Ebook Details

Billy Budd

Billy Budd by Herman Melville

(46 reviews at Amazon.com)
Description: The plot follows Billy Budd, a seaman impressed into service aboard the HMS Bellipotent in the year 1797, when the Royal Navy was reeling from two major mutinies and was threatened by the Revolutionary French Republic’s military ambitions. Billy, an orphaned illegitimate child suffused with innocence, openness, and natural charisma, is adored by the crew, but, for unexplained reasons, arouses the antagonism of the ship’s Master-at-Arms, John Claggart, who falsely accuses Billy of conspiracy to mutiny. When Claggart brings his charges to the Captain, the Honourable Edward Fairfax “Starry” Vere, Vere summons both Claggart and Billy to his cabin for a private confrontation. When, in Billy’s and Vere’s presence, Claggart makes his false charges, Billy is unable to find the words to respond, due to a speech impediment. Unable to express himself verbally, he lashes out seemingly involuntarily at Claggart, killing him with a single blow. Vere, an eminently thoughtful man whose name recalls the Latin words “veritas” (truth) and “vir” (man) as well as the English word “veer,” then convenes a drumhead court-martial. He acts as convening authority, prosecutor, defense counsel, and sole witness (except for Billy himself). A story ultimately about good and evil, Billy Budd has often been interpreted allegorically, with Billy interpreted typologically as Christ or the Biblical Adam, with Claggart (compared to a snake several times in the text) figured as Evil. Part of Claggart’s hatred comes because of Billy’s goodness rather than in spite of it. Claggart is also thought of as the Biblical Judas. The act of turning an innocent man in to the authorities and the allusion of the priest kissing Billy on the cheek before he dies, just as Judas kisses Jesus on the cheek when he was betrayed, are cited in support of this reading. Vere is often associated with Pontius Pilate. This theory stems mainly from the characteristics attributed to each man. Billy is innocent, often compared to a barbarian or a child; while Claggart is a representation of evil with a “depravity according to nature,” a phrase Melville borrows from Plato. Vere, without a doubt the most conflicted character in the novel, is torn between his compassion for the “Handsome Sailor” and his martial adherence to his own authority. Claggart is the archetypal fallen angel, a man who has abandoned his goodness for ego, and, knowing this, i.e., his own cowardice, seeks to seduce the flawed Vere and destroy Budd The centrality of Billy Budd’s extraordinary good looks—“the young fellow who seems so popular with the men—Billy, the Handsome Sailor” says Captain Vere—has led to interpretations of a homoërotic sensibility in the novel. Herman Melville was an American novelist, short-story writer, essayist, and poet. He was classified as a Dark Romantic. His first three books gained much attention, the first becoming a bestseller, but, after a fast-blooming literary success in the late 1840s, his popularity declined precipitously in the mid-1850s and never recovered during his lifetime. When he died in 1891, he was almost completely forgotten (despite a vogue for his early sea novels in Great Britain in the 1880s), but his longest novel, Moby-Dick, won recognition in the 20th century as one of the chief literary masterpieces of both American and world literature. His posthumous novella Billy Budd rivals Moby-Dick in popularity and in particular has become a key text of the field of law and literature. (from Amazon.com)

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