Long considered Melville's strangest novel, The Confidence-Man is a comic allegory aimed at the optimism and materialism of mid-nineteenth century America. A shape-shifting Confidence-Man approaches passengers on a Mississippi River steamboat and, winning over his not-quite-innocent victims with his charms, urges each to trust in the cosmos, in nature, and even in human nature--with predictable results.
Satiric and socially acute, The Confidence-Man represented a departure for Melville. Yet it confused and angered reviewers who preferred to pigeonhole him as an adventure writer. Some have argued the book was a joke on his readers, but if so, it backfired. Dismissed by critics as unreadable, and a financial disaster, the novel's reception undermined Melville's belief in his ability to make a living writing works both popular and profound and he soon gave up fiction. Twentieth century critics, however, came to praise the book's wit, stunning modern technique, and wry view that life may be just a cosmic con game.
This special trade edition is an Approved Text of the Center for Editions of American Authors (Modern Language Association of America).