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Fiction Classics

Billy Budd

by (author) Herman Melville

edited by Michael Everton

Broadview Press
Initial publish date
Sep 2016
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2016
    List Price

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“Is it the intention of law-makers that good men shall be hung ever?” asked Henry David Thoreau. The question has never been academic, but in 1924, when Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Sailor was published posthumously, we understood better than ever why. An uneasy if beautiful account of the human cost of realpolitik, Billy Budd, Sailor asks how far we should go to protect the status quo. When does the reaction to a security crisis become reactionary? In the novella John Claggart, master-at-arms of a British warship, alleges a sailor is talking mutiny. The sailor, Billy, isn’t just innocent of the charge; he’s a true innocent. Yet when confronted by his accuser, Billy reacts impulsively, striking Claggart. The resulting trial shows the horrors that can follow from a civilized society following its own laws.

This Broadview Edition is based on the authoritative Hayford-Sealts copy-text of Billy Budd. The introduction distills the long and complex critical conversation about the work since its publication, and the historical appendices feature materials on mutiny, capital and corporal punishment, philosophical pessimism, sexuality, and the rule of law.

About the authors

Contributor Notes

Michael J. Everton is Associate Professor of English at Simon Fraser University and the author of The Grand Chorus of Complaint: Authors and the Business Ethics of American Publishing (Oxford University Press, 2011).

Editorial Reviews

“This is the most teachable edition of Billy Budd available. It lucidly situates Melville’s novella within its legal, literary, and historical contexts, providing a variety of compelling ways to approach the text. Michael J. Everton’s introduction is also incisive and engaging. This edition is an impressive achievement.” —Cody Marrs, University of Georgia

“Michael J. Everton and Broadview Press have produced an excellent new edition of an important book. Everton’s beautiful introduction and thoughtful notes provide the reader with a rich sense of the historical contexts and literary references essential to Melville’s seminal meditation on justice and law. This edition also helpfully includes a comprehensive bibliography.” —Gregg Crane, University of Michigan

“This gallant, many-flagged schooner of an edition is a superb resource for teaching Melville’s novella. Everton’s sprightly introduction (e.g., Billy is a ‘right-hook artist time-travelled from classical Greece’) should rally students who might otherwise wilt in the face of Melville’s late prose and the arcane world of Nelson’s navy.” — Dawn Coleman, Leviathan

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