The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade
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The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade

3.72 of 5 stars 3.72  ·  rating details  ·  1,351 ratings  ·  126 reviews
The text of the nineteenth-century allegorical novel is accompanied by critical evaluations, notes on its background, and numerous reviews.
Paperback, 1st Norton Critical Edition, 376 pages
Published September 1st 1971 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1857)
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Eddie Watkins
This is the kind of book that could’ve gone on forever, concluding only when the author’s spleen and/or exuberance gave out, and Melville admitted as much with the last sentence

Something further may follow of this Masquerade.

but this reader’s glad it didn’t, as his enthusiasm for the book faded toward the end. Which isn’t to knock the book necessarily, since The Confidence Man is almost more of a conceptual piece than a novel; meaning that the idea is as important, or even more, than the actual...more
J Frederick
Ambiguous, complex, large beyond its size, at first it appears simple: on April Fools', a protean confidence-man boards the steamer Fidèle at St. Louis, pleading trust and coin from "all kinds of that multiform pilgrim species, man" as the Ship of Fools flows down the Mississippi toward New Orleans. The confidence-man initially leads a comedy of language degraded, of fawning rhetoric, distorting analogies, bad logic and deliberate obfuscation. Dark logics of Wall Street, Transcendentalist self-r...more
matt


Combustible, brilliant, dialectical, like a Marx brothers film in the mid American 19th Century. Literally filled with ramshackle, charming, sleazy, opportunistic, phantasmal, eccentric, grotesque, gaudy, loquacious characters who are all out to

* Talk- to anyone, about anything, especially their own opinions, biases, agendas, philosophies and observations

* Trick- (see above) that is, to "con" anyone they can get their hands on to abide by or follow or merely acknowledge their particular grievan...more
Ben Winch
Strange, that in a work of amusement, this severe fidelity to real life should be exacted by anyone, who, by taking up such a work, sufficiently shows that he is not unwilling to drop real life, and turn, for a time, to something different. Yes, it is, indeed, strange that any one should clamour for the thing he is weary of; that any one, who, for any cause, finds real life dull, should yet demand of him who is to divert his attention from it, that he should be true to that dullness.
Well said, m...more
Kyle
Feb 26, 2013 Kyle rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Melville fans. Satire lovers.
Shelves: library-books
We are all human beings, are we not? And I too, by taking a gander around this here goodreads site, would claim that we are all book lovers, are we not? Do we not all find comfort, pleasure, and even sustenance from the artfully bound vellum which surrounds us? Of course we do! We live off of these books! We integrate them into our very lives and livelihoods! Else why would we even be on this site in the first place?

But I've already touched on the heart of the matter. Sustenance. To be thought...more
Adam
An American Book of Job or Canterbury Tales (Antebellum Tales?) filled with Melville’s erudite musings, digressions, and ability to stretch a metaphor into unusual and contradictory shapes. Also a kin to Gogol’s Dead Souls but a little more successful than that book, but, to Gogol’s credit he did go nuts and not finish the book; and also Melville hits closer to home with concerns over the medical industry, credit based economy, genocide of the Indians, and man’s place in the universe, than does...more
Will Miller
I think we're still catching up to this novel - or whatever it is. An uncompromising search into problems of truth, deception, race, failures of language, regional identity - you name it. May aggravate the casual reader.
James
This is Melville's most modern, even post-modern, work of fiction. An amazing tale that I read for our Lincoln Park Thursday Night book group. The title refers to its central character, an ambiguous figure who sneaks aboard a Mississippi steamboat on April Fool's Day. This stranger attempts to test the confidence of the passengers, whose varied reactions constitute the bulk of the text. Each person including the reader is forced to confront that in which he places his trust. The Confidence-Man u...more
Yarb
A post-modern masterpiece; a century ahead of its time. Aboard a Mississippi steamboat you can see a pubescent America in the confidence, and lack of it, asked of and offered by the various hucksters, pamphleteers and visionaries. And the novel itself tests the confidence of the reader as each character slides away beneath the muddy prose waters of the river: should I trust him? Will he come back to bite me? Is this the same person who...? And all the while Melville baits his tortuous sentences...more
Jacob
Moby-Dickheads, take note: y'ain't seen nuthin' yet.
Pete daPixie
I have allowed myself to go with the flow, from St.Louis down the Mississippi bound for New Orleans. 'The Confidence-Man' (should be titled in the plural) was Melville's final novel, published on April 1st 1857 which is the apparent date on which the riverboat begins it's journey.
Not too long after leaving the Missouri shore, I began to have doubts that I would be able to complete the voyage. Any reader can have little doubt that Melville was a skilled and articulate writer, unfortunately I was...more
William
An arduous read. I read 4 pages a day. Very tough going but I finished it. Only great adoration for the author pulled me through. Not recommended if you have not read his other works. Moby-Dick, of course, but for something lighter try Typee or Omoo. Both are traditional adventure stories.
Sandi
Melville's confidence-man wears masks designed to reveal the hypocrisies of others. It reads like a series of vignettes, as this con-man drifts from person to person, dressed as a cripple, a stock-broker, a beggar, a cosmopolitan, a charity worker...and a few others I forget. Rather than getting much (if any) money from these cons, his aim seems to be to reveal shortcomings in the philosophies of others--getting people to passionately claim that they love to be charitable to their fellow man, an...more
Mark Stephenson
Here is a 1966 paper which I don't think is available online relevant to "a Green Prophet from Utah" (Confidence Man Chapter 2)

MELVILLE'S ALMA AND THE BOOK OF MORMON

ROBERT A. REES

In letters to three different people, not long after Mardi had been published, Melville spoke of what he felt was its latent excellence. To his father-in-law Judge Lemuel Shaw, he wrote, “Time, which is the solver of all riddles, will solve 'Mardi'.”1 In a letter to Richard Bentley, 5 June 1849, Melville assured him, “...more
David
Stunning. Melville's about 100 years ahead of the curve here. Or maybe he's ahead of us still. No wonder no one knew what to make of this book in 1857. It's funny, but also rather nightmarish. Hard to call it exactly a novel. More like a bunch of Platonic dialogues that also satirize various American figures and ideas. Some of what makes it so dark is how clearly Melville has diagnosed the natural endpoint of commerce and credit and the challenge of whom one might be able to trust.

"Have you conf...more
Tim
The word "con," of course, is derived from the word "confidence." To swindle a person, one must gain his confidence, then deceive him.

Characters and readers are kept off balance in "The Confidence-Man" (1857), after which Herman Melville turned his back on the novel form forever. The book begins as a parade of knaves and suckers move on and off stage on a Mississippi steamboat trip begun on April Fool's Day. There are trusting fools and unscrupulous con men aplenty here, and we often don't know...more
Emily
Well, my attempts to read realist fiction this month are so far zero for two, although I'm certainly taking in some interesting texts. After the unexpected magical elements of Tim Winton's Cloudstreet , I thought I might go in for some Melville. Nineteenth-century American maritime novels: what could be more straightforward? I didn't realize, though, that The Confidence Man, which was waiting on my to-be-read shelf, is late Melville. Published in 1857, it is in fact sometimes labeled his last "m...more
Mat
Melville’s final work, The Confidence Man, is perhaps also his overlooked masterpiece.
I read Moby Dick many years ago and thought it was okay (it’s a very ‘gothic’ novel) and I’m half way through Typee (his first novel) so I can’t speak for his other novels (some of which are highly spoken such as White-Jacket) but this is one serious book with some very important underlying messages for humankind.

As other reviewers have pointed out, there is no straight clear linear narrative here and the reas...more
Richard
Allegory, satire, parable -- The Confidence Man is all of these and more, according to the experts, so make sure you get an annotated edition in order to fully appreciate Melville's literary sleight of hand. The novel begins with a series of sketches starring the various passengers on a Mississippi steamboat and later records a number of philosophical conversations that Frank Goodman, "the cosmopolitan," has with his fellow travelers. The fact that some scholars peg Goodman as Satan and others s...more
Lisa (Harmonybites)
Oct 06, 2012 Lisa (Harmonybites) rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Meliville Compleatists
I felt mixed about Moby Dick and Billy Budd, but there were aspects of the writing I admire, and I also read Benito Cereno today and was impressed. So if I'm not a Melville fan, neither am I a detractor, but The Confidence-man had just about every aspect I do hate in the writer (other than the massive digressions) squared. For one, this is Melville at his least subtle. The title is "The Confidence Man: His Masquerade" and it takes place aboard the Steamer Fidele on April Fool's Day. By the third...more
Alex Morfesis
"Where the wolves are killed off, the foxes increase."

I had no inclination what a timely book this would be now that our democracy is beset by real confidence-men. This was an especially challenging read, posing more questions than offering any answers. Melville's confidence-man does not rip off his victims so much as reveal the hypocrisy in their core beliefs and institutions: charity, religion, medicine, and capitalism to name a few. With so much contemporary talk about restoring consumer conf...more
Ry Pickard
i was expecting this to be a story about con men, but it really amounted to a group of nameless people talking about the concept of trust for a few hundred pages, which was exactly as interesting as it sounds like it would be. some of the characters told great stories, but it made me wish that i was reading a story and not a series of speeches. there is some interesting philosophy in here and a lot of astute insight into human nature and the way that people treat each other, but not much in the...more
John Daley
Jun 28, 2014 John Daley rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: History of Southern culture enthusiasts.
Recommended to John by: book club
I bought this book as part of a book of 4 but it hasn't come in yet so I ordered this copy so I could get started. It hasn't come yet either but I was able to e-read the first 3 chapters as a preview via Google Books. Be aware that some samples had only 3 pages but the one I was able to read allowed the first 3 chapters, which was well worth it.

It is typically a slow read as I have heard from others who have read Melville and found this to be true as am still reading Moby Dick. But don't let th...more
Ricardo Moedano
Hoodwinked! That´s exactly how I felt for believing the promise on the jacket of this book (which cost me over 7 quid, by the way) because, I may emphasise for your elucidation, "The Confidence man" is not a novel, but rather a string of palavers among fuzzily outlined characters, every single one of whom talks tall yet in a meandering manner about other people just as dense, to expound on the nature of trust, the need as well as the risks thereof.

Furhtermore, you´d expect a Kindle edition of s...more
Lynn
Found this nigh unreadable. The characters are not actually characters, just mouthpieces who give speeches on the theme of trust, i.e. "confidence." More like reading an allegory play than a novel, as there is no apparent story, just a series of statements made by figures who represent different attitudes. They don't even have names, but are identified by descriptions like "the man in gray" or "the affluent-looking man."
Hamish
Another rating it hurts me to give. I really wanted to like this, but I just couldn't do it. I admired the structure and the way it was put together, and at times the prose was really strong, but it wasn't enough to save it. Essentially this is an endless stream of parables, and they're absurdly heavy-handed and dull to read. But they have a MESSAGE to convey, damn it! So this would be really useful if you're a moral idiot and need guidance, but if you're a normal adult who wants to read a good...more
Carl
it took awhile to get used to herman's sentence structure... this book is what the canterbury tales would've been like if mikhail bulgakov had written it. very bleak in world outlook (through prophetic in a way) but also uproariously funny.
Kila
Dropped after 60 pages. It was too repetitive for me though the idea was cool.
Spiros
Jun 04, 2014 Spiros rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of riverine journeys
Shelves: freebox
'They probably sit around on the floor with wine and cheese, and mispronounce "allegorical" and "didacticism".' - Woody Allen as Isaac Davis, Manhattan

I can't remember the last time I read anything as steeped in didactic allegory: Piers Plowman, maybe. This April Fool's journey down the Mississippi from St. Louis to somewhere south of Cairo had me very much at sea, even with Mr. Franklin's copious foot-notes; I came to realize how unfamiliar I am with American literature and philosophy of the 19...more
Myles
(3.2/5.0) This was an amusing read just as it was an annoying read– certainly not the best choice for a transcontinental read-eye reading marathon.

"'Quite an Original' a phrase, we fancy, rather oftener used by the young, or the unlearned, or the untravelled than by the old, or the well-read, or the man who has made the grand tour. Certainly, the sense of originality exists at its highest in an infant, and probably at its lowest in him who has completed the circle of the science."

His digression...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
More about Herman Melville...
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale Bartleby, the Scrivener Billy Budd, Sailor Benito Cereno Billy Budd and Other Stories

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“Money, you think, is the sole motive to pains and hazard, deception and devilry, in this world. How much money did the devil make by gulling Eve?” 5 likes
“If reason be judge, no writer has produced such inconsistent characters as nature herself has. It must call for no small sagacity in a reader unerringly to discriminate in a novel between the inconsistencies of conception and those of life. As elsewhere, experience is the only guide here; but as no one man’s experience can be coextensive with what is, it may be unwise in every case to rest upon it.” 2 likes
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