Mantrap: Playing BILLY BUDD

An experiment in "doing things with novels" using Ivanhoe in Hunter College's ENGL 399 course



Here you’ll find relevant sources for researching a) main characters, b) Melville’s biography, and c) peripheral “characters” from literary history that you might choose to play. All sources marked (R) are on reserve; all sources that are accessible via the web are linked.

I’ve created a folder on Google Drive that you all can access. If you scan (or find) something relevant, please email it to me and/or put it right in the folder. I’ve also created Google Docs for each kind of role (characters, Melvilles, paratextual personae) in case you want to jot or copy notes from sources for the benefit of classmates.


Almost any articles or book chapters that analyze the novella will help deepen your thinking about how the main characters act, what motivates them, how they feel about other characters, etc. You might look at:

my Hunter colleague Neal Tolchin’s book (R),

Barbara Johnson’s classic essay,

the chapter on BB from this philosophical reading of the text,

the chapter on BB from Larry Reynolds’s book (R)

Sharon Cameron’s take on “impersonality” in BB

Some of the work in New Essays on Billy Budd

Critical Essays on BB (R)

Chris Looby’s reading of queerness and temporality in BB


Any of the several biographies on reserve: Delbanco, Parker, Robertson-Lorant (R)

The two-volume quirky set of documents collected by Jay Leyda (R)

Giles Gunn’s Historical Guide to Melville

Peripheral personae:

Lewis Mumford’s 1929 monograph on Melville (R)

D. H. Lawrence’s Studies in Classic American Literature (with a chapter on Melville)

Recording of the Britten opera version opera version of BB (R)

Volume on Britten’s opera (R)

1962 edition of the “genetic text” compiled by Hayford and Seals (see UVA source via link; Hunter’s copy of the 1962 ed is missing but on order).

Sedgwick’s, Epistemology of the Closet (with chapter on queer reading of BB) (R, but also missing and on order)

NATION article on “melville revival” mentions 1919 article that helped put Melville back on map.

You might also dig around on YouTube etc. for information about the 1962 film version by Peter Ustinov.

General Resources

UVA’s decidedly Web 1.0 hypertext version of the initial 1924 edition, with lots of glosses of nautical terms, unfamiliar words, and nautical references. Thanks to Ari for pointing this out.