In 1797, young Billy Budd is impressed into naval service. It is a perilous time for a British Royal Navy still reeling from mutinies and marauding French ships. When Billy is forcibly transferred to HMS Bellipotent, he evokes the wrath of John Claggart, the ship's master-at-arms. Claggart falsely accuses Billy of conspiracy to mutiny, a charge that will have a profound effect on the fates of both seamen.
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But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
Reading 'Billy Budd' left me thinking of David Foster Wallace and his unfinished novel The Pale King. Both are unfinished literary works that -- despite their roughness (and yes incompleteness) -- seem to suggest or hint that if given time/space/temperament, etc., Melville and Wallace could have produced works equalling their respective magna opera. Both are full of a confident stillness that hint at a genius between the words and a soul and art floating just under the text.
Is Billy Budd a greater work than Moby-Dick? Pshaw! Of course not, because perfection. But it shows that that damn book about an enigmatic, amelanist whale was not a fluke. Billy Budd's simplicity and shortness is deceptive -- the water here isn't wide, but it is deep with strong currents.
At the end of reading this I was left with a dreamy visual of a giant wave which looks destined to break in a tremendous fashion against the ship I am sitting in. At the very last moment, however, the swell rolls under my lonely craft. While the ship survives, there is that one full-stop second; that heavy moment as the wave passes UNDER the portside where your bodymindandsoul recognizes the strength of the ocean and the power of that one beautiful wave that barely missed destroying you.
The narrator pronounces Nelson's great battle TraFALgaaar. He also pronounces forecastle just like it is spelled in contradiction to the pronunciation used by every sailor ever. Kind of hard to get past this in a book about sailing....by Melville.
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