since (despite buying a rather fetching bound copy of Pierre). I took a little time out of reading other things to read his classic short stories, Bartleby, Billy Budd and Benito Cereno. They're all spectacularly strong. Comparing Melville's meticulous interest in character and personality to a sort of contemporary, George Eliot, I like how morality is much more tentative and mysterious in Melville ...more
(for reference: my old used-bookstore copy is ~280 pages & contains "billy budd, sailor," "the piazza," "bartleby the scrivener," "benito cereno," "the encantadas," and "the bell-tower.")

so, to rid any suspense built up from my two frantic updates—i guess i didn't quite "finish" this, alas, as after reading three of the ten sketches that form the encantadas, i gave up and went to the bell-tower. but i think reading five and three-tenths out of six stories is, er, not terrible. goddamnit, me
I think my issue with this book was a couple of things. I haven't read the Bible. I hate to say that because it makes me feel like an awful Catholic. I had trouble understanding most of the references to it. This made the book to me awfully dull and it lost the deep meaning of it to me. I had to spend a lot of time looking up definitions just to understand the book and even then I had issues. My English teacher also did a really crummy job going over the book with us and pointing out each of the ...more
Melville and I have a complicated relationship. He was undoubted brilliant and a great writer. His work is much deeper, and more complex and nuanced than it often appears on the surface of a first reading. The enjoyment of reading Melville is for me personally in the subsequent analysis of it. The reading of it, however, (for me) feels like slow and deliberate torture. I often beg and plead for him to get the point. Sometimes it seems he goes on and on saying the same thing, or mundane details t ...more
These stories are dense, yes, but reward upon further readings. Particularly, the title story will give you quite a bit to think about if you allow it. When you read these, think of the nature of evil, the nature of ambiguity, the nature of interpretation. And plan a rereading.
"that peculiar glance which evidences that the man from whom it comes has been some way tampered with and to the prejudice of him upon whom the glance lights"
Owen Spencer
Having recently been richly rewarded by the brilliance of Moby Dick, I confidently dived into the beckoning literary depths of this compilation of Melville's short stories. Some of these tales are better than others, but all are worthwhile; and the best of them rank among the finest works of classic literature. Most notable are "Billy Budd, Sailor" and "The Piazza", the latter a stunning example of the potential beauty, power, and depth of the written word as art. Melville is for advanced reader ...more
These short stories were written over a hundred years ago. So the writing style is very different from contemporary fiction. It's slower, for one thing. The presentation is a bit different; e.g. "While the acuter sense of his bereavement becomes mollified by time, the void at heart abides. Fain, if possible, would he fill that void by cultivating social relations yet nearer than before with a people whose lot he purposes sharing to the end -- relations superadded to that mere work-a-day bond ari ...more
Herman Melville may be one of only a handful of writers with enough talent to make 44 pages about a copyist who refuses to do his job a compelling story. Bartleby the Scrivener is Kafka before Kafka existed and it is very much worth the read.

Benito Cereno is a 5-star novella, with one sea captain analyzing every piece of information to determine what has transpired to make the Spanish captain and attendant in his presence act in such a strange manner. This piece has been wildly misinterpreted t
NOTE: The beautifully illustrated New American Library edition I own contains the Freeman version of Billy Budd, the full Piazza Tales, and the Town-Ho chapter of Moby-Dick. This rating/review is only for The Piazza Tales, as I just picked up a fine critical edition of the Hayford/Sealts Budd, on which my eventual review of that will be based.

Aside from "Bartleby the Scrivener" and "Benito Cereno", the two longer pieces that would rightfully go on to universal acclaim as examples of Melville at
I suggested Billy Budd for my fiction book club in part because it had once been assigned to the entire brigade of Midshipmen at the Naval Academy. This made me curious. I can now appreciate why it was selected. Not only does the novella tell an intriguing story with profound moral implications, but it does so in a naval setting. Specifically, the story takes place aboard a British man-o'-war in the mid-19th century. The tale is infused with naval lore and personal conflict. At a deeper level, M ...more
Having never read Melville beyond Moby Dick and Billy Budd, and with a mild distaste for "seafaring tales," I was pleasantly surprised to read several quite good, non-seafaring stories in this collection.

Bad news first. Billy Budd to me has, and always will, represent that stark allegory of fable or parable, without the blessed brevity of a fable or parable. I don't enjoy reading constant reminders that Billy's character represents pre-fall Adam. Without the agony of the details, this story boi
The two stories that I remembered most vividly from reading this book before were Billy Budd and Bartleby. I'm fairly sure I also read Billy Budd in high school, because I remember being informed that Billy's transfer from The Rights of Man to the Bellipotent was symbolic. Given that the symbolism of the names of each ship is explicitly mentioned in the text, this was perhaps not the stunning interpretive leap it might at first appear.

That's a long way of saying that this time around I found tha
Everyday eBook
Sep 18, 2012 Everyday eBook rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Everyday by: Joey McGarvey
Perhaps in high school, or in college, you were assigned Herman Melville’s masterpiece Moby-Dick. Maybe it resonated with you — you loved its humor, its digressions, or its forays into the darker side of human nature — or maybe it didn’t. It’s a tough book. And frankly, though I love Moby-Dick, I’ve never thought it made sense as an introduction to Melville’s oeuvre.

If your first Melville encounter was disastrous, it’s probably best to save his later novels, like The Confidence-Man or Pierre, fo
Alec Sieber
The only real character in a Melville story is Melville himself. No other character's voice is heard, even when Melville writes dialogue. Even when Melville's authoritative narrators quote excerpts from newspaper clippings, romantic poetry, court records, etc (here Melville reveals himself as an 1850s postmodern), these disparate texts are molded into Melville's cadence and diction.

It is quite fortunate, then, that Melville, or at least Melville's narrator (one could argue the narrator never cha
Tim Paul
A good friend introduced me to an alternative reading of this novel, in which the narrator is obsessed with upholding the heroic myth of Billy Budd. Every incident is spun out by the narrator to show Billy in the most positive light possible, and Claggart as his evil opposite. If you look closely at the text for the 'facts' of the story though there's not a shred of evidence to support this romantic view of Billy.[return][return]In fact, reading between the lines, it's possible to read Claggart ...more
Melville's type of writing seems better suited for long novels, not short stories, but I enjoyed this short story collection.
Billy Budd, Sailor - most like Moby Dick not just because it takes place at sea, but also because the chapters are short and he has a tendency to go off on tangents. Appreciated this book and the moral dilemma it raised in society's rules versus morals.
The Piazza - Just a meh short story
Bartleby - Melville's humor shines in this one - I love his description of the two ma
Like any collection of short stories, there are good and not-as-good pieces here. Melville's writing is fairly impeccable, excruciatingly precise—sometimes it borders on fanatical—but perfect style does not always lead to a great story.

I know that some of the short stories found in this book are considered classics of the form, but oddly enough, the ones called "classics" were not impressive to me. Both "Bartleby" and "Benito Cereno" left me with a shrug, "Bartleby" especially because it lacked
Nov 11, 2007 Willie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone up for a challenge, who won't be turned off out of hand by the archaic naval setting.
I'm embarrassed to say so, but I only understand about half of what's going on, the language and frames of reference are so archaic. But I'm slowly learning how to read anew, and it is surprisingly rewarding. Melville himself wants to speak up here in confirmation (just sub 'Melville' for 'Captain Vere' in the following): "Some apparent ground there was for this sort of confidential criticism; since not only did the captain's discourse never fall into the jocosely familiar, but in illustrating o ...more
Jee Koh
This Signet Classics edition collects together "Billy Budd," "The Piazza Tales," and "The Town Ho's Story" from Moby Dick. "Billy Budd" is based on the Harvard edition. There is a helpful "Afterword" by Willard Thorpe that explains Melville's turn to writing short stories for the magazines, after the commercial and critical failures of Moby Dick and Pierre. The "Afterword" (1961) also points to the critical controversies over the meanings of the more ambiguous stories, such as "Billy Budd" and " ...more
Jim Gold
Benito Cereno and Bartleby (also included in the edition I read) are very interesting stories, as well as Billy Budd. Was this Melville's B period? With Melville, there are a lot of classical literary and historical references I don't get, but there's so much there, you can afford to miss some stuff.
Melville is great at describing unusual, unexpected social behavior.
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Is the character 'Billy Budd' a symbol for Melville himself? 2 24 Feb 02, 2014 05:16PM  
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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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Moby-Dick; or, The Whale Bartleby, the Scrivener Billy Budd, Sailor Benito Cereno Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life

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“Passion, and passion in its profoundest, is not a thing demanding a palatial stage whereon to play its part. Down among the groundlings, among the beggars and rakers of the garbage, profound passion is enacted. And the circumstances that provoke it, however trivial or mean, are no measure of its power. In the present instance the stage is a scrubbed gun deck, and one of the external provocations a man-of-war's-man's spilled soup.” 3 likes
“For what can more partake of the mysterious than an antipathy spontaneous and profound such as is evoked in certain exceptional mortals by the mere aspect of some other mortal, however harmless he may be, if not called forth by this very harmlessness itself?” 1 likes
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