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Bartleby and Benito Cereno Paperback – Unabridged, July 1, 1990

4.2 out of 5 stars 41 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

Herman Melville towers among American writers not only for his powerful novels, but also for the stirring novellas and short stories that flowed from his pen. Two of the most admired of these—"Bartleby" and "Benito Cereno"—first appeared as magazine piece and were then published in 1856 as part of a collection of short stories entitled The Piazza Tales.
"Bartleby" (also known as "Bartleby the Scrivener") is an intriguing moral allegory set in the business world of mid-19th-century New York. A strange, enigmatic man employed as a clerk in a legal office, Bartleby forces his employer to come to grips with the most basic questions of human responsibility, and haunts the latter's conscience, even after Bartleby's dismissal.
"Benito Cereno," considered one of Melville's best short stories, deals with a bloody slave revolt on a Spanish vessel. A splendid parable of man's struggle against the forces of evil, the carefully developed and mysteriously guarded plot builds to a dramatic climax while revealing the horror and depravity of which man is capable.
Reprinted here from standard texts in a finely made, yet inexpensive new edition, these stories offer the general reader and students of Melville and American literature sterling examples of a literary giant at his story-telling best.
Dover (1990) republication of standard texts of works originally published in The Piazza Tales, 1856. Note to Dover Edition.

About the Author

Herman Melville (1819–1891) found early success with stories inspired by his adventures in the South Seas. His fortunes declined with the 1851 publication of Moby-Dick, now recognized as a masterpiece but scorned by Melville’s contemporaries. The author was obliged to work as a New York City customs inspector and died in obscurity, three decades before the critical reassessment of his work.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications; Unabridged edition (July 1, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486264734
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486264738
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.3 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,271 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Herman Melville spins a great tale that's easy to read. It's a story about five men, and the main character is just as much the narrator as it is Bartleby. The narrator is an attorney who hires three people to work for him, and each one is a real character. All the men are described in great detail, and they are terrific thumbnail character sketches that will stay in your memory bank for years to come! The last man employed is Bartleby, and he is really a strange duck! Bartleby is an excellent copier of legal documents, and initially he does a fine job. However, as the story progresses Barleby acts very strange. He responds with the words, "I'd prefer not to," when asked to proof-read manuscripts, and this response continues whenever the narrator, his boss, asks him perform the ususal office tasks such as going the the post office or doing small errands. The climax of the story comes when the narrator finds Bartleby in the law office getting dressed one Sunday morning. It appears that Bartleby is using the office for his lodging, and the narrator later comes across his personal belongings and shaving kit. As the story progresses, Bartleby does less and less work, and soon he's nothing more than a fixture in the law offices. When the narrator dismisses him and pays him a salary plus a tip, Bartlby refuses to leave. Finally, the narrator is about ready to go crazy -- the man won't leave. So, the narrator moves his law practice to another location and leaves Bartleby at the former work site. The end of the story describes Bartleby in the Tomb, and asylum. Rumor has it that Bartleby was once employed as a clerk in a Dead Letter Office, and this seems to explain his forlon state.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
I must respectfully disagree with the Boston reader who asserts that Bartleby is "a case study in clinical depression." That's definitely one way to interpret the story, but it defuses a great deal of the tale's power. If we believe that Bartleby is simply a victim of mental illness, we might begin to believe that if only doctors had Prozac in the 19th Century, poor old Bartleby would have chippered up and gone home dancing.
Bartleby's refusal, his famous "I prefer not to," seems more like a deliberate and sane NO. People did know what depression was back then (though it was generally called melancholia, instead). Bartleby's condition (our condition?) is something much deeper, much more terrifying-- the possibility that one can observe the world from a completely rational mind and decide that participation is not worth it.
If we decide that Bartleby's problem was depression, must we call Kurtz a paranoid schizophrenic? All of Beckett's characters could use a Xanax prescription, because they seem pretty bleak, too.
Bartleby is fascinating because of what we don't know; Melville is the great American exploiter of Negative Capability, Keats's term, defined as "when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason."
It is because Melville is willing to refrain from that "irritable reaching after fact and reason" that Bartleby (and Benito Cereno and Moby-Dick) is a story that lingers in the imagination. If we knew why the man simply quit the business of life, if we knew it was a deficiency of chemicals in his brain or whatever, we would not be so haunted by his fate.
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Format: Paperback
These two tales are very different, but both of them are deep and acute penetrations into the human psyche. The first one, "Benito Cereno" is about a mutiny on board of a ship. This ship is navigating astray, off the coast of Chile (which is NOT in Central America, as other reviewers have embarrasingly said), when Captain Delano, an American sailor, observes it. He gets near the suspicious ship, gets on board of it, and finds an extremely tense and enigmatic situation. Wonderfully, Melville chose to describe the situation only through the senses of Captain Delano. As the narrator is not omniscient, we only know what Delano knows, so we understand his confusion and amazement at the strange facts he observes. We share his vacilations, speculations and changes of opinion before the disconcerting behavior of Captain Benito Cereno. This makes the reader stay interested all through the story, like he was there being part of it. The unexpected ending will solve the mystery, but only partially.
What's best about this story, even more than the smart plot, is the author's technique. He puts the reader right in the middle of the action. Just like in life, where we have no narrator telling us what the rest of the characters are doing "meanwhile". We only know what we learn from our senses, hopefully processed through reason.
The second tale, "Bartleby the scrivener" follows a technique similar to that of "Benito Cereno", but within a very different context and plot. It's narrated in first person by a good-hearted and charitable Wall Street lawyer (I guess times have changed)who hires a young and silent man as a copyist (that is, before Xerox, the guy who made manual copies of legal documents).
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