Billy Budd and the Piazza Tales
, by Herman Melville
, is part of the Barnes & Noble Classics
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Largely neglected in his own lifetime, Herman Melville mastered not only the great American novel but also the short story and novella forms. In Billy Budd and The Piazza Tales, Melville reveals an uncanny awareness of the inscrutable nature of reality.
Published posthumously in 1924, Billy Budd is a masterpiece second only to Melville’s Moby-Dick. This complex short novel tells the story of the handsome sailor” Billy who, provoked by a false charge, accidentally kills the satanic master-at-arms. Unable to defend himself due to a stammer, he is hanged, going willingly to his fate. Although typically ambiguous, Billy Budd is seen by many as a testament to Melville’s ultimate reconciliation with the incongruities and injustices of life.
The Piazza Tales (1856) comprises six short stories, including the perpetually popular Benito Cereno” and Bartleby,” a tale of a scrivener who repeatedly distills his mordant criticism of the workplace into the deceptively simple phrase I would prefer not to.”
Robert G. O’Meally is Zora Neale Hurston Professor of Literature at Columbia University, where he has served on the faculty for seventeen years; since 1999 he has been the director of Columbia’s Center for Jazz Studies. He is the author of The Craft of Ralph Ellison and Lady Day: The Many Faces of Billie Holiday, and the principal writer of Seeing Jazz, the catalog for the Smithsonian Institution’s exhibit on jazz painting and literature.