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Billy Budd, Sailor and Selected Tales (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – April 15, 2009

4.2 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Herman Melville was an American novelist, poet, and lecturer best known for his classic novel Moby-Dick, as well as for his short fiction "Bartleby, the Scrivener," and the unfinished "Billy Budd, Sailor." Educated as a teacher and later as an engineer, Melville s writing was heavily influenced by his time aboard the whaling ship Acushnet, and his month-long captivity by Typee natives on Nuka Hiva island. Although Melville experienced success early in his writing career, public indifference to his masterpiece, Moby-Dick, resulted in waning attention, and his work was almost entirely disregarded by the time of this death in 1891. Melville s work experienced a revival in the early twentieth century, and he is now considered one of the pre-eminent American writers of his time. He is also one of the most-studied novelists, and was the first writer to be collected and published by the Library of America.

Robert Milder is Professor of English at Washington University in St. Louis.
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Product Details

  • Series: Oxford World's Classics
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (April 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199538913
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199538911
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 1 x 5.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #418,418 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Melville's novella, Biily Budd, is a classic - so rich with symbolic power one hardly is able to make "sense" of it all or have it "fit" into any one (or two) well wrapped, tidy, boxes. The narrative is simple enough to be sure, but it's the symbolic resonances, innumerable, like the sun glistening off individual waves on the sea, that makes it hard to really put this book down and move on. Its most basic theme is the undoing of innocence - a theme that clearly has metaphysical levels, but equally well relates to Melville's own life and struggles. It's a wonderful work to sit and think about (never really to be "done" doing so) and just a plain good 'ol sea yarn as well. Highly recommended not only as an "easy" entry-point (in terms of style) into Melville's literary universe, but for its own unique luminosity.
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Format: Kindle Edition
I enjoyed these tales very much. Beautiful, erudite English mixed with apt and timely references (for its time) to the Western tradition together with half-ironical, half-satirical, heavily idiosyncratic narration made for highly pleasurable reading although I admit to completely glossing over and misreading The Encantadas and Benito Cereno which are too heavy and convoluted (and historically particular) for my relatively meagre reading skills.

Some of these tales were so evocative and well portrayed that I could almost imagine the narrator's English or South American accent, as the case may be, and even when not seizing the text in its entirety rather than its parts, the aptly painted story-telling ensured that I never felt it to be too much of chore reading the book fully over a three day period (with large breaks).

Some of the tales are more akin to vignettes and half-humorous, half-satirical short stories (The Lightning-Rod Man, Cock-A-Doodle-Do), some, more difficult, (such as the aforementioned Enchanted Isles and Benito Cereno), are more fantastical and wordy.

Billy Budd is the main attraction of this book, featured last and the longest by a margin, and it is very much a tale which, in Hannah Arendt's (and consequently my own) reading depicts in no few words Good (innocence), Evil (manipulation) and Justice (virtue)and the interaction between them, each side represented respectively by Budd The Handsome Sailor himself, Claggart the Master-At-Arms and Captain Vere.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Like any collection of short stories, there are good and not-as-good pieces here. Melville's writing is fairly impeccable, excruciatingly precise—sometimes it borders on fanatical—but perfect style does not always lead to a great story.

I know that some of the short stories found in this book are considered classics of the form, but oddly enough, the ones most often cited as "classics" did not impress me. Both "Bartleby" and "Benito Cereno" left me with a shrug, "Bartleby" especially because it lacked the gorgeous prose that Melville usually employed. They were not as forgettable as some of the stories in this collection ("The Fiddler" and "I and My Chimney"), but nothing I would savor reading again. "Bartleby" is just too straight-forward, and "Benito Cereno" is kind of a mess. The latter is one of those stories where the second half explains what was going on in the first. By then, I'd figured it out and it seemed redundant and ham-fisted. "Benito Cereno" also rides a line of ambiguity when it comes to some issues (namely race) which a modern reader might be more sensitive to—so much so that I really couldn't figure out how Melville wanted the reader to feel about the story's black slaves. (Further research only emphasized that ambiguity, showing different takes on the story's meaning since the time it was published. Maybe that ambiguity is to the story's credit, but it left a bad taste in my mouth.)

Two of the stories in the collection are fairly comical: "Cock-a-Doodle-Doo!" and "The Lightning-Rod Man." I can imagine people in the 1800s reading these stories in the magazine they were published and being amused.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
pretty hard to understand plot because of melville's extended descriptions, but interesting insight on ethics and the martial judicial system
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