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Listen on Apple Podcasts. I have only previewed this book, but I want to commend the person who recorded this. Melville's works other than 'Moby Dick' have been neglected - by LibriVox so far. Thank you for offering a recording of 'The Confidence Man'. It is much needed. Melville's works are terribly neglected by Librivox but I'm not sure what's worse: no recordings or recordings such as this one--intolerable. It sounds as if the reader is shouting his lines from center stage keeping in mind that the microphone is in the back row of the theater.

Finally gave up and hope it will be re-recorded.


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Apple Podcasts Preview. Show 10 More Episodes. Customer Reviews See All. Fresh Air. As the end-notes make clear, the book is rich with allegory and references, especially Biblical. In fact, the book is the opposite of what today's writers are told about "keeping the story within the four corners of the page. The Mississippi River remains a great setting. There are other confidence-people throughout the book. Of course, with hindsight, we know the Civil War is coming and we look for hints.

This book was written as P. Barnum was becoming famous, and we can clearly see Melville's fascination with him. The book evinces considerable cynicism--scams are run by more characters than just the confidence man. Again, the doubt and hypocrisy are representative of the times. Missouri, and the entire U.

Melville’s Confidence Man Today

This is Melville's most modern, even post-modern, work of fiction. The title refers to its central character, an ambiguous figure who sneaks aboard a Mississippi steamboat on April Fool's Day. This stranger attempts to test the confidence of the passengers, whose varied reactions constitute the bulk of the text.

Each person including the reader is forced to confront that in which he places his trust. The Confidence-Man u This is Melville's most modern, even post-modern, work of fiction. The Confidence-Man uses the Mississippi River as a metaphor for those broader aspects of American and human identity that unify the otherwise disparate characters. Melville also employs the river's fluidity as a reflection and backdrop of the shifting identities of his "confidence man. Many critics have placed The Confidence-Man alongside Melville's Moby-Dick and "Bartleby the Scrivener" as a precursor to 20th-century literary preoccupations with nihilism, existentialism, and absurdism.

Melville's choice to set the novel on April Fool's Day underlines the work's satirical nature and potentially reflects Melville's worldview, once expressed in a letter to his friend Samuel Savage: "It is—or seems to be—a wise sort of thing, to realise that all that happens to a man in this life is only by way of joke, especially his misfortunes, if he have them. Well, my attempts to read realist fiction this month are so far zero for two, although I'm certainly taking in some interesting texts. Nineteenth-century American maritime novels: what could be more straightforward? I didn't realize, though, that The Confidence Man , which was waiting on my to-be-read shelf, is late Melville.

Published in , it is in fact sometimes labeled his last " Well, my attempts to read realist fiction this month are so far zero for two, although I'm certainly taking in some interesting texts. Published in , it is in fact sometimes labeled his last "major" work. And as anyone who has read Bartleby the Scrivener or even Moby-Dick can attest, Melville got steadily more experimental and allegorical as his career progressed, to the point where he was way too weird for his contemporaries, and began prefiguring Modernist preoccupations with absurdism, nihilism, and all my other favorite literary modes from which I'm trying unsuccessfully to take a break this month.

The Confidence Man extends this tendency to, perhaps, its logical conclusion: set on a Mississippi steamboat on April Fool's Day, it's an extended allegory that methodically questions our decisions about the people, ideas, and circumstances in which we repose confidence and trust. There is almost no plot as such: the narrative is composed primarily of dialogues between two or three passengers, one of whom is attempting to secure the confidence of the other. The novel opens in the morning of April 1 which was also its original publication date , and one of the first scenes features a crippled black man begging passers-by for change.

Soon enough, a white man with a wooden leg happens along and aggressively accuses the beggar of being a fraud, a white man in black-face who is faking his injuries. When a sympathetic clergyman asks if anyone on board the steamer can vouch for the beggar's character, the black man gives the following references: Oh yes, oh yes, dar is aboard here a werry nice, good ge'mman wid a weed, and a ge'mman in a grey coat and white tie, what knows all about me, and a ge'mman wid a big book, too; and a yarb-doctor; and a ge'mman in a yaller west; and a ge'mman wid a brass plate; and a ge'mman in a wiolet robe; and a ge'mman as is a sodjer; and ever so many good, kind, honest ge'mman more aboard what knows me and will speak for me, God bress 'em This paragraph goes on to form the backbone of the entire novel.

The reader meets each of the men mentioned by the beggar in succession, and in the order he gives: first the man with the mourning weed, then the grey-coated charity collector; then the employee of a coal company, who carries a big stock-book with him; then an herb-doctor; and so on.

In each case, the man mentioned by the cripple interacts with the other passengers and attempts to gain their confidence for one cause or another. The man with the weed, for example, has a hard-luck story and could do with a few dollars; the man with the grey coat is collecting for charities; the man with the book just happens to have a time-sensitive opportunity for financial investment; the herb-doctor is peddling a concoction that may or may not be a miracle cure.

Some of these men push their wares on their fellow-passengers, but most do not: the other passengers hear about one of these men from another, and actively seek them out for example, a merchant who ends up investing with the coal-company man, first hears about him from the man with the weed. In this way, the relationships among the different characters are interlinked, and form a kind of chain along which the narrative progresses. There is one big "spoiler" in The Confidence Man , and even though I figured out what was going on within the first 50 pages, I don't want to give it away.

However, it's also the main point of the book, so I'm going to write about it under a veil. Throughout the day, he takes on different guises in order to test peoples' confidence in different aspects of society—in the honesty of a hard-up stranger; in the efficacy of a miracle cure, the basic goodness of children, and so on.


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His basic move, repeated in a variety of ways, is to pit peoples' desire to believe themselves and other humans "good," against the common sense which makes them wary of handing over their money to a complete stranger. In each particular instance, one's sympathy might be with the confidence man, and with the desire to believe that strangers are, overall, trustworthy and honorable.

Knowing that the same man is enacting all of these personae, of course, makes each one a joke—a joke that gets steadily darker as the novel progresses and the "cons" strike ever closer to peoples' core beliefs. At the beginning, when the old curmudgeon is accusing the crippled black man of being a counterfeit, my sympathy is all on the side of the beggar—who would be so cynical as to assume that a poor cripple is perpetrating an elaborate hoax on his fellow-passengers, all for the sake of a few coins? I agree, initially, with the man in mourning when he laments how suspicious people have become of their fellows.

Yet, as the story goes on, one's sympathy gradually shifts away from the advocates of unadulterated confidence.

The Confidence-Man

One realizes that a militant insistence on confidence, one that refuses to recognize the darker impulses of human nature, paradoxically allows just those dark, cruel impulses to thrive. In one scene, two new-found friends are toasting to the innocent and confidence-inducing act of laughter, when one of the friends starts laughing at a poor club-footed boy dressed in rags on the bottom deck. The other friend cites this as an example of the laugher's good faith, but of course in reality it's just mean.

Basically, one character tells another the story of Colonel John Moredock, who is kindly to his family and to white people in general, but goes out killing Indians for sport. It includes passages like the following: Moredock was an example of something apparently self-contradicting, certainly curious, but, at the same time, undeniable; namely, that nearly all Indian-haters have at bottom loving hearts; at any rate, hearts, if anything, more generous than the average.

Or this one, on why the Colonel refused to run for governor of Illinois, despite being begged to do so: In his official capacity he might be called upon to enter into friendly treaties with Indian tribes, a thing not to be thought of.

And even did no such contingency arise, yet he felt there would be an impropriety in the Governor of Illinois stealing out now and then, during a recess of the legislative bodies, for a few days' shooting at human beings, within the limits of his paternal chief-magistrancy. If the governorship offered large honors, from Moredock it demanded larger sacrifices. Granted, this whole novel is a multi-layered and complex satire, but the above is fairly breathtaking in its sympathy for a person who goes out hunting other people for sport.

Is it supposed to be striking in that way? The level of white sympathy for Indians in was not high, and yet Melville seems to know that his character is making a bold claim when he argues that Moredock should be admired. I think the point Melville is making here is that putting the most sympathetic, forgiving construction on peoples' actions is sometimes the wrong decision, and that there are some actions that simply deserve to be condemned—making the indiscriminate "confidence" peddled by the beggar's reference list suspect.

However, the author's treatment of the subject still reads very oddly to modern ears, and displays the prejudices of the day regarding American history for example, that native people, rather than government officials, were the primary treaty-breakers. All in all, an unusual and thought-provoking read, if not precisely the sea-going adventure tale I was expecting.

Although long-winded at times, it features a few scenes including the last one which are downright chilling not to mention a satisfying send-up of two self-satisfied philosophers based on my old nemeses Emerson and Thoreau! I'm not sure I would recommend The Confidence Man generally, but for those who like "novels of ideas," I'd say it's worthwhile.

Moby-Dickheads, take note: y'ain't seen nuthin' yet. A post-modern masterpiece; a century ahead of its time. Aboard a Mississippi steamboat you can see a pubescent America in the confidence, and lack of it, asked of and offered by the various hucksters, pamphleteers and visionaries. And the novel itself tests the confidence of the reader as each character slides away beneath the muddy prose waters of the river: should I trust him? Will he come back to bite me? Is this the same person who? And all the while Melville baits his tortuous sentences A post-modern masterpiece; a century ahead of its time.

And all the while Melville baits his tortuous sentences with crazy vocab and linguistic gems. Feb 06, Charles Beauregard rated it really liked it. The Confidence Man is definitely not something you want to read to pass time. It was very thought provoking and interesting but also energy draining, which can be very good sometimes.