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Bartleby by Herman Melville

Bartleby (original 1853; edition 1997)

by Herman Melville, Benjamin Orteski (Postface)

Series: Penguin 60s

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
1,387475,481 (3.9)68
Authors:Herman Melville
Other authors:Benjamin Orteski (Postface)
Info:Mille et une nuits (1997), Poche, 80 pages
Collections:Your library

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Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street by Herman Melville (1853)



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Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)

There’s absolutely nothing under the sun that compels me to review Herman Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener except the sheer brilliance of both (the star, that is, as well as the novella). The ghost of one of America’s greatest writers may be grateful for the attention—especially since Melville lived the last decades of his life in near obscurity—but I don’t believe in ghosts except as they appear in certain plays.

I picked this novella out of the stacks one afternoon at the main branch of the Brooklyn Public Library while awaiting my turn at one of the computers. Ten minutes later, I’d forgotten all about computers and my desire to use one of them. Yes, it was that good!

It’s been years since I last read any of Melville’s work. And the truth is that even now, at the age of sixty-two, I have yet to read Moby Dick. Why this novella isn’t at the top of the list of required reading for high school sophomores is a mystery to me. The language is simple, the plot compelling. And who doesn’t love a mystery—especially when it’s as well written as this one?

I can only encourage you to run right out to your local library and pick it up. If you’re lucky enough to find a copy of the novella on its lonesome, it won’t cost you much more than a buck—which, if you live in the great State of New York, is about 1/13 the price of a pack of cigarettes. Today. (The price of cigarettes will certainly have increased by this time next month to something approaching obscenity.)

But back to Melville. The man is a marvel. And although I’m no real fan of his poetry (in which he more than dabbled the last thirty years of his life), his prose turns cartwheels.

Bartleby the Scrivener,apart from being downright funny in parts, ends on a note that would rival Poe’s imaginative machinations. No teasers here, but trust me: if you ever again come across the expression “dead letter” (no, not dead French letter!), don’t be surprised if your mind and memory turn immediately to Melville and Bartleby the Scrivener.

N. B.: I gave this novella five stars only because I can’t give it a perfect ten.

Brooklyn, NY
( )
  RussellBittner | Dec 12, 2014 |
I honestly don't know what to say about this. It was engaging and I liked it. I think to get deeper I'd have to write perhaps another thousand or so words. It makes me greatly look forward to more of this author! ( )
  wjmcomposer | Nov 5, 2014 |
I honestly don't know what to say about this. It was engaging and I liked it. I think to get deeper I'd have to write perhaps another thousand or so words. It makes me greatly look forward to more of this author! ( )
  wjmcomposer | Nov 5, 2014 |
Obviously quite well written, but it didn't make me feel much of anything except sorry for Bartleby and especially the narrator. It was just sad. ( )
  AliceAnna | Oct 18, 2014 |
Given my obsession with Melville House Books, it was inevitable that I would eventually get around to ordering this little novella, as it appears to be a mascot or talisman of sorts for them. So, indeed, it was a part of my last order.

I have to say, I would have enjoyed it more with less hype. (But would I have bought it if not for the hype? Probably not.) I kept wanting it to knock me over with its greatness, but that would be entirely antithetical to everything about this book. Rather, this book has grown on me slowly, and I find I think only more fondly of it now that it has long been closed on my shelf. I will definitely have to read this again after more time has passed.

But what is this novella? It is a story related by a powerful lawyer, telling the story of Bartleby, who he hires as a copyist. Bartleby seems to be everything he would want in an employee, quiet, efficient, until one day he responds to a request with a gentle, but firm, "I would prefer not to." Bartleby's motivations and life story are almost entirely speculation on the part of the nameless narrator, who is thoroughly incapable of understanding his softly recalcitrant employee.

Recommended if you read expecting quietly wonderful. ( )
  greeniezona | Sep 20, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
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I am a rather elderly man.
Imagine my surprise, nay, my consternation,
when without moving from his privacy, Bartleby
in a singularly mild, firm voice, replied, “I would prefer not
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0974607800, Paperback)

"I prefer not to," he respectfully and slowly said, and mildly disappeared.

Academics hail it as the beginning of modernism, but to readers around the world—even those daunted by Moby-DickBartleby the Scrivener is simply one of the most absorbing and moving novellas ever. Set in the mid-19th century on New York City’s Wall Street, it was also, perhaps, Herman Melville's most prescient story: what if a young man caught up in the rat race of commerce finally just said, "I would prefer not to"?

The tale is one of the final works of fiction published by Melville before, slipping into despair over the continuing critical dismissal of his work after Moby-Dick, he abandoned publishing fiction. The work is presented here exactly as it was originally published in Putnam's magazine—to, sadly, critical disdain.

The Art of The Novella Series

Too short to be a novel, too long to be a short story, the novella is generally unrecognized by academics and publishers. Nonetheless, it is a form beloved and practiced by literature's greatest writers. In the Art Of The Novella series, Melville House celebrates this renegade art form and its practitioners with titles that are, in many instances, presented in book form for the first time.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:40:42 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Wall Street is turned upside-down when Bartleby, a copier, decides he is no longer willing to do it.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 7 descriptions

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