Sunday, May 20, 2012

Short-Story Month 2012: Day 20, Bartleby, the Scrivener by Herman Melville

Bartleby. I am a rather elderly man. The nature of my avocations, for the alst thirty years, has brought me into more than ordinary contact with what would seem an interesting and somewhat singular set of men, of whom, as yet, nothing, that I know of, has ever been written--I mean, the law-copyists, or scriveners. I have known very many of them, professionally and privately, and if I pleased, could relate divers histories, at which good-natured gentlemen might smile, and sentimental souls might weep. But I waive the biographies of all other scriveners, for a few passages in the life of Bartleby, who was a scrivener, the strangest I ever saw, or heard of. While, of other law-copyists, I might write the complete life, of Bartleby nothing of that sort can be done. I believe that no materials exist, for a full and satisfactory biography of this man. It is an irreparable loss to literature.
First page of Bartleby, from here
“Why do you refuse?”  
  “I would prefer not to.”

And for Day 20 of National Short-story month, we turn to one of the great American writers whose work serves as a foundation for all that happens this day, Herman Melville.  

Today's selection is his story "Bartleby", the tale of the disenchantment of bureaucracy and the waste of human life when stamped into the system. 

If you enjoy this story, you'll likely find a similar experience in Nikolai Gogol's story, "The Overcoat."

by Herman Melville 


dan powell said...

Read this at University and so didn't get it. Read it again a few weeks ago and loved it. Amazing how much you change in 20 years.

Erin Pringle-Toungate said...

Hey Dan, I know exactly what you mean. Luckily, I read Bartleby in a fiction-writing class and had to work so much with it (outlining it and writing a parody based on it) that that prevented me from dismissing it, which I'm sure I would have because that was my initial reaction. I know I have many other stories that I need to return to and re-experience.

Thankfully, I hadn't read Sherwood Anderson when I was assigned to read it, as I wouldn't have had the experience I did when I finally read him a few years ago--just at the right time.