Charles Matthews's Reviews > Great Short Works

Great Short Works by Herman Melville
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Nov 05, 10

it was amazing
Read in November, 2010

Listening to Benjamin Britten's opera Billy Budd not long ago, I realized how long it has been since I read Melville's story, so that's what inspired me to bring out this volume.

There are really only four "great" stories in the book:

* "Bartleby, the Scrivener," that astonishing imaginative bridge between Charles Dickens and Franz Kafka.
* "The Encantadas," an imaginative travelogue to the Galápagos, seen not as Darwin's laboratory of natural selection nor as the ecotourist's endangered paradise, but as the Fallen World in its raw essence.
* "Benito Cereno," the most mechanically structured of Melville's tales but also the one that raises the most unsettling questions about its theme and tone.
* "Billy Budd," that inexhaustible fable about innocence and experience, intellect and nature, beauty and ugliness, good and evil, as well as one of the nineteenth century's most provocative, if veiled, explorations of same-sex attraction.

As for the rest of the stories, none of them stand out. But you should read them anyway to understand the way Melville's moral imagination works. Sadly, Warner Berthoff's introduction is a bit of a slog through the academic fog, but there are nuggets to be gleaned from it.

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