Now there can exist no irritating juxtaposition of dissimilar personalities comparable to that which is possible aboard a great warship fully manned and at sea. There, every day among all ranks, almost every man comes into more or less of contact with almost every other man. Wholly there to avoid even the sight of an aggravating object one must needs give it Jonah’s toss or jump overboard himself. Imagine how all this might eventually operate on some peculiar human creature the direct reverse of a saint!
Billy Budd, called the Handsome Sailor because of his unmatched good looks, is an innocent soul on a warship full of hard men in the late 1790’s. Through his genial and sunny disposition he wins them over, except for one. John Claggart, the master-at-arms, showed Billy his smile, but secretly hated him. This hate, born out of jealousy, would lead him to do an unthinkable thing to Billy and therefore seal his own fate. Captain Vere, for his part in the story, tried to be fair, but even he was outsmarted by circumstance.
The story itself was good, but it was wrapped up in 114 pages of a hard to read draft. This book was not published during Melville’s lifetime, and it did not see print until he had been dead for over 30 years. The only other Melville work I’ve read is the short story Bartleby the Scrivener and I remember enjoying it. Maybe I would have enjoyed this if it had been shortened. Or maybe I just don’t appreciate Melville. I almost gave up around page 10, but thought I could suffer through 114 pages. I will remember the story itself, but do not plan on reading more of Melville.