Sunday, January 14, 2024

Project MUSE - Anatomy of an Interpretive Controversy: The Case of Benito Cereno

Reading the first page of this 2020 article by Daniel Avitzour in Partial Answers, I was impressed by the clear, jargon-free intro. Subscribed online to get the rest of it.

I'm very sorry to learn of the writer's "untimely death" shortly after the acceptance of his excellent article. David Fishelov at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem remembers him as 
"a rare individual who combined a keen analytical mind – Avitzour held a PhD in mathematics and enjoyed a successful career as an engineer – with the sensitivity of a perceptive literary critic, attentive to the complexities of literary texts..."

Had I known of it then, I would have cited Avitzour's 2020 article in my 2021 post on Memory Holes in the Broadview Benito Cereno. Without trying to do more than state a known, easily verifiable fact, Avitzour in the first sentence provides a succinct correction to the myth-making attempted by editor Brian Yothers in his introduction to the Broadview student edition of Benito Cereno.

"Herman Melville's novella Benito Cereno has been held in high esteem ever since the 'Melville revival' of the 1920's."

Avitzour, Daniel. "Anatomy of an Interpretive Controversy: The Case of Benito Cereno." Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas, vol. 18 no. 2, 2020, p. 191-212. Project MUSE


  1. The Bachelors Delight (also Batchelors) was a well known Buccaneer (pirate depending on who was victim) ship. It was a Danish slaver taken by force and given that name that students of piracy have tracked as far as the pirate base at St.Mary’s Island, Madagascar.
    “They next sailed to the coast of Guinea, which they made in the beginning of November, near Sierra Leone. A large ship was at anchor in the road, which proved to be a Dane. On sight of her, and all the time they were standing into the road, all the Buccaneer crew, except a few men to manage the sails, kept under deck; which gave their ship the appearance of being a weakly manned merchant-vessel. When they drew near the Danish ship, which they did with intention to board her, the Buccaneer Commander, to prevent suspicion, gave direction in a loud voice to the steersman to put the helm one way; and, according to the plan preconcerted, the steersman put it the contrary, so that their vessel seemed to fall on board the Dane through mistake. By this stratagem, they surprised, and, with the loss of five men, became masters of a ship mounting 36 guns, which was victualled and stored for a long voyage. This achievement is related circumstantially in Cowley's manuscript Journal; but in his published account he only says, 'near Cape Sierra Leone, we alighted on a new ship of 40 guns, which we boarded and carried her away.'
    Sherborough River.
    They went with their prize to a river South of the Sierra Leone, called the Sherborough, to which they were safely piloted through channels among shoals, by one of the crew who had been there before. At the River Sherborough there was then an English factory, but distant from where they anchored. Near them was a large town inhabited by negroes, who traded freely, selling them rice, fowls, plantains, sugar-canes, palm-wine, and honey. The town was skreened from shipping by a grove of trees.
    The Buccaneers embarked here all in their new ship, and named her the Batchelor's Delight. Their old ship they burnt, 'that she might tell no tales,' and set their prisoners on shore, to shift as well as they could for themselves”
    The kind of book found in a naval ship’s library when Melville served on the United States

    As for the spelling it is discussed here in an article about Dampier’s other ship in footnote 22
    The Great Circle
    , Vol. 37, No. 1, Special Issue: William Dampier (2015), pp. 1-15 (15 pages)
    I trust this is worth considering as to why Melville might have chosen to rename “Perseverance” with the name of a pirating ex-slaver as the savior of the victims of a slave revolt.

    1. Thank you Lawrence for citing this great and richly suggestive connection to the "Batchelor's Delight" in Burney's HISTORY OF THE BUCCANEERS. I see Internet Archive has the 1816 edition: