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The Piazza Tales

Herman Melville

Book Overview: 

The Piazza: In The Piazza, the narrator lives in a country house without a piazza, or porch. He has one built and selected the northern side of his house, much to his neighbors' amusement. He thereafter spends much time sitting on the piazza and gazing at the magnificent view of forested mountains. Several times his eye is drawn to a singular spot on a distant mountainside, usually by some play of light. Fancifully imagining the spot must be the home of fairies, the narrator decides to investigate. A fairly lengthy voyage follows, involving sailing and horseback riding, and the narrator eventually dismounts and scrambles through dense underbrush to reach the spot. He finds there a dilapidated house with a few new repairs. Inside he meets a young woman of forlorn countenance who identifies herself as Marianna.

Benito Cereno: On an island off the coast of Chile, Captain Amaso Delano, sailing an American sealer, sees the San Dominick, a Spanish slave ship, in obvious distress. Capt. Delano boards the San Dominick, providing needed supplies, and tries to learn from her aloof and disturbed captain, Benito Cereno, the story of how this ship came to be where she is. Dealing with racism, the slave trade, madness, the tension between representation and reality, and featuring at least one unreliable narrator, Melville's novella has both captivated and frustrated critics for decades.

Lighting-Rod Man: In The Lighning-rod Man, the narrator lives in a mountainous region, and during an intense thunderstorm, is visited by a door-to-door salesman of lightning rods. The salesman points out the concussive lightning storm outside, points out the elevation of the mountainside, and points out the exposed nature of the home. He then strongly urges the narrator to purchase a copper lightning rod to protect himself and his home. The salesman's technique involves acting desperately afraid of imminent electrocution because of the home's location within the storm. The narrator vituperates the salesman's fear, notes that lightning recently struck and destroyed a building sporting several lightning rods and that his own house without a lightning rod has never been struck in many years. The lightning-rod man departs without a sale, but in the ensuing weeks and months does a brisk business with the narrator's neighbors.

The Encantadas: The Encantadas or Enchanted Isles is a novella by American author Herman Melville. The Encantadas was to become the most critically successful of that collection. All of the stories are replete with symbolism reinforcing the cruelty of life on the Encantadas. (Introduction excerpted from Wikipedia)

Bell-Tower: is the dark tale of a crazed genius, his brilliant work and the mystery that binds them together.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .Bartleby and I were alone. I remembered the tragedy of the unfortunate Adams and the still more unfortunate Colt in the solitary office of the latter; and how poor Colt, being dreadfully incensed by Adams, and imprudently permitting himself to get wildly excited, was at unawares hurried into his fatal act—an act which certainly no man could possibly deplore more than the actor himself. Often it had occurred to me in my ponderings upon the subject, that [pg 085] had that altercation taken place in the public street, or at a private residence, it would not have terminated as it did. It was the circumstance of being alone in a solitary office, up stairs, of a building entirely unhallowed by humanizing domestic associations—an uncarpeted office, doubtless, of a dusty, haggard sort of appearance—this it must have been, which greatly helped to enhance the irritable desperation of the hapless Colt.

But when this old Adam of resentment ro. . . Read More

Community Reviews

This works contains some of Melville’s best known shorter works, consisting of six short stories: “The Piazza,” “Bartleby,” “Benito Cereno,” “The Lightning-Rod Man,” “The Encantadas” and “The Bell-Tower,” and a brief biographical sketch that contributes to one’s reading of the texts. While the se...more

LA TERRA DELLE FATE
Il racconto che fornisce il titolo alla raccolta (1856, credo l’unica scritta da Melville) è quello che fu scritto per ultimo e che non uscì prima su rivista.
Sono sei in tutto: uno si chiama “Bartleby lo scrivano”, un altro “Benito Cereno, un terzo “Le Encantadas”…
E con questo...more

I think what I love about Melville is that he has an endless depth of earnestness. Melville is never condescending. Melville doesn't scoff. Melville believes in the best of himself, his reader, and the world.

There was this guy named Andrew who I went to school with. He always raised his hand in c...more

“Bartleby" and "Benito Cereno" are amazing. The other tales are more uneven.

A star and a half. My first acquaintance with Melville was a dramatised version of Bartleby the Scrivener shown on PBS back in the late 60s or early 70s. It was wonderfully well done and intrigued me.
Fast forward twenty-something years and I found myself forced (the operative word) to read Moby-D...more

Ecantadas parodies Biblical cadence, travel articles, naturalistic reportage, Dante, and Spenser; in a mix that is comic and bizarre, Melville’s Inferno. Other highlights of this underrated collection are the dark Faustian bargain/Frankenstein/Tower of Babel styled, science and hubris, parable of...more

Depending on which biography you read, Melville was either so bitter over the failures of MOBY DICK and PIERRE that he started writing extended allegories on the lameness of the literary marketplace OR he was just plain old batshit bonkers. Either way, it's hard to read these stories without proj...more

bartleby..."i would prefer not to..." read this one, of the 6 tales w/i the piazza tales, in high school. could be i read them all, just don't recall, but bartleby made an impression. "i would prefer not to." HA HA HA HA! ginger nut, "he's a little luny.......all those dead letters...

began "the l...more

I gave this book a 4 because of "Bartleby The Scrivner", which happens to be one of my favourite stories. If the story wasn't in the book I would have given it no stars. Many of the stories were disjointed and I found myself thinking about other things while reading.

I have been studiously avoiding Melville's Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, which is on the 1001 list. The members of the group reading that list here on Goodreads have a sort of love/hate reaction to it; one of the things most often mentioned against it is the writing style. I decided I could preview t...more

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