Billy Budd

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1797: Billy Budd, an orphaned illegitimate child suffused with innocence, openness and natural charismais, is a seaman pressed into HMS Bellipotent. He is adored by the crew, but arouses the antagonism of the ship's Master-at-Arms, John Claggart, who falsely accuses him of conspiracy to mutiny. The Captain summons both Claggart and Billy to his cabin for a private confrontation. When Claggart makes his false charges, Billy is unable to find the words to respond, due to a speech impediment and unable to express himself verbally, he strikes and accidentally kills Claggart.

The captain convenes a drumhead court-martial and then intervenes in the court's deliberations  to convince them to convict him, despite their belief in Billy's innocence. Billy is found guilty and to avoid any appearance of weakness in the officers, as failure to enforce discipline could stir the already-turbulent waters of mutiny throughout the British fleet, he is condemned and hanged from the ship's yardarm at dawn the morning after the killing.

(This novella was begun around 1886 but was still unfinished at his death in 1891. It was discovered in manuscript form among his papers in 1924 and published the same year. It is argued that early versions were poor transcriptions, with misinterpretation of Melville's notes. The 1962 version of  Harrison Hayford and Merton M. Sealts, Jr. is now considered to be the correct text and most subsequent editions follow it.)

The story was made into the film Billy Budd in 1962

Can be found: The Mammoth Book of Men o'War and in stand alone versions

  • Author: Herman Melville
  • Title: Billy Budd
  • First Published by: Kay Dreams
  • First Published Date: 1924

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