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Herman Melville (1819-91) brought as much genius to the smaller-scale literary forms as he did to the full-blown novel: his poems and the short stories and novellas collected in this volume reveal a deftness and a delicacy of touch that is in some ways even more impressive than the massive, tectonic passions of Moby-Dick. In a story like "Bartleby, the Scrivener" -- one of Herman Melville (1819-91) brought as much genius to the smaller-scale literary forms as he did to the full-blown novel: his poems and the short stories and novellas collected in this volume reveal a deftness and a delicacy of touch that is in some ways even more impressive than the massive, tectonic passions of Moby-Dick. In a story like "Bartleby, the Scrivener" -- one of the very few perfect representatives of the form in the English language -- he displayed an unflinching precision and insight and empathy in his depiction of the drastically alienated inner life of the title character. In "Benito Cereno," he addressed the great racial dilemmas of the nineteenth century with a profound, almost surreal imaginative clarity. And in Billy, Budd, Sailor, the masterpiece of his last years, he fused the knowledge and craft gained from a lifetime's magnificent work into a pure, stark, flawlessly composed tale of innocence betrayed and destroyed. Melville is justly honored for the epic sweep of his mind, but his lyricism, his skill in rendering the minute, the particular, the local, was equally sublime.


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Herman Melville (1819-91) brought as much genius to the smaller-scale literary forms as he did to the full-blown novel: his poems and the short stories and novellas collected in this volume reveal a deftness and a delicacy of touch that is in some ways even more impressive than the massive, tectonic passions of Moby-Dick. In a story like "Bartleby, the Scrivener" -- one of Herman Melville (1819-91) brought as much genius to the smaller-scale literary forms as he did to the full-blown novel: his poems and the short stories and novellas collected in this volume reveal a deftness and a delicacy of touch that is in some ways even more impressive than the massive, tectonic passions of Moby-Dick. In a story like "Bartleby, the Scrivener" -- one of the very few perfect representatives of the form in the English language -- he displayed an unflinching precision and insight and empathy in his depiction of the drastically alienated inner life of the title character. In "Benito Cereno," he addressed the great racial dilemmas of the nineteenth century with a profound, almost surreal imaginative clarity. And in Billy, Budd, Sailor, the masterpiece of his last years, he fused the knowledge and craft gained from a lifetime's magnificent work into a pure, stark, flawlessly composed tale of innocence betrayed and destroyed. Melville is justly honored for the epic sweep of his mind, but his lyricism, his skill in rendering the minute, the particular, the local, was equally sublime.

30 review for Complete Shorter Fiction

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    Melville can lay it on thick and wordy. Some of the stories are original and there are a few that are tedious and devoid of meaning. The following lists the stories and a brief unscholarly evaluation of each: The most famous in this collection is “Billy Budd”, both magisterial and also laborious and repetitive – as we are told over and over that Billy is the handsome sailor and a deity of manhood. Many of these stories are male centric – females play only a distant role in the world of Melville. “B Melville can lay it on thick and wordy. Some of the stories are original and there are a few that are tedious and devoid of meaning. The following lists the stories and a brief unscholarly evaluation of each: The most famous in this collection is “Billy Budd”, both magisterial and also laborious and repetitive – as we are told over and over that Billy is the handsome sailor and a deity of manhood. Many of these stories are male centric – females play only a distant role in the world of Melville. “Bartleby” is unique and I have never read anything quite like it! “Piazza” is also nice. “Benito Cereno” is possibly Melville at his best. Melville is marvelous at looking at both sides of the coin – of giving two very different perspectives of the same subject (he does this frequently in Moby Dick, and also in the Piazza). “The Lightening Rod Man” is amusing, “The Bell Tower” less so. I enjoyed the various tales in “The Encantadas”. For those who say Melville lacks the human touch “Norfolk Isle and the Cholo Widow” is at variance with that. Often Melville writes like he is observing and analyzing from a distance but with a remarkable capacity to zero in on minute details and pull you into different worlds. I thought “Cock-A-Doodle-Doo” hilarious and containing a mournful ending. And there is some obvious word-play! “Fragments from a Writing Desk” is much like the first word from the title, the second sketch is a little better. “Authentic Anecdotes of “Old Zack”” is antiquated and relevant to Melville’s era, not now. “Hawthorne and His Mosses” – boring. “The Happy Failure” is mildly interesting. “The Fiddler” good. “Poor Man’s Pudding and Rich Man’s Crumbs” is Dickensian. “The Two Temples” – excellent. “The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids” is two stories. The Bachelors humdrum, and Tartarus of more interest. “Jimmy Rose” – very good. “The Gees” – ho-hum “I and My Chimney” of mild interest with the usual Melville elongated word usage. “The Apple Tree Table” amusing with good atmosphere. “John Marr – interesting (and short).

  2. 5 out of 5

    Gary Patella

    To properly review this book, I must go through each story individually. It should be noted that my 5 star rating does not indicate that every story was a 5 star story. However, the experience of reading these stories, and their grouping as a whole makes this book 5 stars in my mind. The Piazza: 3 stars This story contains much of the descriptive qualities for which Melville is known. The essence of it comes down to the phrase "The grass is always greener..." In this case, the description was a bi To properly review this book, I must go through each story individually. It should be noted that my 5 star rating does not indicate that every story was a 5 star story. However, the experience of reading these stories, and their grouping as a whole makes this book 5 stars in my mind. The Piazza: 3 stars This story contains much of the descriptive qualities for which Melville is known. The essence of it comes down to the phrase "The grass is always greener..." In this case, the description was a bit tedious and the story seemed to fall a bit flat. Not a bad story by any means, but perhaps the weakest of all the short stories. Bartleby, The Scrivener: 5 stars This story of the hired scrivener that refuses almost all requests, and refuses to be fired is very enjoyable. There is something almost Kafkaesque about it (despite the fact that it pre-dates Kafka). Benito Cereno: 5 stars This was probably my favorite of the stories. There is a lot of suspense, and the reader can sense that something is not right. The revelation of what is truly happening is revealed at the end. The Lightning-Rod Man: 4 stars Very short story, but quite enjoyable. The ending is different from what I expected. The Encantadas: 4 stars This story is mainly descriptive, and involves the various aspects of the Galapagos Islands. Although I enjoyed it for the most part, I did feel that it got bogged down in the description too much at certain points. As far as the stories go, the story of Hunilla did not seem to evoke the intended sympathy and fell short. However, I did quite enjoy the story of Oberlus. The Bell-Tower: 5 stars This was an excellent story, and leaves one wavering between a scientific explanation and a paranormal one. Fragments From A Writing Desk: 3 stars A collection of letters written to M. Although a simple, easy read, it is the least memorable out of all the stories. Authentic Anecdotes of "Old Zack": 5 stars This is a collection of anecdotes about Zachary Taylor. They were very enjoyable, and with some being only a page long, it is a nice and easy read. Hawthorne and his Mosses: 4 stars This story revolves around Hawthorne's work "Mosses From An Old Manse." I enjoyed it, and as a result, I have added the Hawthorne work to my "to read" list. The Happy Failure: 5 stars This story of a paranoid uncle's prized invention held my interest throughout. A short, enjoyable read. The Fiddler: 5 stars A short tale of Hautboy, an enjoyable companion and fiddler. This was a great short story. Cock-A-Doodle-Doo! 5 stars This story of hearing a majestic cock crow and trying to track down the source was very good. Inspirational in ways. Poor Man's Pudding and Rich Man's Crumbs: 4 stars A story (or two separate stories) that show the stark difference between the rich and the poor. The description in Rich Man's Crumbs was far superior to that in Poor Man's Pudding. The Two Temples: 4 stars This was an enjoyable story about the eviction from a one temple, and the openness of another. More happens, but I don't like to give spoilers. The Paradise of Bachelors and The Tartarus of Maids: 3 stars Although I enjoyed the description of The Paradise of Bachelors, I had to reread sentences or paragraphs a number of times in The Tartarus of Maids (a sign that I was bored and zoning out). Jimmy Rose: 4 stars Rich guy story turned sour. Good read. The 'Gees: 4 stars 'Gees is short for the Portuguese. Today, it is probably seen as a bit racist. But the description of the people and their role in the sea faring life is very good. It is also a quick read. I And My Chimney: 5 stars This story of the attachment can be seen as an allegory, showing how women try to force men to get rid of everything with sentimental value to them. I empathized with the protagonist in his desire to keep his chimney. The Apple-Tree Table: 5 stars This story is an excellent one that in its one tale, aims to debunk all paranormal phenomena. It has suspense and creepiness, yet ends on a note of logic and reason. John Marr: 3 stars Extremely short and unmemorable story, but it shows a perspective on what it feels like to be an outsider. Billy Budd: 5 stars This was my second time reading this story, and it remains an excellent one. The description of the events of the time are necessary as an explanation. The story of one man's unprovoked animosity toward another, and its tragic ending, remains one of Melville's finest works.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Eliana Rivero

    Fue una lectura agradable y un buen inicio para leer, en algún momento, Mobydick. Sí, los cuentos son un tanto aburridos por la explicación detallada y extendida, y la vastedad de lo que escribe Melville abruma un poco. Sin embargo, muchos de sus cuentos son maravillosos y muestran el carácter humano, con muchas metáforas y paisajes hermosos. También muestra la crudeza de la vida, y aunque no tiene un tono aleccionador, sí te hace pensar en muchas cosas que están mal con las personas y la socied Fue una lectura agradable y un buen inicio para leer, en algún momento, Mobydick. Sí, los cuentos son un tanto aburridos por la explicación detallada y extendida, y la vastedad de lo que escribe Melville abruma un poco. Sin embargo, muchos de sus cuentos son maravillosos y muestran el carácter humano, con muchas metáforas y paisajes hermosos. También muestra la crudeza de la vida, y aunque no tiene un tono aleccionador, sí te hace pensar en muchas cosas que están mal con las personas y la sociedad. Es evidente los viajes de Melville y los conocimientos que tiene de todo un poco, como un conocedor de mundos que nos abre otros mundos. Mis cuentos favoritos fueron "¡Quiquiriquí!" y "El pudín del pobre y las migajas del rico".

  4. 4 out of 5

    John

    I was struck by the variety of Melville's stories. He wrote serious and funny stories. Some are 10 pages, some are 70. He wrote about Pacific Islands, Europe, and New England. There are love stories, scary stories, and sad stories. I tended to like the shorter stories the best. The longer stories tended to take a little too long to develop. The Lightning Rod Man, The Encantadas, and Cock-A-Doodle-Doo were among my favs.

  5. 4 out of 5

    David Cowling

    I read through the Piazza Tales, Hawthorne and his Mosses, and Billy Budd - glancing now and then at a few anecdotes relating to General (and 12th President) Zachary Taylor - ‘Authentic Anecdotes of Old Zack'. This collection has only confirmed to me Melville’s stature as one of the greatest American writers and ironists - one who spoke effortlessly to all times as much as his own, and what’s more, in a humane and personable way. (How sorely both qualities are needed in Washington, today.) Often I read through the Piazza Tales, Hawthorne and his Mosses, and Billy Budd - glancing now and then at a few anecdotes relating to General (and 12th President) Zachary Taylor - ‘Authentic Anecdotes of Old Zack'. This collection has only confirmed to me Melville’s stature as one of the greatest American writers and ironists - one who spoke effortlessly to all times as much as his own, and what’s more, in a humane and personable way. (How sorely both qualities are needed in Washington, today.) Often magazine pieces exhibit the fashions and interests of a time now remote from us; I was concerned that being unfamiliar with the antebellum era might serve as an impediment to enjoying the articles and stories included here. Not so. Melville stands reverentially before the grand and ahistorical. If his go-to gag is to dignify human behaviour with Old Testament profundity (sometimes unwarrantably, which of course, is part of the joke) it is a good one, and never fails to raise a smile; and if his habit is to enlarge our view of the world to include both the heavens as well as the earth, that never fails to turn our attention to a contemplation of the ages. So Updike tells us he described himself as a ‘boy in opinion’; surely this negative capability, this subtlety of a dialectician, accounts for something of his appeal. To the tales themselves. Bartleby, the depressive copyist who gradually relinquishes all of his obligations, stands as an uncanny case study of clinical depression, but no summation can capture its mood adequately. It is the best thing Melville wrote, aside from Moby Dick. Benito Cereno is a masterful exercise in literary subversion, albeit couched in the sometimes dubious language of Civil War-era race relations. 'The Encantadas' contains some of the most delightful writing of the set. A poetic survey of the Galapagos Islands to complement Darwin’s more famous offering, it includes vibrant descriptions of the outlying islands and fanciful histories pertaining to them. Even smaller pieces like ‘The Piazza’ and ‘the Lightning-Rod Salesman’ bear Melville's writerly mark of hinting at immensities. A few thoughts on Melville as a craftsman. Pleasing incidental details abound in The Piazza Tales; Here, in the eaves of a mountain cottage ‘snail-monks founded mossy priories'; children playing in the shadow of an old longboat on deck are ‘a social circle of bats, sheltering in some friendly cave’; everywhere he vivifies a scene, even if his brand of abstract declamation is more easily recognisable. A sample of a few words which spring up through the stories will give you an idea of his lexical plenitude; keeping a dictionary close at hand or open in a tab is mandatory if you hope to ‘cherish the detail’, as Nabokov insists : ‘palanquin’, ‘supererogatory’, ‘ursine’, ‘conglobulate’, ’tatterdemalion’, ‘sward’... He can furrow your brow, but makes you want to use ’sward’ in casual conversation like nobody else. All the tales bear the gift of inspiring good-natured debate, either between friends, or between one’s own contending beliefs (which, if you’ve heeded the previous advice of incorporating ’sward’ into your repartee, should have served to successfully rid you of all friends anyway). Often you feel a predictable moral coming on - straight from the Gospels - but the ending of Benito Cereno illustrates a tendency in Melville to allude to and yet resist conventional moral answers: 'So far may even the best man err, in judging the conduct of one with the recesses of whose condition he is not acquainted,’ is the moral Don Benito offers. But given his fate, and that of the mutinous Babo, the story is not proven to be an exuberant retelling of the Good Samaritan; rather, it explores with striking ambiguity the feeling of impotence and thirst for vengeance among West African slaves. In this edition, the introduction by John Updike is excellent - referencing critical works where they illuminate, but giving us his own Melville quite cogently.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Keith

    Piazza Tales **** (July 2013) – Here are many a tale of false faces and failing eyes; the distant cottage, the storm-wracked boat, the circumspect scrivener, the haughty bell-tower. Here is the cloak of Romantic (big R) innocence ripped on the splinter of fate; the siren of the desolate isle Eden calling; the overturned table. Ah, Melville, there is another world out there, isn’t there? A force behind the thrust, a depth to the chaotic ocean seen by few. I and My Chimney ***** (July 2013) – A hum Piazza Tales **** (July 2013) – Here are many a tale of false faces and failing eyes; the distant cottage, the storm-wracked boat, the circumspect scrivener, the haughty bell-tower. Here is the cloak of Romantic (big R) innocence ripped on the splinter of fate; the siren of the desolate isle Eden calling; the overturned table. Ah, Melville, there is another world out there, isn’t there? A force behind the thrust, a depth to the chaotic ocean seen by few. I and My Chimney ***** (July 2013) – A humorous yet inspiring Bartleby-esque tale of an otherwise amiable man who would prefer not to tear down his awkward, inconvenient, ponderous, preposterous chimney despite the badgering of his wife, children and neighbors. Whether you read it as about a chimney, his manhood or his art, it is a tale well told. A tale about that kernel that we fight to preserve in ourselves – that we see as ourselves – despite the difficulty it causes us and the general disfavor of others it brings down on us. It’s that last rough edge others would have us sand down smooth and complete the work to make us amendable.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Alessandra JJ

    A escrita é maravilhosa, mas as histórias são um pouquinho chatas :~

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sharon

    I love Melville's short stories: especially Bartleby. I'll never forget his slow dignified withdrawal from life.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Cody

    Finished the Piazza Tales, and setting the old guy aside for a while.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Argos

    Sevmekte geç kaldığımı düşündüğüm bir yazar Melville. Öyküleri de çok güzel romanları da.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mustafa Şahin

    Yer yer Katip Bartleby tadı veren kendine has öyküler seçkisi. Amerika - İngiltere (Londra) kıyaslamaları enfes, birden fazla öyküde geçen bu kıyaslar onlarca yıl sonra da çok bir şeyin değişmediğini bize gösteriyor.

  12. 5 out of 5

    MadcapKostia

    Loved it, simple as

  13. 4 out of 5

    Clark Theriot

    I’d read the stories I wanted to and then returned to the library.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Christy Leonardo

    Everyone's favorite Poe-with-a-difference writes for pay, &we win. To be a great writer, you must be a secret comedian, and that is the side of Melville most evident here, as he tips his gold-plated style ever so slightly to ridicule then-President Zachary Taylor, hard-boiled Civil War journalists and especially a grandiose, blabbering projection of himself.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Andreashide

    Melville es sin duda un hallazgo afortunado para cualquier lector que disfrute de la narración prolija, la ironía reflexiva, la crítica social y las múltiples referencias a poetas y teólogos decimonónicos. La naturaleza siempre está presente en sus relatos, mágica, solidaria, recia, memoriosa, memorable. Mi cuento favorito: la mesa de Manzano.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Vanjr

  17. 4 out of 5

    Mustafa

  18. 4 out of 5

    Fernando

  19. 4 out of 5

    Alvaro Mateu

  20. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

  21. 4 out of 5

    Mafer Barron

  22. 5 out of 5

    Erinç D.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kalizarbas

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mark

  25. 4 out of 5

    Alexander

  26. 4 out of 5

    Hyskoa

  27. 5 out of 5

    Dave

  28. 5 out of 5

    C

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas Buzanski

  30. 5 out of 5

    Martin

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