Editor: Michael Everton
“Is it the intention of law-makers that good men shall be hung ever?” asked Henry David Thoreau. The question has never been academic, but in 1924, when Herman Melville’s Billy Budd was published posthumously, we understood better than ever why. A dense and beautiful account of the human cost of realpolitik, Billy Budd, Sailor asks how far we should go to protect the status quo. When does the reaction to a security crisis become reactionary? In the novella, John Claggart, master-at-arms of a British warship, alleges a sailor is talking mutiny. The sailor, Billy, isn’t just innocent of the charge; he’s a true innocent. Yet when confronted by his accuser, Billy reacts impulsively, striking Claggart. The resulting trial shows the horrors that can arise from a civilized society following its own laws.
This Broadview Edition is based on the authoritative Hayford-Sealts copy-text of Billy Budd. The introduction distils the long and complex critical conversation about the work since its publication, and the historical appendices feature materials on mutiny, capital and corporal punishment, and the rule of law.