Item description for Benito Cereno (The Art of the Novella) by Herman Melville...
"What has cast such a shadow upon you?" "The Negro."
With its intense mix of mystery, adventure, and a surprise ending, Benito Cereno at first seems merely a provocative example from the genre Herman Melville created with his early best-selling novels of the sea. However, most Melville scholars consider it his most sophisticated work, and many, such as novelist Ralph Ellison, have hailed it as the most piercing look at slavery in all of American literature.
Based on a real life incident—the character names remain unchanged—Benito Cereno tells what happens when an American merchant ship comes upon a mysterious Spanish ship where the nearly all-black crew and their white captain are starving and yet hostile to offers of help. Melville's most focused political work, it is rife with allusions (a ship named after Santo Domingo, site of the slave revolt led by Toussaint L'Ouverture), analogies (does the good-hearted yet obtuse American captain refer to the American character itself?), and mirroring images that deepen our reflections on human oppression and its resultant depravities.
It is, in short, a multi-layered masterpiece that rewards repeated readings, and deepens our appreciation of Melville's genius.
The Art of The Novella Series
Too short to be a novel, too long to be a short story, the novella is generally unrecognized by academics and publishers. Nonetheless, it is a form beloved and practiced by literature's greatest writers. In the Art Of The Novella series, Melville House celebrates this renegade art form and its practitioners with titles that are, in many instances, presented in book form for the first time.
"I wanted them all, even those I'd already read." —Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer
"Small wonders." —Time Out London
"[F]irst-rate…astutely selected and attractively packaged…indisputably great works." —Adam Begley, The New York Observer
"I’ve always been haunted by Bartleby, the proto-slacker. But it’s the handsomely minimalist cover of the Melville House edition that gets me here, one of many in the small publisher’s fine 'Art of the Novella' series." —The New Yorker
"The Art of the Novella series is sort of an anti-Kindle. What these singular, distinctive titles celebrate is book-ness. They're slim enough to be portable but showy enough to be conspicuously consumed—tiny little objects that demand to be loved for the commodities they are." —KQED (NPR San Francisco)
"Some like it short, and if you're one of them, Melville House, an independent publisher based in Brooklyn, has a line of books for you... elegant-looking paperback editions ...a good read in a small package." —The Wall Street Journal Herman Melville was born in New York City in 1819. At 18 he set sail on a whaler, and upon his return, wrote a series of bestselling adventure novels based on his travels, including Typee and Omoo, which made him famous. Starting with Moby Dick in 1851, however, his increasingly complex and challenging work drew more and more negative criticism, until 1857 when, after his collection Piazza Tales (which included "Bartleby the Scrivener"), and the novel The Confidence Man, Melville stopped publishing fiction. He drifted into obscurity, writing poetry and working for the Customs House in New York City, until his death in 1891.
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Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 0.25" Width: 5.25" Height: 7.25" Weight: 0.3 lbs.
Release Date May 1, 2006
Publisher Melville House
ISBN 1933633050 ISBN13 9781933633053
Availability 0 units.
More About Herman Melville
Elizabeth Hardwick (1916-2007) is the author of many books and essays, including Herman Melville (Penguin Lives), American Fictions, and Seduction and Betrayal: Women and Literature.
Herman Melville lived in New York City, in the state of New York. Herman Melville was born in 1819 and died in 1891.
Herman Melville has published or released items in the following series...
Reviews - What do customers think about Benito Cereno (The Art of the Novella)?
Fascinating story, but awful narrative pace. May 9, 2006
"Benito Cereno" is one of the few really interesting short stories written by inconsistent American author Herman Melville. Set in the southern coasts of Chile in the year 1799, it tells us about the finding by an American sealer of the "San Dominick", a forlorn and decrepit Spanish ship, partly dismasted, which holds a cargo of Negro slaves and that seems to go adrift. American captain Amasa Delano, fearing that the crew in the foreign ship might have suffered difficulties, decides to go aboard and see what happens.
Once Delano is on deck, he'll be the witness of a very peculiar spectacle. On board the "San Dominick", white sailors and black slaves intermingle together without any restriction. The disorder and lack of discipline are obvious for anyone to see. When he finally meets Spanish captain Benito Cereno, the American is quite shocked by his apathetic and melancholy character. The Spaniard's despondency curiously reflects in no small degree the pitiful state of affairs around him. Delano is also baffled about the mystifying relationship between the Spanish captain and his black servant, the ubiquitous Babo. At first sight, both individuals seem to play their respective roles appropriately, but appearances can be deceptive, and, who's really the master and who the slave?
Nothing in "Benito Cereno" is what appears to be in the eyes of the casual observer. This tale is one of the best ever written about human perception. From the moment Delano sets foot on the ship, he undergoes a very slow process of awareness about the situation and the people he's dealing with. His personal view about matters on deck is always limited and inaccurate. Basically, this is a story about "deceit", and the American skipper is unable at any moment to find the ultimate key in order to get out from the perceptive maze he's in. Only at the very end will he be able to discover the elusive truth.
On a symbolical level, the meaning (or one of the possible meanings) is quite obvious: the juxtaposition of two captains and two ships, each one of them representing their respective nations. On the one hand, the declining Spanish Empire, personified in the wasted figure of Don Benito and his run-down ship; and on the other, the rising United States of America with the na?ve, proud and inexperienced captain Delano symbolising a country which has just recently come into existence. The first appearance of the "San Dominick", wreathed in dense ribbons of mist is also a very powerful image, and beautifully anticipates the masquerade Delano's going to face ("shadows present, foreshadowing deeper shadows to come").
Some of the criticism about "Benito Cereno" has arisen from people accusing the story of perpetuating some racist stereotypes. Personally, I'm unable to appreciate any kind of favouritism or contempt towards the portrayal of the characters. As a matter of fact, I don't think that the black people might be described as "stupid" or as the only ones guilty of barbarism. Their behaviour is not more "primitive", at any rate, than the force displayed by the whites to subdue them or the punishments employed in the colonial courts of law at the end of the story. Of course, not to mention the fact that both civilizations (Spanish and American) did make use at that period of time of the detestable institution of slavery. Anyway, Babo is not precisely a half-wit and, ironically, captain Delano's racial prejudices are exactly one of the main reasons why the American can't understand what's really happening on board the "San Dominick", because his white pride prevents him from thinking of Babo as the schemer and deceiver he actually is. The black man, considered by the whites as an inferior, manages to outwit everybody.
Herman Melville is not exactly one of my "top authors". I must confess that I have a love-hate relationship with him. His works have equally bored and enthralled me in almost the same degree. I personally enjoyed some of the passages in "Benito Cereno" (the "climax" of the story, its deep psychological insight, and the symbols employed are particularly intense). It is an important text for anyone interested in American or Nautical literature. My main criticism about it is the awful narrative pace. When it comes down to value a work of literature, I think that the "tempo" is a very under appreciated characteristic, and in this aspect, "Benito Cereno" certainly fails. The story is too long and drawn-out to be completely satisfactory, although, in a way, given the nature of the plot, it may be argued that that approach is inevitable. I am of the opinion that the narrative would have benefited from a division into several chapters, or, at least, by the inclusion of some new paragraphs now and then. The style is dense, obscure and rather torturous (one of Melville's most long-winded texts I've read). The vocabulary is pretty impressive due to its richness and complexity, and makes the book very hard to follow. As a foreigner, I found it excruciatingly difficult to read (though quite rewarding at the end). The problem is that, as the language used is also archaic and melodramatic, it is hardly useful for today's speakers and learners in general. In this respect, it is only worth reading for the historical importance of Melville's contributions to the English lexicon.
All in all, I liked the book, but I seriously doubt I'm going to read it again in the future. The "content" is good but the "form" leaves something to be desired and it doesn't constitute my idea of a fluid and effective narrative. It is a fascinating story, but too slow and demanding for its own sake.
Well, at least it is far better than the despicable novella "Billy Budd". I suppose that's better than nothing.
The most intense short story ever written Dec 22, 1997
A most powerful story by a most powerful author. The suspense will force you to skip pages, just to see what all the "building up" of emotion and doubt is all about. Highly satisfying. Don't be surprised to find yourself thinking about this story for weeks after you've completed it.