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The Confidence-Man: His Masqueradeby Herman Melville
Synopses & Reviews
The Devil buys a ticket and steps onto a Mississippi riverboat in this late, dark prose work by Herman Melville. Once aboard, he approaches passengers in forms which reflect their fears and prejudices: a legless begger, a cosmopolitan traveler, a savvy businessman. In each of these guises he appeals to the charitable instincts of the passengers and asks for their trust. It is never given to him, but not because the Confidence-Man's "marks" recognize his diabolic nature, but because of their lack, or shallow acceptance of, Christian principles. Through the failures of his cons the devil wins.
Herman Melville's The Confindence-Man: His Masquerade was the tenth, last, and most perplexing book of his decade as a professional man of letters. After it he gave up his ambitious effort to write works that would be both popular and profound and turned to poetry. The book was published on April 1 — the very day of its title character's April Fools' Day masquerade on a Mississippi River Steamboat.
"The last novel to be published during Melville's lifetime, it reveals the author's pessimistic view of an America grown tawdry through greed, self-delusion, and lack of charity....[T]he work is an episodic series of vignettes of various passengers — some dupes, some tricksters — who represent a gullible American public that can be deceived by charlatans and by the lure of easy money." The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
The knottiest and perhaps most subversive of Melville's fiction, a dense verbal tapestry of deception and fraud.
Like a microcosm of America, the Fidele, a Mississippi steamboat bound for New Orleans, floats downstream without reaching its goal, its passengers all the victims or abusers of trust or confidence. Melville's confidence man — deft, fraudulent, constantly shifting — represents a central symbol of American cultural history.
Written by the author of "Billy Budd, Sailor" and "Moby-Dick", this novel is unfinished, although published in his lifetime. Set on April Fool's Day aboard a Mississippi steamer, the novel is a gloomy satire on American life and the state of distrust that exists between human beings.
Herman Melville's The Confindence-Man: His Masquerade was the tenth, last, and most perplexing book of his decade as a professional man of letters. After it he gave up his ambitious effort to write works that would be both popular and profound and turned to poetry. The book was published on April 1--the very day of its title character's April Fools' Day masquerade on a Mississippi River Steamboat.
Includes bibliographical references (p.[xxxviii]-xliv).
About the Author
Herman Melville was born in August 1, 1819, in New York City, the son of a merchant. Only twelve when his father died bankrupt, young Herman tried work as a bank clerk, as a cabin-boy on a trip to Liverpool, and as an elementary schoolteacher, before shipping in January 1841 on the whaler Acushnet, bound for the Pacific. Deserting ship the following year in the Marquesas, he made his way to Tahiti and Honolulu, returning as ordinary seaman on the frigate United States to Boston, where he was discharged in October 1844. Books based on these adventures won him immediate success. By 1850 he was married, had acquired a farm near Pittsfield, Massachussetts (where he was the impetuous friend and neighbor of Nathaniel Hawthorne), and was hard at work on his masterpiece Moby-Dick.
Literary success soon faded; his complexity increasingly alienated readers. After a visit to the Holy Land in January 1857, he turned from writing prose fiction to poetry. In 1863, during the Civil War, he moved back to New York City, where from 1866-1885 he was a deputy inspector in the Custom House, and where, in 1891, he died. A draft of a final prose work, Billy Budd, Sailor, was left unfinished and uncollated, packed tidily away by his widow, where it remained until its rediscovery and publication in 1924.
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