Celebrating Billy Budd, Sailor



Billy Budd, Sailor is the story of loss and innocence. It is the tale of a noble young sailor who is conscripted, falls victim to petty jealousy, and pays the price with his life. Set aboard a British naval ship during the Napoleonic Wars, Budd is falsely accused of mutiny and sentenced to death. Even as he is martyred, he retains his integrity. The novella explores themes of innocence, justice, and the corrupting influence of power.

The breadbox in which Melville’s original manuscript was found. Courtesy The Berkshire Athenaeum.

The novella was written during the last five years of Melville’s life, but remained unknown until 1918 when Melville’s first biographer Raymond M. Weaver was shown the handwritten manuscript by Melville’s granddaughter, Eleanor Melville Metcalf. She had discovered the manuscript after her grandmother’s death in 1906 in a tin breadbox that Lizzy Melville had hidden in the attic. First published in 1924, Billy Budd, Sailor is considered a masterpiece second only to Moby-Dick. The novella posthumously brought Melville out of obscurity, ensuring his place among America’s literary giants. The novella was edited, annotated, and republished several times over the last one-hundred years. 

The Berkshire County Historical Society celebrates the centennial of the publication of  Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Sailor with a series of events and programs.


Tickets for programs are available by using the BOOK NOW button.
Billy Budd programs are sponsored by 

Ongoing – An exhibit in the Herman Melville Memorial Room at the Berkshire Athenaeum  exploring Billy Budd, with highlights including the desk Melville use when writing the novella in his New York apartment and the actual breadbox in which the manuscript was found. Visit for free during regular library hours.

September 20, 7 pm Join BCHS and partners Berkshire Opera Festival and Tanglewood Learning Institute at the Linde Center for Music and Learning for an evening of selections from the opera Billy Budd, Sailor paired with readings by Ryan Winkles from the classic novella.  This 1951 opera is scored by Benjamin Britten with a libretto by authors E. M. Forster and Eric Crozier. Desserts and cocktails following the performance.
Open seating, $100. 

November 13, 7 pm – Screening of the 1962 film Billy Budd, directed and produced by Peter Ustinov; also starring Terrence Stamp, Robert Ryan, and Melvyn Douglas. Enjoy this critically-acclaimed British historical drama on the big screen at the Beacon Cinema in downtown Pittsfield. The film will be introduced by Arrowhead docent Richard Matturro.  Matturro is a native of Rye, New York, and holds a doctorate in English with a specialization in Shakespeare and Greek Mythology. After sixteen years at the Albany Times Union, he taught literature at the University of Albany for fourteen years. He is the author of numerous newspaper articles and six novels.
$15 for BCHS members, $20 for non-members

Story Circles
In recognition of Melville’s granddaughter’s role in the discovery of Billy Budd, Sailor, BCHS will host two events inviting the community to record special stories of grandparents and grandchildren. One event will be held in Herman Melville’s parlor at Arrowhead, the other at the Berkshire Athenaeum. Fall dates to be determined. This program is funded in part by Mass Humanities, which receives support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and is an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.


The BCHS museum shop at Arrowhead has a great selection of merchandise related to Herman Melville and his works as well as Berkshire County history and authors. Most items are available online.

Available in-store only





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