The Confidence-man: His Masquerade

Front Cover
Dalkey Archive Press, 2007 - Fiction - 355 pages

A scathing, razor-sharp satire set on a New Orleans-bound riverboat, The Confidence-Man exposes the fraudulent optimism of so many American idols and idealists--Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and P. T. Barnum, in particular--and draws a dark vision of a country being swallowed by its illusions of progress.

Why is Dalkey Archive doing yet another edition of The Confidence-Man? And why is it doing Melville at all? First, this edition, originally published by Bobbs-Merrill over forty years ago, contains remarkable annotations by H. Bruce Franklin, intended for both the general reader and the scholar. It's an edition we have long admired. More importantly, we believe that The Confidence-Man is America's first postmodern novel--game-like, darkly comic, and completely inventive.

From inside the book

Selected pages


A mute goes aboard a boat on the Mississippi
Showing that many men have many minds
In which a variety of characters appear
Renewal of old acquaintance
The man with the weed makes it an even question whether he be a great sage or a great simpleton
At the outset of which certain passengers prove deaf to the call of charity
A gentleman with gold sleevebuttons
A charitable lady
The Cosmopolitan makes an acquaintance
Containing the metaphysics of Indianhating according to the views of one evidently not so prepossessed as Rousseau in favor of savages
Some account of a man of questionable morality but who nevertheless would seem entitled to the esteem of that eminent English moralist who said h...
Moot points touching the late Colonel John Moredock
The boon companions
Opening with a poetical eulogy of the Press and continuing with talk inspired by the same
A metamorphosis more surprising than any in Ovid
Showing that the age of magic and magicians is not yet over

Two business men transact a little business
In the cabin
Only a page or so
Story of the unfortunate man from which may be gathered whether or no he has been justly so entitled
The man with the travelingcap evinces much humanity and in a way which would see to show him to be one of the most logical of optimists
Worth the consideration of those to whom it may prove worth considering
An old miser upon suitable representations is prevailed upon to venture an investment
A sick man after some impatience is induced to become a patient
Towards the end of which the HerbDoctor proves himself a forgiver of injuries
Inquest into the true character of the HerbDoctor
A soldier of fortune
Reappearance of one who may be remembered
A hard case
In the polite spirit of the Tusculan disputations
In which the powerful effect of natural scenery is envinced in the case of the Missourian who in view of the region roundabout Cairo has a return of ...
A philanthropist undertakes to convert a misanthrope but does not get beyond confuting him
Which may pass for whatever it may prove to be worth
In which the Cosmopolitan tells the story of the gentlemanmadman
In which the Cosmopolitan strikingly evinces the artlessness of his nature
In which the Cosmopolitan is accosted by a mystic whereupon ensues pretty much such talk as might be expected
The mystical master introduces the practical disciple
The disciple unbends and consents to act a social part
The hypothetical friends
In which the story of China Aster is at secondhand told by one who while not disapproving the moral disclaims the spirit of the style
Ending with a rupture of the hypothesis
Upon the heel of the last scene the Cosmopolitan enters the barbers shop a benediction on his lips
Very charming
In which the last three words of the last chapter are made the text of the discourse which will be sure of receiving more or less attention from those re...
The Cosmopolitan increases in seriousness
The River

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About the author (2007)

Herman Melville's reputation was immediately established in 1846 with the publication of his first novel, Typee, yet for the most part he lived in near-seclusion and died in relative obscurity for a man of his talents. He wasn't fully appreciated until the 20th century. The conservative religious Americans of his day didn't trust him: his unorthodoxy regarding religion, his South Seas travels, his cynicism, his bitter criticism of the hypocrisy of missionaries, and his satires of religion and religious figures made him an outcast. Today, however, some critics claim that only Dostoyevsky is his equal among 19th century writers. At seventeen, he became a merchant seaman, sailing first to Liverpool, where the sexual activity at the docks at first shocked him but then opened up a new world for him, for he was attracted to men. At age twenty-one, he sailed to the South Pacific. Four novels came from this experience: Typee, Omoo, Mardi, and White Jacket. Another early novel, Redburn, is set primarily aboard ship. Philosophically, the strength of his early novels is his disdain for the white man trying to force civilization onto a people who were blissfully happy without it. He particularly objected to the indoctrination of religion. All of the books contain an undeniable homoeroticism. Melville moved to the countryside to write Moby Dick. The novel is an adventure story and a tale of revenge, but it is also an audacious experiment. The reaction from critics was so harsh that from the publication of Moby Dick in 1851 until about 1938, Melville was not afforded much respect among scholars. In 1852, Melville published Pierre, which is autobiographical in its anatomy of the despair Melville was feeling at the rejection of Moby Dick. Pierre was scandalous for its day, almost as if Melville were thumbing his nose at society. Melville was now only thirty-two but considered a failed writer. His next story was refused for publication, so he retired and lived in relative obscurity for the remainder of his days. When he died, however, he left Billy Budd, which some critics think the equal of Moby Dick.