Billy Budd, Foretopman

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Billy Budd, called the Handsome Sailor, displays near physical perfection and possesses a purity of innocence alien to the world he inhabits; but a single flaw leads to his destruction as this symbolic tale unfolds in its leisurely paced, digressive, yet powerful manner.

A British navy ship, short of hand, borrows Billy from a homeward bound merchant vessel. Unfazed by his impressment, Billy boards the Indomitable and soon earns the crew’s admiration for his good nature. Even the strong-willed Captain Vere takes special note of him.

Like an Adam aboard a floating Garden of Eden, Billy has no grasp of wrongdoing. So when the master-at-arms, John Claggart, makes his hatred and envy known, Billy fails to guard against the evil that Claggart manifests. Eventually Billy’s flaw--his stutter--causes him to murder Claggart. The circumstances surrounding Billy’s punishment provide a dramatic and significant climax to this sad account of the Handsome Sailor.

The novel gives yet another version of the Fall of Man, so apparent are the symbolic roles of the major characters: Billy as Adam; Claggart as Satan; Captain Vere as the Almighty Judge. It takes up, as well, the eternal opposites embedded in love and hate. For the innocent Billy, love is spontaneous and natural; yet such love is his undoing. For the depraved Claggart, hatred becomes the twisted response to a love so pure. And for Captain Vere, whose name means truth, love must be tempered and tested with intellect.

This dark vision of man’s spiritual state offers neither set answers nor a solution to the riddle of existence. Rather it shows how perilous and contradictory is man’s place in the universe.

Bibliography:

Browne, Ray B. Melville’s Drive to Humanism. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1971. The last chapter examines Billy Budd, Foretopman as a “provocative” and “disturbing” book that grew out of a ballad-like story. Sees the novel as an assertion of a democratic “gospel” and of a humanistic perspective.

Chase, Richard. Herman Melville: A Critical Study. New York: Hafner Press, 1971. The last chapter, devoted to Billy Budd, Foretopman, calls Melville’s final acceptance of life as tragic. Excellent analysis of the book’s balance between action and philosophisizing.

Parker, Hershel. Reading Billy Budd. Evanstan, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1991. A Melville scholar calls attention to, and demonstrates the largely unrealized potentialities of, the definitive edition of the novelist’s celebrated last novel.

Scorza, Thomas J. In the Time Before Steamships: “Billy Budd,” the Limits of Politics, and Modernity. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1979. Approaches the “political dimension” of the novel. Argues that modern people find tragedy rather than glory in the limits of politics. Argues that Melville’s analysis led him to see modern tragedy as the result of prideful rational philosophy.

Stafford, William T., ed. Melville’s “Billy Budd” and the Critics. 2d ed. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1968. Discussion of the text and early critical views. Treats acceptance and resistance themes, spiritual autobiography, myth, art, social commentary, and Christian and classical parallels. Recent criticism focuses on the limits of human perception.

Vincent, Howard P., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Billy Budd: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971. Varied and excellent essays on innocence, irony, justice, tragedy, and acceptance in Billy Budd, Foretopman. Part 2 gives the viewpoints of major critics.

Places Discussed

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HMS Bellipotent

HMS Bellipotent. Seventy-four-gun warship onto which seaman Billy Budd is impressed to serve in the British Navy. In earlier versions of the story, this ship is called the Indomitable. Both names suggest power as a means of preserving order. The ship, one of many in Britain’s Mediterranean...

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fleet, represents the authority of the state and also serves as the guardian of the state’s citizens’ welfare. At the same time it is a microcosm of the society it is designed to protect. It consists of a variety of social types and a range of social classes all governed by the ultimate authority, Captain Vere. Class stratification and character type are reflected in the various deck levels and compartments of the ship, where the men live and work. Billy, for example, works on the foretop while Claggart works on the lower gun decks. A particularly important location on the ship is Vere’s cabin, the scene of Claggart’s death and Billy’s trial. It represents Vere’s irreproachable authority and is the place where he makes his decision about Billy’s fate and society’s welfare. While the mission of theBellipotent is to protect the British from the French, British society is also threatened by anarchy, a threat stemming from rights-of-man theories and preceded by actual mutinies in the British fleet, namely that of April, 1797, at Spithead in the English Channel, and May, 1797, at the Nore in the Thames Estuary. To protect society from anarchy, Vere, despite his personal feelings, decides Billy must die for committing this most serious of naval offenses and orchestrates his trial in the confines of his isolated cabin.

Rights of Man

Rights of Man. Merchant ship from which Billy is taken to serve on the Bellipotent, this vessel is named for Thomas Paine’s 1792 book on the natural rights of man. The contrasting names of the two ships reflect this political theme as Billy, for the good of the state and its citizens, is impressed into the Royal Navy, surrendering his natural right to freedom. He is forced to give up a life in which he can act to defend himself or his dignity without fear of government reprisal (the striking of Red Whiskers) and accept the complex social life aboard the great warship, with its reliance on displays of authority against perceived derelictions of duty (the whipping of the after-guardsman).

Upper gun deck

Upper gun deck. Location on the Bellipotent where Billy is kept after he is condemned to die. Herman Melville juxtaposes the natural innocence of Billy against the machinery of war located in this space. Furthermore, the space is lit by lamps fueled by oil provided by war contractors, begging the question, who are the true beneficiaries of war? For whom is Billy being sacrificed? It would seem to be the war contractors rather than the citizens of Britain. This room also stands in stark contrast to the foretop with its relative freedom and natural light.

Mainyard

Mainyard. Spar from which Billy is hanged. Normally, men are hanged in the foreyard but Vere uses Billy’s execution as a special lesson in the exercise of state power, after which any threat of mutiny is squashed and life aboard the ship returns to routine.

Historical Context

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The Royal Navy in the Late Eighteenth Century
Between 1794 and 1797, the number of seamen and marines serving in the British navy jumped from 85,000 to 120,000. England was at war with France at this time, and the navy's need for manpower was immense. Most of the men in the British naval service had not chosen to be there. While some men did join the navy, sailors could also simply be taken off merchant ships by a warship's officer, as happens to Billy Budd. The sailors from merchant ships were valued for their sailing experience, and "topmen" such as Billy—those who could work up in the riggings—were especially useful.

Some men were "impressed" into naval service: these were the able-bodied men who could not be convinced to join the navy, so they had to be "pressed," or forced, to join, often through brutal means. Impressed men often resented their circumstances, but they had no choice but to stay aboard the warships, facing punishment if they shirked their imposed duty. When the afterguardsman comes to Billy to try to draw Billy into his mysterious plot, he first attempts to establish a bond with Billy regarding the way they were each brought onto the ship: "You were impressed, weren't you?...Well, so was I...We are not the only impressed ones, Billy. There's a gang of us." The context of this encounter is the tradition of impressment into the British navy and the resulting resentment, which has the potential to flower into mutiny.

Once on board the warships, sailors did not enjoy particularly healthful living conditions. A 74-gun ship, such as the Bellipotent, would have carried over 700 men, so quarters were crowded. Scurvy, a disease brought on by a lack of vitamin C, struck many sailors. In 1797, a British sailor could expect to eat salt beef and pork, oatmeal, cheese, bread, occasional fresh vegetables, and assorted other foodstuffs. While a ship was at sea, the food often went bad: meat would decay, water would spoil, and the bread and flour would be invaded by mice, rats, weevils, and other vermin. Officers and captains enjoyed a higher quality of food and food preparation than the sailors did, often supplementing their allotments of food with food they purchased themselves.

Mutinies at Spithead and the Nore
Chapter 3 of Billy Budd introduces the facts of the 1797 mutinies at Spithead and the Nore, two crucial events that occurred in the British navy during the Napoleonic wars. Spithead is a strait of the English Channel, located in the south of England between Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight; the Nore is a sandbank at the mouth of the Thames River in England, where the Thames enters the North Sea.

In 1797, Britain was at war with France, and the British navy had had to expand rapidly to fill the need for manpower on warships. However, many of the men who entered the navy at this time did not do so voluntarily, and conditions on board the naval ships left much to be desired. The food was poor, the pay was paltry, medical treatment was substandard, and sailors were flogged for misconduct. Such circumstances contributed to a buildup of sailors' resentments. In April, when the commander of the Channel fleet's flagship, the Queen Charlotte, rejected the crew's demands to move the ship out to sea, the Queen Charlotte's crew spurred other ships in the fleet to join them in protest. The mutineers presented a petition to the House of Commons, who in turn met some of the demands of the petitioners. The promises made to the mutineers included better pay, removal of some of the harshest officers in the fleet, and pardons for those involved in the mutiny. The mutineers had succeeded in securing some improvements in their lot.

The April mutiny at Spithead soon extended to include the North Sea fleet, which was anchored at the Nore. The mutineers at the Nore were not as readily satisfied as their counteiparts at Spithead: when the government offered concessions to the protesters at the Nore, they were reluctant to accept. An ex-midshipman, Richard Parker, convinced his fellow mutineers that they should not accept the government's terms immediately but should hold out for more. The mutiny put Britain into danger for a time, as the Dutch—allies of France—nearly were able to invade England while the mutineers remained inactive.

In speaking to the members of the drumhead court, Captain Vere connects the mutinies at Spithead and the Nore to the events of Billy Budd: "You know what sailors are. Will they not revert to the recent outbreak at the Nore? They know the well founded alarm—the panic it struck throughout England. Your clement sentence they would account pusillanimous. They would think that we flinch, that we are afraid of them." In this atmosphere of tension over the potential power struggle between captains and their crews, Captain Vere must decide how to handle Billy's impulsive killing of his superior.

Mutiny on Board the Somers, 1842
Melville's narrator relates at the end of chapter 21 a connection between Billy's case and an incident aboard the U.S. brig Somers in 1842. This historic incident aboard the Somers, reports the narrator, culminated in "the execution at sea of a midshipman and two sailors as mutineers designing the seizure of the brig." The events on board the Somers and those on the Bellipotent are, he admits, "different from" each other, and yet "the urgency felt [by the officers deciding each case], well warranted or otherwise, was much the same."

Melville's favorite older cousin when he was a child was Guert Gansevoort, who happened to be the first lieutenant of the Somers. When the three young sailors on board the Somers were suspected of planning a mutiny, Gansevoort had been among those officers called to advise the ship's captain, Alexander Slidell Mackenzie, as Mackenzie tried to decide the young men's fate. With no trial and no chance to defend themselves, the three sailors— one of whom, Philip Spencer, was the son of the U.S. secretary of war—were pronounced guilty and hanged from the ship's yardarm. Mackenzie was later tried for murder.

Literary Style

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Point of View
The first-person narrator refers to himself as "I" and briefly talks about himself and his past experiences. He does not give his name and is not on board the Bellipotent, yet he speaks authoritatively about the events that take place there. The narrator has a limited omniscient point of view, which means that he is able to see nearly all of the novel's action, including some of the characters' thoughts. His admission of being unable to grasp Claggart's character—"His portrait I essay, but shall never hit it"—is one example of the narrator's limited omniscience, but it also contributes to the novel's overall depiction of Claggart's strangeness and foreignness.

The narrator tells of an experience he had as a young man, when "an honest scholar, my senior" spoke to him about a fine point of human nature, and the narrator says of himself, "At the time, my inexperience was such that I did not quite see the drift of all this. It may be that I see it now." He tells this story about himself to illustrate his similarity to and thus his empathy for Billy Budd. The narrator's empathy helps to shape the story, as it enables him to understand Billy's innocence: his tragic flaw.

Setting
The setting of Billy Budd—a British warship in the summer of 1797—is essential to the plot and meaning of the novel. The novel opens with the words, "In the time before steamships," immediately placing the action in a time relative to the development of naval technology: the reader envisions a ship with tall masts and huge sails, which is precisely where the novel's action is to occur. A few paragraphs later, the narrator introduces Billy Budd as a character and specifically identifies him as "a foretopman of the British fleet toward the close of the last decade of the eighteenth century."

The narrator's specificity about time and place sets the stage for what is to come. In chapter 3, the historic context for the novel's action is introduced: just prior to the novel's fictional events, which are set in "the summer of 1797," actual mutinies had taken place in the British navy in April and May of that same year. The mutinies at Spithead and the Nore still resonate on board the fictional Bellipotent, whose name means "strong in war." The Bellipotent's sailors and officers continue to feel the tension from the two great mutinies. "Discontent foreran the Two Mutinies, and more or less it lurkingly survived them. Hence it was not unreasonable to apprehend some return of trouble." Melville uses this atmosphere of tension as background for his novel in order to create a sense of mutiny in the air, a weakening of trust between sailors and their commanders. He points out that "for a time [following the Two Mutinies], on more than one quarterdeck, anxiety did exist. At sea, precautionary vigilance was strained against relapse. At short notice an engagement might come on." An accusation against the innocent Billy Budd set at a different time, when the possibility of mutiny does not seem so palpable, might not end in tragedy. The narrator declares that "the unhappy event which has been narrated could not have happened at a worse juncture."

The shipboard setting, common among many of Melville's writings, presents a kind of microcosm of society, complete with hierarchies, laws and a wide variety of personalities and backgrounds. Women are missing from this floating society, but in fact women would not have been part of the British navy at the time during which this novel is set. The narrator remarks that "the people of a great warship are...like villagers, taking microscopic note of every outward movement or non-movement going on." Such seemingly small incidents as Billy spilling his soup in the mess or the afterguardsman coming to speak to Billy at night take on a larger significance because everyone notices these moments and speculates about them, perhaps allowing them to mean more than they do.

Foreshadowing
Throughout Billy Budd, Melville makes use of foreshadowing—suggesting events that are to come—which gives the novel's events a kind of doomed, fated quality. Billy's initial description as "welkin eyed"—his eyes are the color of the skies—identifies him with the heavens, suggesting his goodness but also suggesting that he will soon become a part of the celestial sphere. When, at the beginning of the novel, Captain Graveling relates the story of Billy striking the Red Whiskers out of anger, the incident sounds out of character for Billy. However, later on, when Billy strikes Claggart, killing him, the earlier incident reverberates. When Billy witnesses a fellow sailor being whipped as punishment for failing to do his duty, he is "horrified [and] resolved that never through remissness would he make himself liable to such a visitation or do or omit aught that might merit verbal reproof." Yet later, he himself is subjected to a punishment worse than whipping, and ironically his punishment comes about due to circumstances almost beyond his control. Melville's use of foreshadowing is effective in Billy Budd because it heightens the novel's irony and contributes to its tale of the ill-fated innocent.

Compare and Contrast

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1790s: Late eighteenth-century warships of the British navy are powered by sails. Seventy-four gun ships—especially fast and easy to handle— are most common. Steam power is being explored as a means of ship propulsion.

1890s: The United States begins building a "new navy" in the 1880s: ironclad steam-powered ships with a variety of weapons on board.

1924: The Five-Power Naval Limitation Treaty, signed in 1922, restricts Allied countries from building new battleships until 1931 and orders that most battleships of outdated construction be destroyed. Naval aircraft technology is developed during this period.

Today: Nearly half of the U.S. Navy's warships are propelled by nuclear reactors, which allow the ships to travel at high speeds without the need for fuel oil.

1790s: Duong the American Revolution, capital punishment had come under fire in America as a deplorable institution from the reign of King George. By 1796, Melville's home state of New York has decreased the number of crimes punishable by death from thirteen to two—those being murder and treason.

1890s: In 1890, the New York Assembly passes a bill abolishing capital punishment, but the State Senate votes the bill down. In August of 1890, William Kemmler becomes the first victim of execution by electrocution, hanging having been deemed too barbaric.

1924: The infamous Leopold and Loeb murder case, in which teenagers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb are tried for brutally murdering fourteen-year-old Richard Franks, has many Americans demanding the death penalty for the defendants, who are found guilty of kidnapping and murder. The judge accepts renowned attorney Clarence Darrow's argument that Leopold and Loeb are insane and rejects the death penalty, instead sentencing them to life imprisonment at hard labor.

Today: The U S. Supreme Court abolished capital punishment in 1972 in Furman v. Georgia, but since that decision, rulings in other cases have chipped away at various aspects of the death penalty ruling, and executions continue to occur. In 1991, about 2,500 inmates were on death row. At the turn of the century, one debate over the death penalty focuses on whether lethal injection is more humane than the electric chair.

1790s: In a nation of immigrants, white European settlers view Native Americans as "the other," and as impediments to their possession of the vast American land. In the South, African slaves are treated as property by their white slaveholders.

1890s: American nativists grow uneasy about the enormous influx of immigrants into the country. In 1880, the U.S. Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting for ten years the entrance of Chinese laborers into the United States. In 1892, Congress renews the act for another decade.

1924: Reflecting a national mood of anti-foreigner sentiment following World War I, the Immigration Act of 1924 establishes an annual quota for immigration into the United States.

Today: "Multiculturalism," a movement aimed at engendering respect for other cultures, is taught in American schools and is a force in the popular culture.

Media Adaptations

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Billy Budd was adapted as a film in 1962 by Peter Ustinov, who directed, produced, and starred as Captain Vere in this version of Melville's novel. Terence Stamp, as Billy, won an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Other actors who starred in the film include Robert Ryan and David McCallum. The film is in black and white and is available on VHS.

Benjamin Britten adapted Billy Budd as a four-act opera in 1951, with libretto by E. M. Forster and Eric Crozier. A production of the opera is available on video, released in 1988, starring Thomas Allen as Billy, and with the English National Opera Orchestra and Chorus conducted by David Atherton and directed by Tim Albery.

Billy Budd is available on two audiocassettes, read by Simon Jones. The cassettes were released by Durkin Hayes Audio in 1987.

Louis O. Coxe and Robert Chapman published Billy Budd, A Play in Three Acts in 1951 by Princeton University Press.

A documentary on the historical incident that inspired Billy Budd, The Curse of the Somers: Billy Budd's Ghost Ship (1996) is an award-winning film narrated by Peter Coyote. The film looks at the controversial Somers Mutiny Affair, which Melville mentions in Billy Budd. This case resulted in the hanging of midshipman Philip Spencer and the court-martial of Captain Alexander Slidell Mackenzie. The film also includes underwater footage of an exploration of the Somers wreck.

Bibliography and Further Reading

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Allen, Gay Wilson. Melville and His World. New York: Viking Press, 1971.

Anderson, Charles. Melville in the South Seas. New York: Columbia University Press, 1939.

Bercaw, Mary Kay. Melville’s Sources. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1987.

Billy Budd.” In The Oxford Companion to English Literature. 5th ed. Edited by Margaret Drabble. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

Bloom, Harold, ed. Herman Melville. New York: Chelsea House, 1986.

Dillingham, William B. Melville’s Later Novels. Athens and London: University of Georgia Press, 1986.

Franklin, H. Bruce. The Wake of the Gods: Melville’s Mythology. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1963.

Harrison Hayford and Merton M. Sealts, Jr, eds., preface by Herman Melville, Billy Budd, Sailor. An Inside Narrative, University of Chicago, 1962, pp.v-vii

Hillway, Tyrus. Herman Melville. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1963

Susan Howe, The Birthmark: Unsettling the Wilderness in American Literary History, Wesleyan University Press, 1993.

F. O Matthiessen, "Billy Budd, Foretopman," in his American Renaissance Art and Experience in the Age of Emerson and Whitman, Oxford University Press, 1941.

Herman Melville, Billy Budd, Sailor, edited by Harrison Hayford and Merton S. Sealts, Jr, University of Chicago, 1962.

Herman Melville's obituary, New York Times, October 2, 1891.

Lewis Mumford, "Melville's Final Affirmation," in his Herman Melville, Harcourt, Brace, 1929, pp. 353-54.

Melville, Herman. Billy Budd and Other Tales (based on the text edited by F. Barron Freeman and corrected by Elizabeth Treeman c. 1948, 1956) Signet Classic edition. New York: American Library, 1979.

“Melville, Herman.” In Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia. 3rd ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.

Miller, James E., Jr. A Reader’s Guide to Herman Melville. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Cudahy, 1962.

Pullin, Faith, ed. New Perspectives on Melville. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1978.

William S. Reese, "Collecting Herman Melville," The Gazette of the Groher Club, http://www.reeseco.com/pa-pers/melville htm.

W. Clark Russell, "A Claim for American Literature," in North American Review, February, 1892.

Peter Shaw, "The Fate of A Story," American Scholar, Vol 62, No 4, p. 591

Raymond M. Weaver, Herman Melville: Mariner and Mystic, George H Doran, 1921.

Raymond Weaver, editor, Shorter Novels of Herman Melville, Horace Livenght, 1928.

For Further Study:

Gail Coffler, "Classical Iconography in the Aesthetics of Billy Budd, Sailor," in Savage Eye: Melville and the Visual Arts, edited by Christopher Sten, Kent State University Press, 1991, pp 257-76.
Coffler analyzes Melville's abiding interest in ancient Greek and Roman myth, law, and art. Billy Budd, the character, is a combination of Greek beauty and Roman strength.

Mervyn Cook and Philip Reed, editors, Benjamin Britten. Billy Budd, Cambridge Opera Handbooks, Cambridge University Press, 1993.
A synopsis of Britten's opera, which is based on Melville's novel. In addition to the synopsis, the book includes an explanation of the opera's literary roots, a discussion of the librettist's and composer's work, and an interpretation of the music's tonal symbolism

Clark Davis, After the Whale: Melville in the Wake of Moby-Dick, University of Alabama Press, 1995.
A book-length assessment of Melville's lesser-known writings that came after the publication of Moby-Dick. This book won the 1993 Elizabeth Agee Prize in American Literature

Kieran Dolin, "Power, Chance and the Rule of Law—Billy Budd, Sailor" in Fiction and the Law: Legal Discourse in Victorian and Modernist Literature, Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp 121-44.
Discusses Billy Budd as one of the first explorations of the connection between law and literature Dolin analyzes how "natural law," which involves ambiguities, was being increasingly replaced by "legal positivism," or a belief that law might be a precise science. Dolin argues that this shift in thinking is portrayed negatively in Melville's novel.

Lawrence Douglas, "Discursive Limits Narrative and Judgement in Billy Budd," Mosaic, Vol. 27, No. 4, De-cember, 1994, pp. 141-160.
According to Douglas, Melville's novel is one of the earliest dialogues between law and literature, which is useful to students of both disciplines since it explores crisis in the act of and the art of judgement.

James Dugan, The Great Mutiny, Putnam's, 1965. This book discusses in detail the 1797 mutinies m the British Royal Navy at Spithead and the Nore, and the events leading up to these uprisings.

H Bruce Franklin, "Billy Budd and Capital Punishment: A Tale of Three Centuries," American Literature, June, 1997, pp. 337-59.
The novel in the context of the contemporary (1880s) debate on capital punishment, a controversy particular to New York, where Melville lived at the time. The debate considered which offenses, if any, should carry the death penalty, and the exceptions that should occur during war.

Leonard F. Guttridge, Mutiny: A History of Naval Insurrection, United States Naval Institute, 1992.
Beginning with the infamous mutiny on the Bounty in 1787, this book traces the history of mutiny in the U.S. Navy as well as in other navies around the world. Guttridge dispels some of the myths of mutiny and shows how instances of mutiny have often grown out of individuals' reactions to specific historic circumstances.

Myra Jehlen, editor, Herman Melville: A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice Hall, 1994.
This excellent critical anthology collects essays writ-ten in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, on all of Melville's work.

Barbara Johnson, "Melville's Fist: The Execution of 'Billy Budd,'" Studies in Romanticism, Winter, 1979, pp 567-99.
Perhaps the most comprehensive analysis both of the criticism prior to 1979 and the novel's ambiguities.

Charles Larson, "Melville's Marvell and Vere's Fairfax," ESQ. Vol. 38, No. 1, 1992, pp. 59-70.
Criticism of the novel has often considered the impact of the American and French Revolutions. Larson suggests that the English Civil War of the mid-seventeenth century should also be noted because of the novel's reference to Andrew Marvell's Civil War poem "Upon Appleton House," which was dedicated to a Puritan army commander, Lord Thomas Fairfax—an "ancestor" of Melville's Captain Vere.

Robert Milder, Critical Essays on Melville's Billy Budd, Sailor, G.K. Hall, 1989.
A selection of critical essays on Melville's works, ranging over the course of his career, with an introduction by editor Milder.

Susan Mizruchi, "Cataloging the Creatures of the Deep: 'Billy Budd, Sailor' and the Rise of Sociology," Boundary 2, Spring, 1990, pp. 272-304.
Mizruchi sees Billy Budd as a critique of the emerging discipline of sociology, which claims to be written by expert observers, and which homogenizes differences between people.

Kathy J. Phillips, "Billy Budd as Anti-Homophobic Text," College English, December, 1994, pp. 896-910.
Phillips discusses her experience teaching Billy Budd in the college classroom. With the impeded or prohibited speech of Billy in mind, the class thinks about homosexuality in the novel, and how, in general, violence instead of dialogue has typified Amenca's relationship with "other" sexualities.

Laune Robertson-Lorant, Melville: A Biography, University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.
A biography of Melville that draws upon research into Melville family letters, looks at the Melville-Hawthorne friendship, considers Melville's sexuality, and attends closely to Melville's writings as well as to the critical responses to his works.

Nancy Ruttenburg, "Melville's Anxiety of Innocence: The Handsome Sailor," in Democratic Personality Popular Voice and the Trial of American Authorship, Stanford University Press, 1998, pp 344-78.
In the context of American literature and history before 1891, Billy Budd, Ruttenburg argues, represents in its title character a paramount instance of the desire for an ideal figure, both innocent and beautiful. Emerson and Whitman had suggested and valorized this figure. Melville rejects it as an embodiment of an idealized American.

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, "Billy Budd. After the Homosexual," in Epistemology of the Closet, University of California Press, 1990, pp. 92-130.
This essay describes John Claggart as a homosexual, and considers the meaning of that man's death. Moreover, the entire cast of characters relate to one another according to male desire and intimacy. Like Johnson, Sedgwick undoes binary structure—this time between gay and straight. Sedgwick asks, Does male desire stabilize order, or disrupt it?

William T. Stafford, editor, Melville's Billy Budd and the Critics, second edition, Wadsworth, 1968.
This comprehensive collection of essays is helpfully arranged by themes and critical debates.

Christopher Sten, "Vere's Use of the 'Forms'' Means and Ends m Billy Budd," American Literature, March, 1975, pp 37-51.
Sten compares Vere's authorship of Billy's trial and execution to Melville's authorship of Vere, and ana-lyzes the motivations of each man.

Brook Thomas, "Billy Budd and the Judgement of Silence,"
Bucknell Review, Vol. 27, 1983, pp 51-78.
Thomas examines Barbara Johnson's assessment of Billy Budd, and questions the political implications of her deconstruction of the text.

Howard P. Vincent, editor, Twentieth Century Interpretations of Billy Budd, Prentice-Hall, 1971.
Not as useful as Milder, Stafford, or Jehlen's compilations, Vincent's collection is divided into two sections, "Interpretations" and "View Points," indicating a loose gathering of responses to Melville and his final novel.

Bibliography

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Sources for Further Study

Browne, Ray B. Melville’s Drive to Humanism. West Lafayette, Ind.: Purdue University Press, 1971. The last chapter examines Billy Budd, Foretopman as a “provocative” and “disturbing” book that grew out of a ballad-like story. Sees the novel as an assertion of a democratic “gospel” and of a humanistic perspective.

Bryant, John, ed. A Companion to Melville Studies. New York: Greenwood Press, 1986. Includes an important essay by Merton Sealts, Jr., “Innocence and Infamy: Billy Budd, Sailor,” and a general article by Rowland Sherrill called “Melville’s Religion.” Bibliography and index.

Chase, Richard. Herman Melville: A Critical Study. New York: Hafner Press, 1971. The last chapter, devoted to Billy Budd, Foretopman, calls Melville’s final acceptance of life as tragic. Excellent analysis of the book’s balance between action and philosophisizing.

Duban, James. Melville’s Major Fiction: Politics, Theology, and Imagination. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1983. The last chapter, “The Cross of Consciousness: Billy Budd,” treats among other subjects Melville’s relationship to his narrator. Index.

Marvel, Laura, ed. Readings on “Billy Budd.” New York: Greenhaven Press, 2003. A collection of essays, often excerpted, from a variety of viewpoints. Bibliography and index.

Milder, Robert, ed. Critical Essays on Melville’s “Billy Budd, Sailor.” Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989. Another wide-ranging collection of essays. Index.

Parker, Hershel. Reading Billy Budd. Evanstan, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1991. A Melville scholar calls attention to, and demonstrates the largely unrealized potentialities of, the definitive edition of the novelist’s celebrated last novel.

Scorza, Thomas J. In the Time Before Steamships: “Billy Budd,” the Limits of Politics, and Modernity. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1979. Approaches the “political dimension” of the novel. Argues that modern people find tragedy rather than glory in the limits of politics. Argues that Melville’s analysis led him to see modern tragedy as the result of prideful rational philosophy.

Stafford, William T., ed. Melville’s “Billy Budd” and the Critics. 2d ed. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1968. Discussion of the text and early critical views. Treats acceptance and resistance themes, spiritual autobiography, myth, art, social commentary, and Christian and classical parallels. Recent criticism focuses on the limits of human perception.

Vincent, Howard P., ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Billy Budd: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971. Varied and excellent essays on innocence, irony, justice, tragedy, and acceptance in Billy Budd, Foretopman. Part 2 gives the viewpoints of major critics.

Yanella, Donald, ed. New Essays on “Billy Budd.” New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Three of the four essays in this volume deal with questions of religion in Billy Budd, Foretopman. Bibliography and index.

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