25 Greatest Law Novels Ever: 6. Billy Budd
6. Billy Budd
by Herman Melville (1924)
Melville wrote what many consider the greatest American novel, Moby Dick, so why not one of the great legal novelse?
Billy Budd is a model sailor aboard the HMS Bellipotent, a British warship. Budd is well-liked and respected, especially by the ship’s captain, Edward Fairfax Vere, so he is slow to recognize that he has run afoul of the ship’s master-at-arms, John Claggart. When Claggart falsely accuses him of mutiny, Budd strikes him with such force that Claggart dies. Tried at sea, Budd is condemned to hang after Capt. Vere expresses the need to place the rule of law above his affection for Budd. Convinced of the captain’s argument, Budd dies happily ever after.
Note: Billy Budd, a novella, was published from an unfinished manuscript more than 30 years after Melville’s death.