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The Confidence Man: His Masquerade (A Norton Critical Edition)

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"Confidence man" is an Americanism, describing the archetypal ploy of master-felon arrested in 1849. Punning on the term, Melville created an exuberant allegory on the varieties of American confidence—confidence in the practicality of radical social reforms, the beneficence of nature, the justness of legal processes, and the efficacy of liberal Christianity. For an April Fool's joke, the Devil boards a Mississippi steamboat at St. Louis and engages the passengers in dizzying philosophical and theological ...
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The Confidence-Man

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Overview

"Confidence man" is an Americanism, describing the archetypal ploy of master-felon arrested in 1849. Punning on the term, Melville created an exuberant allegory on the varieties of American confidence—confidence in the practicality of radical social reforms, the beneficence of nature, the justness of legal processes, and the efficacy of liberal Christianity. For an April Fool's joke, the Devil boards a Mississippi steamboat at St. Louis and engages the passengers in dizzying philosophical and theological disquisitions.

This edition draws on the best scholarly attempts to penetrate Melville's philosophical and aesthetic confidence-tricks. Annotations to the text identify obscure allusions and expose Melville's satiric strategies. A brief history of the text precedes a transcription of Melville's manuscript draft of "The River." In Backgrounds and Sources is a harvest of influences in contemporary literature and sub-literature, from Ralph Waldo Emerson to P. T. Barnum—both "confidence-men" to Melville. A sampling of baffled reviews shows how Melville's elaborate joke exploded in his face. In the section on Criticism are garnered pioneering essays by Egbert S. Oliver, John W. Shroeder, and Elizabeth S. Foster, along with later studies which illuminate special crannies of this dark text. The Bibliography, by Watson G. Branch, is the most fully annotated yet published for any of Melville's works.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393043457
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 1/1/1971
  • Series: Critical Editions Series
  • Pages: 376

Meet the Author

Herman Melville
Herman Melville's legend is as mammoth and elusive as the whale that established it. The author's Moby-Dick; Or, The Whale stands as one of literature's greatest epics, a story of mythological proportions that was grounded in real life and a new way of storytelling. Melville's work, underappreciated in its time, remains as much subject to debate and interpretation as it was when he first caught the public eye with his South Seas adventure, Typee, in 1846.

Biography

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.

Author biography courtesy of Penguin Group (USA).

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    1. Date of Birth:
      August 1, 1819
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      September 28, 1891
    2. Place of Death:
      New York, New York
    1. Education:
      Attended the Albany Academy in Albany, New York, until age 15

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 A mute goes aboard a boat on the Mississippi 3
Chapter 2 Showing that many men have many minds 7
Chapter 3 In which a variety of characters appear 10
Chapter 4 Renewal of old acquaintance 18
Chapter 5 The man with the weed makes it an even question whether he be a great sage or a great simpleton 24
Chapter 6 At the outset of which certain passengers prove deaf to the call of charity 28
Chapter 7 A gentleman with gold sleeve-buttons 35
Chapter 8 A charitable lady 43
Chapter 9 Two business men transact a little business 46
Chapter 10 In the cabin 52
Chapter 11 Only a page or so 58
Chapter 12 The story of the unfortunate man, from which may be gathered whether or no he has been justly so entitled 60
Chapter 13 The man with the traveling-cap evinces much humanity, and in a way which would seem to show him to be one of the most logical of optimists 64
Chapter 14 Worth the consideration of those to whom it may prove worth considering 69
Chapter 15 An old miser, upon suitable representations, is prevailed upon to venture an investment 72
Chapter 16 A sick man, after some impatience, is induced to become a patient 77
Chapter 17 Towards the end of which the Herb-Doctor proves himself a forgiver of injuries 84
Chapter 18 Inquest into the true character of the Herb-Doctor 89
Chapter 19 A soldier of fortune 93
Chapter 20 Reappearance of one who may be remembered 101
Chapter 21 A hard case 106
Chapter 22 In the polite spirit of the Tusculan disputations 114
Chapter 23 In which the powerful effect of natural scenery is evinced in the case of the Missourian, who, in view of the region round about Cairo, has a return of his chilly fit 129
Chapter 24 A philanthropist undertakes to convert a misanthrope, but does not get beyond confuting him 131
Chapter 25 The Cosmopolitan makes an acquaintance 139
Chapter 26 Containing the metaphysics of Indian-hating, according to the views of one evidently not as prepossessed as Rousseau in favor of savages 144
Chapter 27 Some account of a man of questionable morality, but who, nevertheless, would seem entitled to the esteem of that eminent English moralist who said he liked a good hater 152
Chapter 28 Moot points touching the late Colonel John Moredock 156
Chapter 29 The boon companions 160
Chapter 30 Opening with a poetical eulogy of the Press, and continuing with talk inspired by the same 167
Chapter 31 A metamorphosis more surprising than any in Ovid 179
Chapter 32 Showing that the age of magic and magicians is not yet over 180
Chapter 33 Which may pass for whatever it may prove to be worth 182
Chapter 34 In which the Cosmopolitan tells the story of the gentleman-madman 184
Chapter 35 In which the Cosmopolitan strikingly evinces the artlessness of his nature 187
Chapter 36 In which the Cosmopolitan is accosted by a mystic, whereupon ensues pretty much such talk as might be expected 189
Chapter 37 The mystical master introduces the practical disciple 197
Chapter 38 The disciple unbends, and consents to act a social part 200
Chapter 39 The hypothetical friends 202
Chapter 40 In which the story of China Aster is, at second-hand, told by one who, while not disapproving the moral, disclaims the spirit of the style 208
Chapter 41 Ending with a rupture of the hypothesis 221
Chapter 42 Upon the heel of the last scene, the Cosmopolitan enters the barber's shop, a benediction on his lips 225
Chapter 43 Very charming 231
Chapter 44 In which the last three words of the last chapter are made the text of the discourse, which will be sure of receiving more or less attention from those readers who do not skip it 238
Chapter 45 The Cosmopolitan increases in seriousness 240
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