Oh, Billy Budd. What to say about you?
A few years ago, I read Moby Dick and LOVED it. There are so many levels to it, it’s so rich, so perfectly written. Definitely one of the top three American novels of the 19th century, and definitely one of the top ten American novels ever.
Then…I think it was earlier this year…I read "Bartleby the Scrivener." WTF is that all about? "I'd perfer not." Melville is clearly a very talented writer, but, what? You lost me there, Herman.
And now Billy Budd. I really don’t know what to say. I don’t know that I have anything to say. It’s Billy Budd – he’s a 21 year old popular strapping sailor who is drafted (essentially) into the British Navy in 1797. Claggart, the ship’s Master-at-Arms has it out for him, and eventually turns him into the Captain for trying to start a mutiny. When Billy Budd is told of the charges, he hits Claggart so hard he kills him. Billy is tried, convicted, and hung. There’s a lot of pontificating and waxing poetic in between.
I know, I know…Abraham and Isaac, Jesus metaphors, etc. The Publishing Triangle put it at #13 on their list of the 100 best lesbian and gay novels. But it’s not really a gay novel, is it? There are sort-of gay overtones, or undertones, to the story. Claggart’s hatred of Billy Budd clearly springs from some kind of attraction or jealousy towards Budd. But really. That list is crazy anyway…To Kill A Mockingbird, Death Comes for the Archbishop AND Little Women are on there.
I’m ambivalent about the whole thing. It was certainly well written, I just wasn't pulled into the story. Oh Herman, where did our relationship go wrong? But I'm willing to work on it. I am committed to my relationship with Melville. In the future: Typee, Pierre, Confidence Man, and probably others. Hopefully, these issues with the intimate relationship between writer and reader will resolve themsevles.