A scathing, razor-sharp satire set on a New Orleans-bound riverboat, The Confidence-Man exposes the fraudulent optimism of so many American idols and idealists—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and P. T. Barnum, in particular—and draws a dark vision of a country being swallowed by its illusions of progress.
It begins with a mute boarding a Mississippi boat and ends without a conclusion: “Something further may follow of this Masquerade.” In between, the confidence man, so well disguised as to avoid clear identification even by the reader, meets and tricks a boatful of unusual characters. The culmination of Herman Melville’s brilliant career as a novelist, and the introduction of a particularly American brand of satire that is as caustic as it is funny, The Confidence-Man creates an elaborate and beautiful masquerade that asks: who in this world is worth our confidence?
Why is Dalkey Archive doing yet another edition of The Confidence-Man? And why is it doing Melville at all? First, this edition, originally published by Bobbs-Merrill over forty years ago, contains remarkable annotations by H. Bruce Franklin, intended for both the general reader and the scholar. It’s an edition we have long admired. More importantly, we believe that The Confidence-Man is America’s first postmodern novel—game-like, darkly comic, and completely inventive.
Daniel Handler, who provides a preface to this edition of The Confidence-Man, is the author of three novels of his own and twelve books collectively entitled A Series of Unfortunate Events under the pseudonym Lemony Snicket. H. Bruce Franklin is a noted Melville scholar.