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Billy Budd och andra berättelser (1924)

av Herman Melville

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MedlemmarRecensionerPopularitetGenomsnittligt betygOmnämnanden
1,739137,651 (3.56)92
If Melville had never written Moby Dick, his place in world literature would be assured by his short tales. "Billy Budd, Sailor," his last work, is the masterpiece in which he delivers the final summation in his "quarrel with God." It is a brilliant study of the tragic clash between social authority and individual freedom, human justice and abstract good. Melville also explores this theme in "Bartelby the Scrivener," his famous story about a Wall Street law clerk who takes passive resistance to a comic--and ultimately disastrous--extreme; and in "Benito Cereno," his dazzling account of oppression and rebellion on a nineteenth-century slave ship. Completing this collection of great tales are the eerie "The Encantados," the beautiful, romantic "The Piazza," and Melville's chilling science fiction parable, "The Bell-Tower."… (mer)
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I'm glad that Moby Dick isn't the only good thing Melville ever wrote - after having finally actually read it, it was great to be reminded how satisfying it is when something that's been endlessly lauded manages to live up to that reputation. Melville's short stories don't have the iconic status that Moby Dick does, but no one capable of turning out that masterpiece could fail to show some signs of that talent for exploring human nature in his lesser works, and there's plenty for anyone who likes his distinctively discursive but acute style to enjoy here. "Bartleby, the Scrivener", "The Encantadas", and "Benito Cereno" are excellent, with other stories like "Billy Budd, Sailor" still being highly enjoyable.

- "Bartleby, the Scrivener". This is possibly the greatest story ever written about the importance of an HR department, as well as a good look at how people cope with the inexplicable in their daily lives. It reads like a 19th century ancestor of the movie Office Space, with the title character's battle cry of "I would prefer not to" encapsulating the oppressed office drone's secret wish of being able to assert at least some volition in a world of meaningless drudgery. That Bartleby was driven into his catatonia of productivity by working in a dead-letter office before his scrivener position in the law firm prefigures a surprising amount about the modern workplace, and the mysterious inability of the unnamed narrator to just fire Bartleby and replace him with someone more like his other copyist assistants is also pretty interesting: when an immovable object like Bartleby drops into your life, what do you do, and what does that say about your management style? A management consultant might have a lot to say about the impact of one bad apple on teamwork and productivity; most other people will identify either with the narrator's inexplicably determined kindness, or Bartleby's justified horror of scrivening and steadfast determination to do his own thing.
- "The Piazza". I read this as a straightforward study in perception vs reality wrapped in parody of pastoralism. Behind the dense, Shakespearean verbiage, the difficulty the narrator and Marianna have communicating about what they each see as desirable is a good, if somewhat anodyne elaboration on "the grass is always greener".
- "The Encantadas". One of Melville's great gifts is how good he is at turning something insanely boring into a riveting, almost hypnotic journey. This starts off as a series of "sketches" of Galapagos-ish islands, with Melville seemingly determined to describe every rock and tortoise in ten thousand leagues, but slowly he builds it up until you find yourself actually enjoying things like his slurs on that noble avian the pelican:

"But look, what are yon wobegone regiments drawn up on the next shelf above? what rank and file of large strange fowl? what sea Friars of Orders Gray? Pelicans. Their elongated bills, and heavy leathern pouches suspended thereto, give them the most lugubrious expression. A pensive race, they stand for hours together without motion. Their dull, ashy plumage imparts an aspect as if they had been powdered over with cinders. A penitential bird, indeed, fitly haunting the shores of the clinkered Encantadas, whereon tormented Job himself might have well sat down and scraped himself with potsherds."

The nature descriptions alone would be fine, the envy of travel writers everywhere, but eventually he gets to the adventures of the visitors and inhabitants of the islands and it gets really good. Melville is always very interested in how human nature deals with nature nature, and I see this as a response to the "state of nature" philosophy like Hobbes's work that was so popular in the 18th century. He spends so much time describing how miserable and hellish the islands are so that you're hardly surprised that human beings use them for murder, piracy, slavery, and all that other fun stuff in the sixth through ninth sketches. In particular, the eighth sketch about the marooned newlywed who's lost her husband, brother, and most of her dogs would make the whole story worth the read by itself.
- "The Bell-Tower". A criticism I had with this one is that Melville tips his hand too early that Banadonna, the chief horologist who's seeking to create the finest clock tower in Italy, is up to something sinister and hubristic. It's fine to drop Tower of Babel allusions on the first page (his creation of the servant automaton Haman also obviously parallels Frankenstein), but the continuous reminder that something about the project is off got a bit repetitive, and made the comeuppance ending anti-climactic.
- "Benito Cereno". In contrast, this was a fantastic case of well-built tension, where the hints of something amiss actually worked well. A big challenge for an author is to let the reader know things the characters don't from the first person without just coming out and saying so. American captain Amasa Delano's rescue of Spanish captain Benito Cereno's seemingly weather-damaged slave-ship proceeds through a lot of curious incidents, but while the Big Clues in "The Bell-Tower" were clumsily telegraphed, in this story Delano's attempts to rationalize away Cereno's odd behavior in the presence of his sinister "assistant" Babo are actually pretty psychologically revealing. Just like in "Bartleby", when confronted with unusual situations, people with power and authority are just as susceptible to strange lapses as anyone. The contrast between Delano's assessment of the character of the ethnicities and their actual capabilities is another example of skillful ironic juxtaposition, and the climactic reveal of the other meaning of the "follow your leader" slogan is also well-done.
- "The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids". An extended analogy about sexism which boils down to: sucks to be a woman. He contrasts the lavish lifestyle of London lawyers with the grim existence of mill-workers, about which you could probably write some good essays for a gender studies course, or about how different social classes spent the Industrial Revolution.
- "Billy Budd, Sailor". Cobbled together from draft notes dating from 40 years after Moby Dick, and very reminiscent of its more famous older brother, this is an entertaining but somewhat odd story of a sailor who ends up on trial for a murder at sea. Set in the immediately pre-Napoleonic era following famous British naval mutinies, this is apparently often cited in Law and Literature-type classes for passages like the following, which somewhat reminds me of the parts in Heinlein novels where he'd go off for a few pages about how great military discipline is:

"We proceed under the law of the Mutiny Act. In feature no child can resemble his father more than that Act resembles in spirit the thing from which it derives - War. In His Majesty's service - in this ship, indeed - there are Englishmen forced to fight for the King against their will. Against their conscience, for aught we know. Though as their fellow creatures some of us may appreciate their position, yet as navy officers what reck we of it? Still less recks the enemy. Our impressed men he would fain cut down in the same swath with our volunteers. As regards the enemy's naval conscripts, some of whom may even share our own abhorrence of the regicidal French Directory, it is the same on our side. War looks but to the frontage, the appearance. And the Mutiny Act, War's child, takes after the father. Budd's intent or non-intent is nothing to the purpose."

Even though I liked the story for the most part, there's a weird tone to the whole thing, in particular the constant reminders of how good-looking and Christ-like the title character is to the rest of the crew, that keeps this from being truly great, especially in comparison with Moby Dick. Budd is no Ishmael, Captain Vere is no Ahab, the central impulsive crime that Budd is tried for lacks the resonance of Ahab's obsession, there's a closing "what really happened here?" section that doesn't add much thematically, and just in general this can't help but suffer in comparison. In part this is due to its unfinished nature, however it's still well-written in typical Melville style, and he never forgets to leave you with thoughtful metaphors for his themes:

"Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of the colors, but where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity. In pronounced cases there is no question about them. But in some supposed cases, in various degrees supposedly less pronounced, to draw the exact line of demarcation few will undertake, though for a fee becoming considerate some professional experts will. There is nothing nameable but that some men will, or undertake to, do it for pay."

Good stuff. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
I would prefer not to say what I thought. ( )
  Adrian_Astur_Alvarez | Dec 3, 2019 |
I would prefer not to say what I thought. ( )
  Adrian_Astur_Alvarez | Dec 3, 2019 |
Distinctly we see the difference of the colors, but where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity.

Billy and Bartleby are old friends, portraits of bejeweled philosophy. Strange as it may appear, the selection which punched me in the jaw was Cock-A-Doodle-Do: a tale told by a fellow traveler (he drinks porter and reads Rabelais) about a magical fowl which is a fount of bliss, an actual agent of earthly happiness. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
Good v Evil and the law. Also, not a bad movie with Peter Ustinov. ( )
  jerry-book | Jan 26, 2016 |
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» Lägg till fler författare (33 möjliga)

Författarens namnRollTyp av författareVerk?Status
Melville, HermanFörfattareprimär författarealla utgåvorbekräftat
Beaver, HaroldRedaktörmedförfattarevissa utgåvorbekräftat
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In the time before steamships, or then more frequently than now, a stroller along the docks of any considerable seaport would occasionally have his attention arrested by a group of bronzed mariners, men-of-war's men or merchant sailors in holiday attire, ashore on liberty.
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Wikipedia på engelska (1)

If Melville had never written Moby Dick, his place in world literature would be assured by his short tales. "Billy Budd, Sailor," his last work, is the masterpiece in which he delivers the final summation in his "quarrel with God." It is a brilliant study of the tragic clash between social authority and individual freedom, human justice and abstract good. Melville also explores this theme in "Bartelby the Scrivener," his famous story about a Wall Street law clerk who takes passive resistance to a comic--and ultimately disastrous--extreme; and in "Benito Cereno," his dazzling account of oppression and rebellion on a nineteenth-century slave ship. Completing this collection of great tales are the eerie "The Encantados," the beautiful, romantic "The Piazza," and Melville's chilling science fiction parable, "The Bell-Tower."

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