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Bartleby The Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street Paperback – June 19, 2014
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"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."
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"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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
About the Author: Herman Melville was an American novelist, poet, and lecturer best known for his classic novel Moby-Dick, as well as for his short fiction "Bartleby, the Scrivener," and the unfinished "Billy Budd, Sailor." Educated as a teacher and later as an engineer, Melville s writing was heavily influenced by his time aboard the whaling ship Acushnet, and his month-long captivity by Typee natives on Nuka Hiva island. Although Melville experienced success early in his writing career, public indifference to his masterpiece, Moby-Dick, resulted in waning attention, and his work was almost entirely disregarded by the time of this death in 1891. Melville's work experienced a revival in the early twentieth century, and he is now considered one of the pre-eminent American writers of his time. He is also one of the most-studied novelists, and was the first writer to be collected and published by the Library of America. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
It is this light heartedness that makes it seductive. We are introduced to an almost Dickensian office of scriveners. Here the staff spends every working day writing out in long hand, exact duplicates of legal documents, arguments and depositions. Every page must be word for word correct and with the least tolerance for blots. The owner and narrator runs his team with a light hand. Think of a less gregarious version of Mr. Fezziwig from A Christmas Carrol or Samuel Pickwick of the Pickwick Papers. The owner/narrator has a high tolerance for personal quirks and a tendency among the staff to fuel up on alcohol during meal times. Into this mix come Bartleby. The man who prefers, not to. Every effort is made to adjust to his idiosyncrasies, but each adjustment takes the story into a darker place and tests his employer’s tolerance for a man who eventually ceases to have any functions except to be there.
The usual case for Bartleby is that he is the man who refuses to fit in. The man who simply says “I prefer not to”. This analyses than turns to the rest of us and asks if we can call ourselves human or humane if we cannot find a space for the person who offers nothing? The question is valid, the example is flawed.
As the story progresses Bartleby is granted a great deal. Changes are made to his benefit and his reply is to assume as his right that more will be given. There is always something else that he “prefers not to.” To me the question of Bartleby is one of how to best serve his mental health issues. Something poorly recognized and most often grossly mishandled in Melville’s time and defining the literary point at which Bartleby achieves the perfect negative state of “preferring not to”.
"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.