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Billy Budd, Sailor

3.05 of 5 stars 3.05  ·  rating details  ·  10,019 ratings  ·  544 reviews
If Melville had never written "Moby Dick," his place in literature would have been assured by his short fiction. "Billy Budd, Sailor" is his last work and his masterpiece -- a brilliant study of the tragic clash between social authority and individual freedom, human justice and abstract good. In "Bartleby the Scivener," a Wall Street law clerk takes passive resistance to a ...more
Paperback, 96 pages
Published October 24th 1998 by Penguin Books (first published 1924)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Rob
Aug 19, 2007 Rob rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  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
...more
Marcus
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
...more
Werner
Aug 28, 2015 Werner rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
Jason Koivu
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
...more
Jesse
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
...more
Judy
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
...more
Riku Sayuj
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.
Alex
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
...more
Darwin8u
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 genius between the words and a soul and art floating just under the text.

Is Billy Budd a grea
...more
Laura
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
...more
Sandra
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
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
Matthew
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
...more
James
Fantastic book. Melville is such a sophisticated writer/observer of the human condition. Nothing seems to escape his eye. In this short but extremely powerful tale, we see what happens when resentment and institutions come together as forces of fate to destroy the naive embodiment of innocence--Billy Budd. You also learn something about the psychology of living on a ship and what it was like during the height of the mutiny scares back at the turn of the 18th century in the English navy. You woul ...more
pierlapo  quimby
Bello, ma che strano che proprio Melville, così attento alle allegorie, si sia fatto scappare un controfinale coi fiocchi: la ciurma si ammutina dopo aver assistito all'esecuzione della 'giustizia del Re' dispensata dal Capitano Vere, il quale morrà per questo e non per una banale pallottola vagante, dovrà esser travolto da un'orda di marinai indemoniati e stravolti dalle ultime parole pronunciate dal bel Billy, ancora penzolante dal pennone dell'albero maestro.
A quel punto la potenza simbolica
...more
David
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
...more
Ashleysmith10
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
Don
So why did Claggart accuse Budd?
Andrea
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
...more
Rhonda
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Amber
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
...more
Ben
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
Andrew
One of those books that a lot of people read in high school, but I never quite to. And while I would have liked it as a 16 year old, it's now, after educating myself on the continental European avant-garde, that I think I can see Melville for what he really was: our Kafka.

Billy Budd is a... nice guy... who runs afoul of the wrong people to run afoul of. And gets effed. And Melville can tell this with ironic detachment, and make clever jokes about the Enlightenment while he's at it. Books like th
...more
Robin Friedman
In 2012, I celebrated Independence Day by reading and reviewing Melville's 1855 novel "White-Jacket". In his book, "Melville: His World and Work", Andrew Delbanco described "White Jacket" as Melville's 'paean on behalf of democracy". The book includes scenes in which the sailors celebrate the Fourth of July with a pageant. A major character in White Jacket is a sailor named Jack Chase, a man whom Melville deeply admired. In chapter 4 of "White Jacket" the narrator says of Jack Chase: "Wherever y ...more
Jay
Apr 03, 2015 Jay rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Melville freaks and 10th graders
Recommended to Jay by: i was forced to read it - nay, keelhauled!
Had completely forgotten until I began reading Moby-Dick that I had read this in 10th grade high school English. I had previously seen the film with Terence Stamp (as Billy), Peter Ustinov as Captain Vere ("Vere"/Truth, I got it) and Robert Ryan's bravura performance as the cruel and persecuting Mr. Claggart. So of course my recollection of the film colored my mental images of the characters in the book. In hindsight, the novel (more like a novella), while powerfully dramatic, resembles a Euripe ...more
Writer's Relief
BILLY BUDD is a novella by Herman Melville that, despite being unfinished, is considered one of the American writer’s most important works.

The prose is a bit dense and the sentences lengthy, with lots of heavy philosophical tangents. However, this is arguably Melville at his best: He mercilessly critiques social and religious order without hiding behind lofty metaphors like so many other authors of his day, lambasting the Church and military officials alike.

To an extent, BILLY BUDD is also a gre
...more
D.C.
A book is a book. If you want to make a book something more than a story, then you are trying to overanalyze and find reasons for your dislike for the particular story instead of treating it as as a simply what a story is: a piece of entertainment and truth designed to get you thinking and provide you with engrossment, too. Billy Budd is not meant to be a blatant representation of the life of Jesus in the guise of a dashing sailor. It is meant to be, above anything else a philosophical point. Me ...more
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
...more
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1624
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 Benito Cereno Moby Dick (Graphic Classics) Billy Budd and Other Stories

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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.” 139 likes
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