Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, October 04, 2019

The Confidence Man (1857) by Herman Melville


Book Review
The Confidence Man (1857)
 by Herman Melville

   Melville's last novel was The Confidence Man, published in 1857- after it tanked he retired from writing and spend the last 20 years of his life as a government employee.  The crazy thing about Melville and his literary career was not that he basically gave up because people didn't understand how great he was- but that he had an early period of success and fame based on his earliest travelogue style books- and THEN when he started publishing his epochal, canonical books, audiences deserted him and critics turn against him. 

   I've bought, started and promptly lost at least three different copies of The Confidence Man over the past two decades, so when I saw there was an Audiobook edition readily available I thought to take the plunge.  Most of The Confidence Man consists of a series of dialogues between characters in the form of flowery, rotund 19th century rhetoric, and that is the kind of the book that makes for much better listening than reading.  True, you can't effectively stop and look up references or vocabulary, but you also don't fall asleep reading pages of dry philosophical back and forth.

  The Confidence Man is filled with characters based on real life people in the 19th century, and it is apparently supposed to be, at some level, a satire and/or funny.  Listening, it struck me that The Confidence Man is as involved and elaborate as any mid 20th century work of "metafiction" or post-modernist literature, but again- listening as an Audiobook, I couldn't really stop and review passages and make notes etc, BUT I actually finished it,

   The Confidence Man of the title is not just a con-man in the modern sense of the word, instead he is literally obsessed with the word "confidence" and swindles people by playing on their desire to be perceived as trusting.  As he works a riverboat travelling the Mississippi, each chapter features a dialogue between the Confidence Man, who assumes a variety of different forms, and a mark, the object being to part the mark from some money.  Each dialogue revolves around different understandings of the word "confidence" and the allegorical approach- if not the specific subject of said allegory- is never far from the surface- this isn't a book where you lose yourself in the story.



   

No comments:

Blog Archive