Bruce Franklin on Billy Budd

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Tue Mar 13 18:33:44 MST 2001


Hi Louis,

Many thanks for your extremely insightful review of "The Widow of St.
Pierre" and your generous words about me.  Your linkage of the movie to
BILLY BUDD is very fine.  But guess what?  Vere is actually not following
the law at all, but acting in much darker ways to defend his class,
militarism, and his insane king.  As I argue in "From Empire to Empire:
BILLY BUDD, SAILOR" (published in HERMAN MELVILLE: REASSESSMENTS, ed. A.
Robert Lee [Vision and Barnes&Noble, 1984]:

     In order to effect his will and carry out his snap judgement
that he must hang Billy, Vere himself actually must violate the
very code which he claims to be enforcing.  Vere had no authority
to administer a punishment greater than twelve lashes, his drumhead
court is illegal, and a case such as this had to be submitted to
higher levels.
     Some attribute this to Melville's alleged ignorance of the
British naval code of the period, though he did research on this
question while working on the story.  However, Vere's own officers
are aware of what the code does dictate, that they are supposed to
"postpone further action" in such a case until "they rejoin the
squadron, and then refer it to the admiral," and they, as well as
other officers later, believe that Vere acts improperly.

That earlier essay links British imperialism of the late 18th century,
rising U.S. imperialism at the time M. was writing BB, and the imperialism
of the Reagan epoch and its implied future.

You always seem to be doing important and interesting work.

In solidarity,

Bruce


Louis Proyect
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