Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville

Not what I expected, Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener. I presumed the story to be revolutionary in tone, a fictional refusal to work sympathetic with Paul Lafargue’s The Right to be Lazy:

The Greeks in their era of greatness had only contempt for work: their slaves alone were permitted to labour: the free man knew only exercises for the body and mind. . .

Bartleby though is not an Idler, but more disquieting. At the beginning of his employment as a scrivener, or document copyist, he did an ‘extraordinary quantity of writing.’ At one request he utters the words, “I would prefer not to.” Thereafter his eccentricity becomes unsettling. Aside from Bartleby, Melville conjures up the memorable trio of more consistent copyists: Turkey, Nippers and Ginger Nut.

Part of Melville House’s wonderful The Art of the Novella series, Melville crams a lot of story into these 64 pages.

5 thoughts on “Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville

  1. >Yes, very disquieting. Almost as disquieting as Bartelby himself is his boss's odd unwillingness (and then inability) to get rid of him. I should revisit this.

  2. >Frances: What power: I declined an opportunity yesterday using this precise refrain.Emily: After the boss relocates to new premises, the story takes a Kafkaesque turn, a bizarre and powerful story. I had no idea Melville wrote like this.

  3. >This is one of my favorite novellas and I love how it starts quite funny then becomes disquieting before ending in that tragic manor in only 64 pages.

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