Melville was the author of a novel abut what we'd now consider an illegal
the commercial hunting of whales for oil and meat. In capturing the
whaling industry at its peak, showcasing the rebellious white whale, in
our view he was lobbying for the whales, the innocent victims in his
story. Following his death in New York City in 1891, he posthumously came to be regarded as one of the great American writers.
Herman Melville was born
in New York City on the 1st of August 1819. He died on the 28th of September 1891. He was an American novelist, short story writer and poet of the American Renaissance period. Among his best-known works are Moby-Dick (1851), Typee (1846), a romanticized account of his experiences in Polynesia, and Billy Budd, Sailor, a posthumously published novella.
The centennial of his birth in 1919 was the starting point of a Melville revival,
when Moby-Dick began to be considered one of the great American novels.
Billy Budd, Sailor is a novella by American writer Herman Melville left unfinished at Melville's death in 1891. Acclaimed by critics as a masterpiece when a hastily transcribed version was finally published in 1924, it quickly took its place as a classic second only to Moby-Dick among Melville's works. Budd is a "handsome sailor" who strikes and inadvertently kills his false accuser, Master-at-arms John Claggart. The ship's Captain, Edward Vere, recognizes the innocence of Budd's intent but the law of mutiny requires him to sentence Billy to be hanged.
Melville began work on it in November 1886, revising and expanding from time to time, but left the manuscript in disarray. Melville's widow Elizabeth began to edit the manuscript for publication, but was not able to decide her husband's intentions at key points, even his intended title. Raymond M. Weaver, Melville's first biographer, was given the manuscript and published the 1924 version, which was marred by misinterpretation of Elizabeth's queries, misreadings of Melville's difficult handwriting, and even inclusion of a preface Melville had cut. Melville scholars Harrison Hayford and Merton M. Sealts Jr. published what is considered the best transcription and critical reading text in 1962. In 2017, Northwestern University Press published a "new reading text" based on a "corrected version" of Hayford and Sealts' genetic text prepared by G. Thomas Tanselle.
Billy Budd has been adapted into film, a stage play, and an opera.
Billy Budd is a seaman impressed into service aboard 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. He is impressed to this large warship from another, smaller, merchant ship, The Rights of Man (named after the book by Thomas Paine). As his former ship moves off, Budd shouts, "Good-bye to you too, old Rights-of-Man."
Billy, a foundling from Bristol, has an innocence, good looks and a natural charisma that make him popular with the crew. He has a stutter, which becomes more noticeable when under intense emotion. He arouses the antagonism of the ship's master-at-arms, John Claggart. Claggart, while not unattractive, seems somehow "defective or abnormal in the constitution", possessing a "natural depravity." Envy is Claggart's explicitly stated emotion toward Budd, foremost because of his "significant personal beauty," and also for his innocence and general popularity. (Melville further opines that envy is "universally felt to be more shameful than even felonious crime.") This leads Claggart to falsely charge Billy with conspiracy to mutiny. When the captain, Edward Fairfax "Starry" Vere, is presented with Claggart's charges, he summons Claggart and Billy to his cabin for a private meeting. Claggart makes his case and Billy, astounded, is unable to respond, due to his stutter. In his extreme frustration he strikes out at Claggart, killing him instantly.
Vere convenes a drumhead court-martial. He acts as convening authority, prosecutor, defense counsel and sole witness (except for Billy). He intervenes in the deliberations of the court-martial panel to persuade them to convict Billy, despite their and his beliefs in Billy's moral innocence. (Vere says in the moments following Claggart's death, "Struck dead by an angel of God! Yet the angel must hang!") Vere claims to be following the letter of the Mutiny Act and the Articles of War.
Although Vere and the other officers do not believe Claggart's charge of conspiracy and think Billy justified in his response, they find that their own opinions matter little. The martial law in effect states that during wartime the blow itself, fatal or not, is a capital crime. The court-martial convicts Billy following Vere's argument that any appearance of weakness in the officers and failure to enforce discipline could stir more mutiny throughout the British fleet. Condemned to be hanged the morning after his attack on Claggart, Billy before his execution says, "God bless Captain Vere!" His words were repeated by the gathered crew in a "resonant and sympathetic echo."CH 26
The novel closes with three chapters that present ambiguity:
- Chapter 28 describes the death of Captain Vere. In a naval action against the French ship, Athée (the Atheist), Captain Vere is mortally wounded. His last words are "Billy Budd, Billy Budd."
- Chapter 29 presents an extract from an official naval gazette purporting to give the facts of the fates of John Claggart and Billy Budd aboard HMS Bellipotent – but the "facts" offered turn the facts that the reader learned from the story upside down. The gazette article described Budd as a conspiring mutineer likely of foreign birth and mysterious antecedents who is confronted by John Claggart. The master-at-arms, loyally enforcing the law, is fatally stabbed by Budd. The gazette concludes that the crime and weapon used suggest a foreign birth and subversive character; it reports that the mutineer was executed and nothing is amiss aboard HMS Bellipotent.
- Chapter 30 is a cheaply printed ballad, "Billy in the Darbies," written by one of Billy's shipmates as an elegy. The adult, experienced man represented in the poem is not the innocent youth portrayed in the preceding chapters.
Composed fitfully over the last five years of his life, the novella Billy Budd represents Melville's return to prose fiction after three decades of only writing poetry. Melville had a difficult time writing, describing his process with Moby-Dick as follows: "Taking a book off the brain is akin to the ticklish & dangerous business of taking an old painting off a panel—you have to scrape off the whole business in order to get at it with safety." The "scrapings" of Billy Budd lie in the 351 leaves of manuscript now in the Houghton Library at Harvard University.
The state of this manuscript has been described as "chaotic," with a bewildering array of corrections, cancellations, cut and pasted leaves, annotations by several hands, and with at least two different attempts made at a fair copy. The composition proceeded in three general phases, as shown by the Melville scholars Harrison Hayford and Merton M. Sealts, Jr., who did an extensive study of the original papers from 1953 to 1962. They concluded from the evidence of the paper used at each stage, the writing instruments (pencil, pen, color of ink), insertions, and crossings out that Melville introduced the three main characters in three stages of composition: first Billy, in a draft of what became "Billy in the Darbies"; then Claggart: and finally Vere.
The work started as a poem, a ballad entitled "Billy in the Darbies", which Melville intended for his book, John Marr and Other Sailors. He added a short, prose head-note to introduce the speaker and set the scene. The character of "Billy" in this early version was an older man condemned for inciting mutiny and apparently guilty as charged. He did not include the poem in his published book. Melville incorporated the ballad and expanded the head-note sketch into a story that eventually reached 150 manuscript pages. This was the first of the three major expansions, each related to one of the principal
characters. As the focus of his attention shifted from one to another of these three principals, he modified the plot and thematic emphasis. Because Melville never entirely finished the revisions, critics have been divided as to where the emphasis lay and to Melville's intentions.
After Melville's death, his wife Elizabeth, who had acted as his amanuensis on other projects, scribbled notes and conjectures, corrected spelling, sorted leaves and, in some instances, wrote over her husband's faint writing. She tried to follow through on what she perceived as her husband's objectives but her editing was confusing to the first professional editors, Weaver and Freeman, who mistook her writing for Melville's. For instance, she put several pages into a folder and marked it "Preface?" indicating that she did not know what her husband had intended. At some point Elizabeth Melville placed the manuscript in "a japanned tin box" with the author's other literary materials, where it remained undiscovered for another 28 years.
DICK - OUR FAVOURITE
Dick, is the story of a great white sperm whale that fought back at
whalers who tried to harpoon him. The idea came to Herman Melville after
he spent time on a commercial whaler, where stories abounded of the
sinking of the Essex in 1821 and Mocha
Dick, a giant sperm whale that sank around 20 ships, before being
harpooned in 1838.
Moby Dick (1851)
Israel Potter (1855)
The Confidence-Man (1857)
Billy Budd (1924)
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