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The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade (Norton Critical Editions) Paperback – December 19, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0393979275 ISBN-10: 039397927X Edition: 2nd

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 505 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 2nd edition (December 19, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 039397927X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393979275
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #380,153 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

(in full The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade) Satirical allegory by Herman Melville, published in 1857. The last novel to be published during Melville's lifetime, it reveals the author's pessimistic view of an America grown tawdry through greed, self-delusion, and lack of charity. Set on a steamboat traveling on the Mississippi River, the work is an episodic series of vignettes of various passengers--some dupes, some tricksters--who represent a gullible American public that can be deceived by charlatans and by the lure of easy money. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

Long considered the author's strangest novel, The Confidence-Man is a comic allegory aimed at the optimism and materialism of mid-eighteenth-century America. A mysterious shape-changing Confidence-Man approaches passengers on a Mississippi steamboat and, winning over the (not quite innocent) victims with his charm, urges them to implicitly trust in the cosmos, in nature, and even in human nature-with predictable results.
The Confidence-Man represented a departure for Melville, a satirical and socially acute work that was to be a further step away from his sea novels. Yet it confused and angered reviewers who preferred to pigeonhole him as an adventure writer. Some have argued the book was a joke on the readers loyal to his sea stories, but if so, it backfired. Dismissed by critics as unreadable, and an undoubted financial failure, The Confidence-Man's cold reception undermined Melville's belief in his ability to make a living writing works that were both popular and profound, and he soon gave up fiction. It was not until the mid-twentieth century that critics rediscovered the book and praised its wit, stunningly modern technique, and wry view that life may be just a cosmic con game.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

This book is a challenge to read and comprehend.
C. M Mills
The book could have been 15 to 20 chapters instead of the 45 that it is (although most of the chapters are short).
Yaakov (James) Mosher
He recognizes that his uniquely obtuse style in this book is particularly nebulous to the reader.
Jon Linden

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Charles Hugh Smith on October 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
Why read a book from 1857 which flopped so badly as commercial literature that Melville stopped writing and ended his career as a customs official? Because this book masterfully explores the entire nature of trust, confidence and cons. Though the setting is a riverboat on the Mississippi River just before the U.S. exploded into Civil War, its insights cross cultural boundaries.

This is not an easy book to read for several reasons. First, it is undoubtedly one of the first "post-modern" novels which breaks from traditional narrative storytelling. ( Another example: Dostoevsky's Notes From the Underground.) The Confidence-Man is a collection of 45 conversations between various people on the riverboat--beggars, absurdly dressed frontiersmen, sickly misers, shysters, patent medicine hucksters, veterans (of the Mexican-American War) and the "hero" in the latter part of the book, the Cosmopolitan.

In typical Melville fashion, you also get asides--directly to the reader, in several cases, as if Melville felt the need to address issues of fiction outside the actual form of his novel. The lack of structure, action and conclusion make this a post-modern type book, but if you read each conversation as a separate story, then it starts to make more sense.

For what ties the book together is not a story but a theme: the nature of trust and confidence. In a very sly way, Melville shows how a variety of cons are worked, as the absolutely distrustful are slowly but surely convinced to do exactly what they vowed not to do: buy the "herbal" patent medicine, buy shares in a bogus stock venture, or donate cash to a suspect "charity."

In other chapters, it seems like the con artist is either stopped in his tracks or is conned himself.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Connor on November 14, 2001
Format: Paperback
Quite an Original
The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade
I am specifically reviewing the Northwestern University Press edition of Melville's "The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade."
There is a Norton Critical Edition of this novel edited by Hershel Parker, but it doesn't seem to be offered by Amazon.com. It is offered at at W.W. Norton's website... The Hendricks House edition edited by Elizabeth Foster is another good edition, but it seems to be out of print at the moment.
On November 12, 1856 Herman Melville and Nathanial Hawthorne took a walk among the sandhills near Liverpool, England. They smoked cigars, and Hawthorne wrote about a week later that Melville spoke of Providence and futurity, and he, Melville, had pretty much made up his mind to be annilated.
"The Confidence-Man" is the last novel that Melville published during his lifetime. I agree with Newton Arvin, who called "The Confidence-Man" "one of the most infidel books ever written by an American; one of the most completely nihilistic, morally and metaphysically."
About 150 years after the book was first published, and about fifty since the book was first taken seriously by literary critics, The Confidence-Man is not a settled matter. In fact there remains excessive discord among readers and critics about the worth of this novel. Some compare it to Swift's "Tale of the Tub," others will tell you that this book is static and formless.
The idea is simple enough. On April 1 a devil in the guise of a deaf mute goes aboard a Mississippi river steamboat, and begs for charity. In rapid succession he transforms himself into a crippled Black man, a man with the weed, the man in the grey coat , the gentleman with the big book, the man with the plate and finally the Cosmopolitan.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Charles Hugh Smith on October 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
Why read a book from 1857 which flopped so badly as commercial literature that Melville stopped writing and ended his career as a customs official? Because this book masterfully explores the entire nature of trust, confidence and cons. Though the setting is a riverboat on the Mississippi River just before the U.S. exploded into Civil War, its insights cross cultural boundaries.

This is not an easy book to read for several reasons. First, it is undoubtedly one of the first "post-modern" novels which breaks from traditional narrative storytelling. ( Another example: Dostoevsky's Notes From the Underground.) The Confidence-Man is a collection of 45 conversations between various people on the riverboat--beggars, absurdly dressed frontiersmen, sickly misers, shysters, patent medicine hucksters, veterans (of the Mexican-American War) and the "hero" in the latter part of the book, the Cosmopolitan.

In typical Melville fashion, you also get asides--directly to the reader, in several cases, as if Melville felt the need to address issues of fiction outside the actual form of his novel. The lack of structure, action and conclusion make this a post-modern type book, but if you read each conversation as a separate story, then it starts to make more sense.

For what ties the book together is not a story but a theme: the nature of trust and confidence. In a very sly way, Melville shows how a variety of cons are worked, as the absolutely distrustful are slowly but surely convinced to do exactly what they vowed not to do: buy the "herbal" patent medicine, buy shares in a bogus stock venture, or donate cash to a suspect "charity."

In other chapters, it seems like the con artist is either stopped in his tracks or is conned himself.
Read more ›
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again

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