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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Billy Budd, Foretopman (1924) by Heman Melville

Book Review
Billy Budd, Foretopman (1924)
 by Heman Melville

  I would argue that Herman Melville is second only to Jane Austen in the intensity of his posthumous elevation to canonical status after languishing in literary obscurity while alive.  The peak of that movement was, in fact, the publication of Billy Budd, never published during Melville's lifetime, which was discovered by the very same critics who were already engaged in the posthumous canonical reevaluation in the aftermath of Melville's death in 1891. 

 Melville's posthumous rise to canonical status in world literature is tied to his status as a forerunner of modernism, a direct link to the densely written prose of later writers like Henry James and William Faulkner.  His dense, complicated prose  is like a blueprint for the kind of "serious" literature critics and academics favored in the early twentieth century, rich in allusions, short on incident.   Under 100 pages, Billy Budd is as brief as Moby Dick is long winded, and the 90 odd pages of Billy Budd include an opening salvo of philosophy by the narrator that barely qualifies as fiction at all. 

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