Monday, January 22, 2007

Ah, Billy, Billy, Billy...

Classic Challenge #1

Read Billy Budd on the plane to Seattle this past Thursday as part of the Classic Challenge. Unfortunately, I did not read the preferred edited edition. I read the Freeman/Treeman version.

Billy Budd was published in 1924, some 33 years after Melville's death. Many drafts were found in his papers while preparing for a 1920 Melville revival. One draft is said to be the final novella. I would disagree.

The book is torn. It lacks focus on theme or allegory. It seems Melville was playing with good and evil/Jesus and the Devil/straight and gay themes; yet, never really establishing a major and minor consistency.

Unlike Moby Dick, we hardly learn any characterization from conversation. In Budd we are given description, as if notes, to the different characters' moral values and motivations.

Speaking of notes, a majority of the paragraphs feel like notes. Melville waxes eloquent passages then says something like, "To return." What? I missed that. Go back and reread. Does he mean, enter stage left?

I just find it hard to accept this work as complete. I think Melville was working to develop this novella into a full blown novel. I do NOT agree with those that claim this is his finest work. My money is on Moby.

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