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Bartleby the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street (The Art of the Novella series) Paperback – May 1, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"I wanted them all, even those I'd already read."
—Ron Rosenbaum, The New York Observer

"Small wonders."
Time Out London

"[F]irst-rate…astutely selected and attractively packaged…indisputably great works."
—Adam Begley, The New York Observer

"I’ve always been haunted by Bartleby, the proto-slacker. But it’s the handsomely minimalist cover of the Melville House edition that gets me here, one of many in the small publisher’s fine 'Art of the Novella' series."
The New Yorker

"The Art of the Novella series is sort of an anti-Kindle. What these singular, distinctive titles celebrate is book-ness. They're slim enough to be portable but showy enough to be conspicuously consumed—tiny little objects that demand to be loved for the commodities they are."
—KQED (NPR San Francisco)

"Some like it short, and if you're one of them, Melville House, an independent publisher based in Brooklyn, has a line of books for you... elegant-looking paperback editions ...a good read in a small package."
The Wall Street Journal

About the Author

Herman Melville was born in New York City in 1819. At eighteen he set sail on a whaler, and upon his return, wrote a series of bestselling adventure novels based on his travels, including Typee and Omoo, which made him famous. Starting with Moby-Dick in 1851, however, his increasingly complex and challenging work drew more and more negative criticism, until 1857 when, after his collection Piazza Tales (which included Bartleby the Scrivener), and the novel The Confidence Man, Melville stopped publishing fiction. He drifted into obscurity, writing poetry and working for the Customs House in New York City, until his death in 1891.
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Product Details

  • Series: The Art of the Novella
  • Paperback: 100 pages
  • Publisher: Melville House (May 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0974607800
  • ISBN-13: 978-0974607801
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.2 x 7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #307,547 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

49 of 50 people found the following review helpful By D. Summerfield on July 24, 2009
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This review is for the free Kindle edition of this novella. The novella is available for purchase in several book formats, some of which contain excellent critical essays on this important American author and his work. This Kindle edition contains only the text of the novella, but it is free and that's great.

"Bartleby the Scrivener" is a very accessible short novella by the author of "Moby Dick." It tells the story of a strange young man named Bartleby who shows up one morning at a New York law firm and is employed as a copyist (scrivener.) In those days (mid-nineteenth century), legal work was horrendously tedious for the clerks since huge briefs and depositions had to be copied by hand by men who did nothing all day but write a clear hand (and try not to leave ink blots on the paper,) and then check their work by reading it aloud back to each other.

This is one of my favorite novellas (really a long short story). Wittily narrated by the harassed lawyer who owns the law firm, it describes the characters of those copyists who are employed there, and tells of the strange Bartleby who just decides to stop doing any work one day, telling his exasperated employer that he "prefers not to."

The story is a wonderful mixture of high comedy, pathos and fascinating commentary on the human condition. I re-read it at least once a year, and I always enjoy it and get something fresh from Melville's wise insights and his wonderful wit.

Highly recommended.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Reviewer on January 22, 2009
Format: Paperback
"Bartleby" is strictly speaking just a magazine sketch, one of a batch of informal sketches from magazines reprinted together as The Piazza Tales. It has the format of a memoir of an eccentric character, Bartleby, as told by a nameless first-person narrator, "an eminently safe man" by his own account, a lawyer who earns his living through the most mundane, routine legal paperwork, who also complains that 'reformers' have deprived him of his lucrative sinecure in state government. "I am a man who, from his youth upwards, has ben filled with a profound conviction that the easiest way of life is the best," he says of himself. In short, in this "Story of Wall Street", he is a drone, a financial parasite, and he would have been recognized as such by Melville's readership in the 1850s, a era when Wall Street was regarded with as much suspicious as in 2009. He is also a smug, sanctimonious, cautious man, irritably comfortable to exploit the labor of his copyists, one of whom is an impaired alcoholic and the other perhaps a pre-medication psychotic. When the third impaired eccentric, Bartleby, joins the staff, our Narrator is readily 'generous' in tolerating him as long as he can make a dime. It seems to me fairly obvious that we readers are supposed to treat the Narrator with distrust, perhaps even dislike.

Melville wrote at the beginning of the now-established literary tradition of the 'unreliable narrator', supplanting the omniscient narrator of the majority of 19th C novels. But Melville transcends that tradition in his first effort, giving us a 'clueless' narrator, an observer who is honest only in his acknowledgement of his complete non-understanding of his subject. To accept the Narrator's analysis of Bartleby would be a fatal error of readerly judgement.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Linda Linguvic HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on March 23, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Herman Melville wrote this story in 1853, two years after Moby Dick had been published and his writing career was beginning to lose its luster. Subtitled, "A Story of Wall Street", it is a seemingly simple story about a lawyer who hires a gentleman named Bartleby as a scrivener in his office. This was way back in the days before photocopy machines and scriveners performed the necessary tasks of tediously hand copying documents over and over. Bartleby was good at the copying part of his job, but when asked to proofread aloud one day he simply replied, "I prefer not to." From that moment forward, he used the phrase "I prefer not to" for every task requested of him, eventually "preferring not to" do any work whatsoever. The lawyer, who is astounded by Bartleby's attitude, tells the story in the first person.
The story is rich in language and yet spare in actual action. The reader is forced to think, and think seriously about the choices we make daily. Bartleby chose to rebel and become an anti-hero. But the real protagonist of the story is the lawyer, who is drawn into Bartleby's power and grows to admire him. The conclusion is sad, but inevitable. Recommended.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Simon on November 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
The story of Bartleby is simply about a man loosing his will to live. It is intended to show the reader a dark side in all of us when the meaning of our existence is allowed to be challenged. The chilling image of Bartleby in his previous job at the Dead Letter Office leaves my imagination running wild, wondering about the contents of the letters and how Bartleby must have gone from concern to sadness to indifference about his own mortality as he read the messages written to those who can no longer receive them. I'm glad Melville left Bartleby's reason for being (or not being) a mystery. This way, any reader can relate to the story by drawing on their own experience.
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