It is obvious by now that Melvillean prose features no shortage of allusions to myriad narrative traditions and historical events. His dense stories are indeed exciting, at turns fast paced and electric with drama, action, and philosphy, but there is also the feeling that the author’s wisdom and knowledge was so deep, so detailed, that to try to delve into and eventually achieve an intimate and expert understanding of each and every allusion requires, what, an entire term? A year? Years? A lifetime? Indeed, careers are built on it.
Here to help this ongoing effort is an online hypertext version of Billy Budd, Sailor. It is based on the Weaver edition of the novella, not the definitive Hayford-Sealts edition we use in 2H06, but this resource offers up its own unique advantage: the ability to investigate allusions as one reads.
We know hypertext, primarily I would think, for its ability to keep us wandering through Wikipedia pages for hours on end. However, this online resource, designed by the University of Virginia’s David Padella, is intended to provide readers “a framework for some of the lines of allusion, help the student better visualize the naval scenes, and generally provide some structure for the student so that his reading is as full as possible.” And while Padella emphasizes that “There can never be a substitute for engagement between reader and text,” he nonetheless believes that his hypertext version of Billy Budd may help the reader to “better understand this story by grasping some key vocabulary, recognizing some key literary conventions, and being able to picture the flow of action.”
Indeed, this is a very helpful site worth spending some time with.
So check it out and dive into, if you will, the many fathoms of Melville’s power for allusion: http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/bb/bb_main.html