Long considered Herman Melvilles strangest novel, The Confidence-Man is a comic allegory aimed at the optimism and materialism of mid-nineteenth-century America. A mysterious shape-changing Confidence-Man approaches passengers on a Mississippi River steamboat and, winning over his not-quite-innocent victims with his charm, urges them to implicitly trust in the cosmos, in nature, and even in human nature with predictable results. A satiric and socially acute work that was to be a further step away from his sea novels, The Confidence-Man represented a departure for Melville.
Yet it confused and angered reviewers who preferred to pigeonhole him as an adventure writer. Some have argued the book was a joke on the readers loyal to his sea stories, but if so, it backfired. Dismissed by critics as unreadable, and an undoubted financial failure, The Confidence-Mans cold reception undermined Melvilles belief in his ability to make a living writing works that were both popular and profound, and he soon gave up fiction.
It was not until the mid-twentieth century that critics rediscovered the book and praised its wit, stunningly modern technique, and wry view that life may be just a cosmic con game. This text of The Confidence-Man is an Approved Text of the Center for Editions of American Authors (Modern Language Association of America).