First edition title page
|Published||1857 (Dix, Edwards & Co.)|
|Preceded by||The Piazza Tales|
|Followed by||Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War|
The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade,first published in New York on April Fool's Day 1857, is the ninth book and final novel by American writer Herman Melville. The book was published on the exact day of the novel's setting. The Confidence-Man portrays a Canterbury Tales–style group of steamboat passengers whose interlocking stories are told as they travel down the Mississippi River toward New Orleans. Scholar Robert Milder notes: "Long mistaken for a flawed novel, the book is now admired as a masterpiece of irony and control, though it continues to resist interpretive consensus." After the novel's publication, Melville turned from professional writing and became a professional lecturer, mainly addressing his worldwide travels, and later for nineteen years a federal government employee.
The novel's 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 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".
The novel is written as cultural satire, allegory, and metaphysical treatise, dealing with themes of sincerity, identity, morality, religiosity, economic materialism, irony, and cynicism. 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.
The work includes presumed satires of 19th century literary figures: Mark Winsome is based on Ralph Waldo Emerson while his "practical disciple" Egbert is Henry David Thoreau; Charlie Noble is based on Nathaniel Hawthorne; Edgar Allan Poe inspired a beggar in the story.
- Milder, Robert. (1988). "Herman Melville." Columbia Literary History of the United States. Gen. Ed. Emory Elliott. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-05812-8
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: The Confidence-Man|
|Wikisource has original text related to this article:|
- The Confidence-Man at Project Gutenberg
- The Confidence-Man public domain audiobook at LibriVox
- Critical reaction to and a publishing history of The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade from The Life and Works of Herman Melville
- Online text of the novel from the Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library