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The Confidence-Man
Herman Melville
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The Confidence-Man

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  2,647 ratings  ·  263 reviews
In Herman Melvilles The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade, a group of steamboat passengers paddle to New Orleans on April Fools Day. As the Mississippi carries them down river, everyone is selling something: quack remedies; stock in a mining company about to fail; a fraudulent charity for widows and orphans. Set on the eve of the Civil War, as the frontier rapidly expands and ...more
ebook, 416 pages
Published September 16th 2014 by HarperPerennial Classics (first published April 1st 1857)
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Henry Avila
Jan 07, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is Herman Melville's last strange novel and it is obvious why, a very nebulous plot doesn't help. A Mississippi steamboat leisurely floating down the river, picking up and disembarking passengers along the way, from St. Louis to New Orleans in the antebellum south before the Civil War. Set on April Fool's Day ...a hint to the narrative, apparently on board is a confidence-man hence the title ( maybe more than one, possibly many) . A glimpse into the struggles of Americans on the edge of ...more
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,
Mar 24, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 19-ce, us, fiction
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 ...more
Eddie Watkins
Jan 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-fiction
This is the kind of book that couldve gone on forever, concluding only when the authors spleen and/or exuberance gave out, and Melville admitted as much with the last sentence

Something further may follow of this Masquerade.

but this readers glad it didnt, as his enthusiasm for the book faded toward the end. Which isnt 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
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 ...more
E. G.
Aug 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Introduction, by Stephen Matterson
A Note on the Text

--The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade


Appendix A: 'The River'
Appendix B: James Hall's 'Sketches'

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
Barry Pierce
...what is this novel? is it a novel? is it a collection of vignettes? is there a plot? honestly, who knows?

Following up the critical failure of Moby-Dick, Melville decided to pen his final novel, The Confidence-Man. I'm not even sure if I can give a plot summary here. It's set on a steamboat on the Mississippi and we sort of jump from character to character as they each are involved with backstories and plots that don't particularly amount to anything.

This book is just so odd. I genuinely have
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,
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 Melvilles erudite musings, digressions, and ability to stretch a metaphor into unusual and contradictory shapes. Also a kin to Gogols Dead Souls but a little more successful than that book, but, to Gogols 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 mans place in the universe, than does ...more
Oct 05, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio, overdrive
This book was really peculiar. The blurb on the back of my paperback says that the book survived the dismal reception it received in 1857. Having finished reading it, I can see why its reception was dismal. It is a combination of of vignettes featuring fast talking con men and their targets, philosophical debates and hypotheticals suitable for an ethics class. Getting through this book, particularly the more philosophical parts, felt like trudging through wet sand. That each member of the human ...more
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 ...more
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
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
John Anthony
May 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The novel is timeless, only Melvilles convoluted sentences give an indication of the period in which it was written and set. The story(ies) take place on board Fidele, a passenger steamer plying its way along the busy river. People are coming and going all the time, the flotsam and jetsom of life on the Mississipi. The reader has to be constantly on guard, along with her/his fictional counterparts in order not to be taken in by the fraudster, con man, call him what you will. Such people can come ...more
Jun 24, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A scurrilous retaliation against everything Melville perceived as keeping him--intellectually, emotionally, financially--down. It is a rogues gallery of cat-ate-the-canary grins. Peddlers of miraculous elixirs, promulgators of theosophical mummery, hardworkin' good ol' boys haplessly fallen on hard times, hucksters, shysters, charlatans, every sort of silver-tongued slyboots aiming to perform the world's oldest magic trick: to make that dollar bill climb up out of your wallet and disappear and ...more
Dec 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: lp2000s
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 ...more
Moby-Dickheads, take note: y'ain't seen nuthin' yet.
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
Vince Will Iam
The most difficult read I've ever had... Melville satirizes 19th-century American society and philosophizes on all sorts of themes cramming the book with biblical and mythological references. He explicitly intended his characters to be inconsistent to puzzle the reader... Done! Yet Moby Dick is in my all-time favourites but the Con-Man is much too fastidious to be simply enjoyable. However, it may constitute a great book to study literature if you are brave enough to spend hours deciphering its ...more
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
Charles  Beauregard
The Confidence Man is definitely not something you want to read to pass time. It was very thought provoking and interesting but also energy draining, which can be very good sometimes. I really enjoyed the idea of a con man trying to convince people to be convinced, a clever story line and also the philosophy presented made me think about my own life and how much I trust people. Over all it was a very worthwhile read and I reccomend it to anyone that likes to learn.
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.
Laurel Hicks
Melville's last novel, and a strange one indeed.
Jan 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A ship of fools. Beliefs are scams - no guarantee of God, man, progress. Cynicism too is a scam - action requires belief. Be conned or die! Absurd. Like life.
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)



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,
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
Scriptor Ignotus
As the world becomes more democratized, globalized, and egalitarian; as people and nations become increasingly abstract and interchangeable; as we approach a global apotheosis of the Emersonian ideal of self-reliance under which individuals are to have no allegiances, but only proximities; as the leveling and anonymizing conditions of the megalopolis undermine the contiguity of our social relationships; to whomor whatmay we appeal for a source of authority, legitimacy, or trust?

This is the
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
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, ...more
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There is more than one author with this name

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

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