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Billy Budd, Sailor

3.13  ·  Rating details ·  14,802 ratings  ·  926 reviews
A handsome young sailor is unjustly accused of plotting mutiny in this timeless tale of the sea.
Paperback, 160 pages
Published August 1st 2006 by Simon Schuster (first published 1924)
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Average rating 3.13  · 
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Jan 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“The Daemon Knows...”

Such is the title of a book on the enormous influence of an ancient Gnostic tenet on American writing of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by our preeminent critic, Harold Bloom.

And two faces of the Daemon rule this short but unfinished masterpiece by Melville...

On one side, the dumbstruck adherence to painful honesty in young Billy, whom the captain of this 18th century Royal Navy Man ‘o War calls “the Angel of God,” and on the other, the slimy and envious maleficence
Aug 19, 2007 rated it it was ok
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
Dec 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
“Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its jagged edges.”
― Herman Melville, Billy Budd


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
Mar 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Barry Pierce
Jul 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Jealousy's a green-eyed monster, folks.
Jul 05, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Aug 20, 2014 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: anguished closet-case sailors
Shelves: rth-lifetime, 2014
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
Melville's Billy Budd, Sailor represents an unfinished work but one that was in its 3rd draft at the point when the author died in 1891 & which was subsequently tended to by his widow before being published to great acclaim 30+ years later in 1924 and then in a 2nd revised format in 1948. In reading the book a 3rd time, I continue to find Melville's novella a most captivating tale and one conveying considerable psychological depth. With each draft, there was a broadening of the 3 principal chara ...more
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
It's an story from English Lit and honestly I remember very little. I didn't even remember I read it, so you see how it stuck with me.
Jason Koivu
May 05, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
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
Michael Finocchiaro
The tragic story of Billy Budd is a captivating and interesting read. Melville is a master of physical and psychological description and an expert at ships at sea and this makes for a great story. I am all too familiar with rumor-mongering and how poisonous and destructive it can be and this posthumously published novella serves as a sort of naval parable about it. A must read after Moby Dick.
robin friedman
Jul 03, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Reading "Billy Budd" For Independence Day

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" t
Boring and meandering - the writing style too, is not to my taste. Why is this a classic and on the 1001 book you need to read list?
For a novella length story this took a while to get into. The story of young Billy Budd and his time aboard the Indomitable and whose innocence was his downfall. Thought I'd give this a try after reading the wonderful Moby Dick earlier in the year.
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
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
Riku Sayuj
May 03, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: r-r-rs
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.
David Stephens
Jun 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 18, 2009 rated it did not like it
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
While the themes of justice and law were interesting, what really stood out to me was the gay subtext of the novella. The last 5 chapters were intense, filled with memorable passages and analysis from different perspectives.
Mar 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a novella that manages to condense in itself all of Mellvile's larger-than-life tendencies in writing. It might be short, but it contains all the mythological, historical and religious allusions that a fan of Melville would want, completed with a theme of desire. Loved it.
Oct 04, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: classics
I read this in my teens. It depressed the ever-loving heck out of me.
Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
Some time ago I watched the 1962 production of this Melville novella. At the time I had no particular attachment to the story so felt no transgression seeing the film first. The opposite being the case with Bartleby to which I'd become attached via Zizek's lionization of The Big B's passive act of defiance. Let me put it this way ; no harm was done in seeing the film before reading Billy Budd. The film is quite well done. And since we're dealing with a novella rather than a novel, the film gets ...more
Jan 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Bettie, Carey
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
Jun 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a great little novella.

The prose is complex, filled with allusion, strong voice, an allegorical spirit, cadences and parallelism, and many of the characteristics of Melvillean prose. It's not always pretty prose, and the unfinished state leaves a bit of roughness in its syntax and diction. But overall, it's well-written, considering how much has been pieced together.

As for Billy Budd, he's one of the finest allegorical creations. Much of what we know is explained by the narrator's voice; ye
Betsy Gant
Apr 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
“Truth uncompromisingly told will always have its jagged edges.”
― Herman Melville, Billy Budd

Go, Herman Melville! Crazy as this sounds, I think I enjoyed this story much more than Moby-Dick (this could be just due to the fact that I only had to read thirty-one chapters of plot and dialogue as opposed to one hundred and thirty-four chapters about whaling, anchors, and blubber!). Some really great symbolism, themes, and Christian allegory goin' on here.

While I could write a lengthy discussion ab
Nov 23, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
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
Sarah Bates
Aug 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
As the first chapter opened, I realized with alarm that Melville's vocabulary is challenging. Fortunately, my long longstanding eclectic reading interests serve me well. In the 1800s when Billy Budd was published Melville's historical references to British naval battles and the country's ships were well-known to his audience. In 2012, however, each time I came across one of the historical facts, my mind "sailed" off to ponder its relevance. This book is on the Palomar College English Department ...more
Sep 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: big-white-square
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
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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 d

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