“We are always likely to find some women aboard Melville's ships. The chanting negresses of the St Dominick are replaced on the Bellipotent by the beloved "Handsome Sailor". Billy Budd is often compared to women. He is "all but feminine in purity" and his position aboard the seventy four is...”see full review » see other reviews »
Didn’t Like It
“Got halfway through this and realized I had no idea what was going on, who the characters were, or what they cared about. Dropped it immediately.”see full review » see other reviews »
“Good vs. evil.”wiley wrote this review Thursday, May 2, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“We are always likely to find some women aboard Melville's ships. The chanting negresses of the St Dominick are replaced on the Bellipotent by the beloved "Handsome Sailor". Billy Budd is often compared to women. He is "all but feminine in purity" and his position aboard the seventy four is "something analogous to that of a rustic beauty transplanted from the provinces and brought into competition with the highborn dames of the court". He has "something suggestive of a mother eminently favored by Love and Graces".
And this is exactly what Billy is doomed to lose at the end: love and grace. No "honest homage" is strong enough to save him from hanging.
The last and only thing he can do is to bless the cruelty of a society that has condemned him: "God bless captain Vere!" It is the second involuntary cry of the protagonist for liberty, the first being at his recruitment on the Bellipotent: "And goodbye to you too old Rights of Man!" Billy does not act consciously. He can not understand satyre nor double meanings. The author intentionally leaves the Truth to his pure lips.
But Billy himself is unable to understand the workings of the society. Nor can he spot the difference between good and evil. He is completely uncritical. He has no true moral, because he has no knowledge of it. He simply acts spontaneously. He is little more than an "upright barbarian", Adam, the bon sauvage who can not detect the complexity of social life.
Melville is not at all merciful with the sailor and often compares him to animals, like he did for the Negros in Benito Cereno. Billy is no serpent, no dove; he is an "illiterate nightingale", a dog of St Bernard breed.
On the contrary Claggart is more like the serpent of the Genesis. He is a scorpion who bites himself, meaning that he is entirely venomous. He is a sort of Iago who does not truly have a reason for his malign actions a part for an innate hatred for innocence.
Starry Vere is called to judge the events. Immune to the "invading waters" of Enlightment he elects social laws above moral Law and he kills his young jewel.
He is the true victim of the novel. Billy accepts his fate because he lives on one level and for him it is natural to do so; he does not rebel not because he is aware of being a victim but because he would never even imagine of being victim of an injustice. On the contrary Vere does understand. But he does not seem racked with guilt after putting the law ahead of his conscience. He is simply living one of those fictions he does not enjoy reading. And as he dies he himself starts the "legend of Billy Budd" by repeating his name.”
“1,001 (1,305) Books You Must Read Before You Die”Kyle Mahoney wrote this review Saturday, October 6, 2012. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Far better than Moby Dick, Billy Budd tells us a great sacrificial tale.”Justin J wrote this review Sunday, December 19, 2010. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Got halfway through this and realized I had no idea what was going on, who the characters were, or what they cared about. Dropped it immediately.”Megan S wrote this review Thursday, October 21, 2010. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“I had read this book in a class at Parkland, and I thought it would make a much easier introduction to Herman Melville than Moby Dick for Isaac and Judah. We read it together in the summer of 2008. It was hard going for the boys. I had told them before we started that I would let Moby Dick be a read by choice but we were reading this one together. They opted out of Moby Dick after reading this, but there were parts they did enjoy.
This is not a happy story. It is very sad as a matter of fact. And reading the language of Melville's day is difficult at times. But I rate the book highly, because I am at an age where difficult, does not equal bad. I enjoy it from time to time. I enjoy seeing the thought process not only of a different culture, but a different time. The influences of Melville's day -- and his religious background are evident in his style.
I think Isaac and Judah were put off, not only by the language, style, and huge amount of description, but also because the good guy does not come out on top at the end. He is killed -- and Melville twists that to almost be the right thing to do. Which is rather morally confusing. It is a good story to talk about balance -- why justice without love or mercy or even wisdom is not a good thing. ”