The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade

Oh, my God, what a dreadful book.   Why did anyone publish it?   Only about 300 pages and it just took forever.  Painful.   Incredibly painful.   It takes place on a Mississippi steamer called Fidele.   First, there’s a deaf guy.   Then there’s an African American beggar with injured or no legs, not sure.  Then there’s a stream of con men including one who sells herbal medicine.   No one has any names until about three-quarters of the way through the book and then I’m not sure why they do.   Calling themselves Frank and Charlie and getting into the least intelligent philosophical discussion I’ve ever heard.   Frank maintains he has confidence in all humanity.   Doesn’t believe any ill of anyone could be true.   Or so he says.   We never really figure out what Frank’s deal is because all he does is jabber on, tell his new friend Charlie at one point he has no money, bilks a barber out of a shave and talk to an old man about the Bible.

What does any of it mean?   I’m sure I don’t know.   There’s no story.  No characters.   Some people get bilked.  What on earth was he thinking?  The word ‘confidence’ is uttered as many times as Ann Radcliffe used ‘sublime’ in Mysteries of Udolpho.   If he wanted people to learn to avoid scams, he could have written a short pamphlet on it.   Not this endless blithering.   After this he stopped writing prose for 25 years and all I can think is, good.   It’s a shame when someone who writes as well as Melville can, puts together something like this.   According to Wikipedia, Mark Winsome (a philosopher) is based on Emerson, Egbert is Thoreau and Charlie Noble was Hawthorne.    This helps me not at all.  Mark Winsome/Egbert has a discussion with Frank, but neither of their opinions seems to me worth a shot of powder.  Winsome/Emerson’s philosophy seems to boil down to you shouldn’t loan a friend money.  Surely there was more to Emerson than that?   And the guy Frank whose talking to him just seems like a con-man who hasn’t gotten around to the point yet.   Apparently I’m just not bright enough to get it.

But the important thing is I read it (Why? You ask.  Because by the time I decided it was a giant waste of time and nothing meaningful was ever going to happen, I was too far in to quite during the #20booksofsummer.  This also qualifies as a 19th century classic. And all I can say is , thank goodness that’s over.

I’ve read a few other people on this ‘masterpiece’ and it sounds like he’s saying everyone’s either a mark or a patsy, which is far too simplistic a view of life.  I suspect he was suffering from depression and feeling like a patsy.   I still can’t believe it was published.  It’s the weirdest combination of good writing and bad I think I’ve ever read.  One person pointed out the opening, which is engaging and you wonder who that guy is and what’s going to happen.  Answer: nothing and no one we ever see again.  Apologies to those that love this book.  For me, it’s the new worst classic.  I’d rather reread Lord Jim, Frankenstein and Mysteries of Udolpho than one chapter of The Confidence Man.  Okay, maybe two chapters.

Wilkie-a-long Epoch 2

I’m so far behind!   I didn’t even realize since it’s been a very busy few weeks, I conveniently forgot I’m trailing by two weeks, almost three, in a 4 week readalong.   Not much I can do about it now.   And not much I can say about Epoch 2.   It would be nice to have some pithy comment or wry observation, but mainly I just think – it was fine.   It’s a good read.  Wilkie lead an interesting life.   Getting into his bromance with Chuck Dickens, whoring around, getting VD.   At least he didn’t have a wife he was bringing that home to.   I would have loved to see them in a show together.   Wouldn’t that be a great time travel adventure?   Wilkie is writing books and getting published, holidaying with Dickens with or without his family, touring France and Italy and generally having too good a time.   When he gets gouty, he cuts back to a spartan 3 glasses of wine a day.    By the end of the epoch he’s got a girlfriend we haven’t met.

While an enjoyable book, I can’t help feeling there’s something missing.   Anyone else feeling this?   I can’t put my finger on it.   Analysis?   Depth?   I’m not sure.   Reading Chernow’s Hamilton was such a great experience, but maybe that’s because of Hamilton’s personality and circumstances?   This one just seems sort of a catalog of what he did.   Maybe I want more…  historical context?  I don’t know.  I know more about Victorian England I think, than I did about Colonial America.   It’s certainly not fair to expect every writer to equal Chernow’s Hamilton.   Hopefully, I can focus on it and finish less than 3 weeks after everyone else!

“I love you, man!”


Whoops!  Was supposed to read Epochs 2 & 3.    So, yeah.   Way behind.   Well, Imma just leave this here anyway.

The Nine Tailors

Slogging through The Confidence Man, I just couldn’t take it any more and turned with untold relief to Dorothy L. Sayers’ The Nine Tailors.  So readable.   Characters!   Plot!  Oh, joy!   I should’ve been reading Wilkie, but well, I didn’t much.  I got pulled into the Wimsey story.  I saw the Ian Carmichael version on TV long ago, but could only remember a bit of the end.  The crime, the criminal(s), the characters all forgotten.  There’s no Harriet Vane in this one.   I miss her.   There’s a loveable rector and his wife, fine upstanding country folk, a spunky teenage girl, missing emeralds from a long unsolved robbery and a lot of bell-ringing.   More than you probably want to know about that, but it doesn’t slow things down much.  The atmosphere is great and Wimsey is in top form first helping out as substitute bell-ringer and then investigating the mysterious appearance of a corpse in the wrong grave.

I wish this was the cover of my copy

The only trouble is at the end, thinking it over, it all seems way more complicated than necessary and that certain people act in ways that are simply way too improbable.  Trying to imagine certain characters doing what they did, well, I don’t buy it, but it’s an enjoyable ride and I’m not going to let that worry me.  Very few Sayers left.  Which makes me sad. but what can you do?

This counts as a Classic with a number in the title.  I don’t think it counts for any of my other challenges.