The Confidence-Man (Oxford World's Classics)

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9780192837622: The Confidence-Man (Oxford World's Classics)

Male, female, deft, fraudulent, constantly shifting: which of the 'masquerade' of passengers on the Mississippi steamboat Fidele is 'the confidence man'? The central motif of Melville's last and most 'modern' novel can be seen as a symbol of American cultural history.

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Book Description:

Long considered the author's strangest novel, The Confidence-Man is a comic allegory aimed at the optimism and materialism of mid-eighteenth-century America. A mysterious shape-changing Confidence-Man approaches passengers on a Mississippi steamboat and, winning over the (not quite innocent) victims with his charm, urges them to implicitly trust in the cosmos, in nature, and even in human nature-with predictable results.

The Confidence-Man represented a departure for Melville, a satirical and socially acute work that was to be a further step away from his sea novels. Yet it confused and angered reviewers who preferred to pigeonhole him as an adventure writer. Some have argued the book was a joke on the readers loyal to his sea stories, but if so, it backfired. Dismissed by critics as unreadable, and an undoubted financial failure, The Confidence-Man's cold reception undermined Melville's belief in his ability to make a living writing works that were both popular and profound, and he soon gave up fiction. It was not until the mid-twentieth century that critics rediscovered the book and praised its wit, stunningly modern technique, and wry view that life may be just a cosmic con game.

From the Inside Flap:

"In "The Confidence-Man," writes John Bryant in his Introduction, "Melville found a way to render our tragic sense of self and society through the comic strategies of the confidence game. He puts the reader in the game to play its parts and to contemplate the inconsistencies of its knaves and fools." Set on a Mississippi steamer on April Fool's Day and populated by a series of shape-shifting con men, "The Confidence-Man is a challenging metaphysical and ethical exploration of antebellum American society. Set from the first American edition of 1857, this Modern Library paperback includes an Appendix with Bryant's innovative "fluid text" analysis of early manuscript fragments from Melville's novel.

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