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The Confidence-man: His Masquerade

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  2,104 Ratings  ·  197 Reviews
Long considered Melville's strangest novel, The Confidence-Man is a comic allegory aimed at the optimism and materialism of mid-nineteenth century America. A shape-shifting Confidence-Man approaches passengers on a Mississippi River steamboat and, winning over his not-quite-innocent victims with his charms, urges each to trust in the cosmos, in nature, and even in human na ...more
Paperback, 251 pages
Published December 4th 2002 by Northwestern University Press (first published 1857)
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Eddie Watkins
Jan 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-fiction
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
William1
Mar 24, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 19-ce, us
An arduous read. I read 4 pages a day. Very tough going but I finished it. Only great admiration for the author pulled me through. Not recommended if you have not read his other works. Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, of course, but for something lighter try Typee and Omoo. Both are South Seas adventure stories. Later, when you're hooked, after the diverting White Jacket and Redburn and the stories, you may want to move on to the oddments like this and the virtually unreadable Pierre: or, The Ambiguiti ...more
Jonathan
Sep 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Short review: Complicated, dense, angry, and funny too (though in that depressing kind of way).

Longer, more rambling comments and some quotes:

If one is going to try and come up with some sort of definition of a "masterpiece" surely one of the criteria must be an almost permanent relevance - that something of what is said about our species remains as true now as it was when the author picked up his pen.

This wonderful book, and a quick google shows me I am far from the first to think this, spea
...more
Michael Finocchiaro
The Confidence Man is a very cryptic book. Poorly received during its time and was the last book he published in his lifetime. It is part morality play, part theatre, part absurd - it is very hard to label in fact. At the beginning, the revolving characters reminded me of Chaucer's Tales (a possible inspiration for Melville?) amd then I also thought of Richard Linkletter's cult classic first movie, Slacker where each character introduces us to a new one and then vanishes. If I compared A Brief H ...more
Fernando
Mar 11, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Herman Melville es y será uno de mis autores favoritos. De hecho, Moby Dick es mi libro preferido. El Embaucador es la historia de un farsante de poca monta y charlatán que se sube a un barco que va de Mississipi a New Orleans y, disfrazándose, va engatusando a pasajero desprevenidos, formado por banqueros, filántropos, políticos y otras personalidades de la época (tengamos en cuenta que El Embaucador es su última novela larga, publicada en 1857), usualmente para sacarles plata, utilizando como ...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
Apr 17, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american, anglo
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
L.A. Starks
The Confidence-Man, published in 1857, is best read by those interested in historical American literature and pre-Civil War nineteenth-century history. Melville's writing, characteristic of the time, is dense. Descriptive paragraphs are weighed down with appositional phrases--it is just a different style.

I read the book straight through but would have done better reading it like a textbook, making frequent reference to the end-notes and spending more time understanding the language.

As the end-n
...more
Kyle
Feb 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
Feb 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: black-comedy
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
James
Dec 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lincoln-park
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
Jacob
Moby-Dickheads, take note: y'ain't seen nuthin' yet.
Laurel Hicks
Melville's last novel, and a strange one indeed.
Tyler Jones
Mar 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Call your novel The Confidence Man and set it on a Mississippi steamboat. Your readers will, no doubt, have certain expectations of shadowy action and nefarious double-dealings. Ah, but you have conned them! And you will be aided in your con by a publisher who, more than a century after you have shuffled off this mortal coil, releases a paperback edition with wooden dice on the cover. This is, as the introduction* states, not a novel of action but a novel of thought. A series of conversations ab ...more
Yarb
Nov 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Will Miller
Dec 18, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
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
Orcun
Nov 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: re-reading-list
Bazı romanlar sizi o roman üstüne düşünmeye kışkırtır, "Con-Man" de bunlardan biri... Büyük ölçüde diyaloglara dayanan, insanların hikayeleriyle birlikte felsefi tartışmanın (daha doğrusu, tartışma parodisinin) bir arada yürüdüğü, bol göndermeli, tekinsiz, karmaşık bir hiciv. Okunması sabır isteyen metinlerden biri.
Şimdilik dört yıldız veriyorum, ama ileride 1 yıldız daha ekleyebilirim.
Mark Stephenson
Jun 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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 " ...more
Sandi
Jun 21, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Hamish
Feb 24, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lit
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
Tristram
”There are doubts, sir, […] which, if man have them, it is not man that can solve them.”

This is probably one of the saddest, and therefore wisest, things any of the characters say in Melville’s novel The Confidence Man, the last one he was to have published in his lifetime – and it means a lot because this fascinating book is one that is full of mild sadness about the nature and the condition of man, sadness, though, that is benevolently hidden beneath a veil of humour and learned crankiness and
...more
Mat
Jan 17, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
David Fulmer
Jun 15, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Not one of Herman Melville’s best novels.
Kusaimamekirai
May 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-america
I really have no idea what to say about this book. It's part mystery, part philosophy, part rambling, experimental prose, part polemic, part everything.
If I was pressed to explain what this was about I would struggle but say it was about "confidence". Whether it's advocating for or against it I'm unsure however as our main character seeks to inspire confidence among a very disparate group of passengers, purely for his economic gain.
Along the way there are many digressions about things like the
...more
Tim
Sep 22, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Ann
Jan 19, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me three solid months to read this book. It was worth it but only if you like footnotes and obfuscation and constant references to um, everything. Which I do-ish. I especially enjoyed the 2 chapters parodying Emerson and Thoreau respectively. There's the chaper all about all sorts of boys which adds creedence to the "Melville's gay" theory. I liked the random chapters every once in awhile where Melville talks directly to the reader convincing us (or himself) that though characters in nov ...more
Andrew Sydlik
A deaf stranger boards a steamboat with a mysterious trunk. During the course of the voyage, a number of odd characters will accost the passengers, stealing their confidences (and money), defending the principles of trust and charity. Exposing the hypocrisies of a multitude of American "types" - the Southern gentleman, the Northern scholar, the avowed philanthropist, the rugged adventurer. He also manages to throw the notion of identity itself into question.

Interesting from a disability angle be
...more
Richard
Jun 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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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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“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?” 10 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.” 5 likes
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