- Publisher: Melville House Publishing
- Format: Paperback | 64 pages
- Dimensions: 122mm x 173mm x 18mm | 113g
- Publication date: 1 May 2004
- Publication City/Country: Brooklyn
- ISBN 10: 0974607800
- ISBN 13: 9780974607801
- Sales rank: 101,980
"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-Dick"--"Bartleby 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.
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Herman Melville was born in New York City in 1819. At eighteen he set sail on a whaler, and upon his return, wrote a series of bestselling adventure novels based on his travels, including "Typee" and "Omoo," which made him famous. Starting with "Moby-Dick" in 1851, however, his increasingly complex and challenging work drew more and more negative criticism, until 1857 when, after his collection "Piazza Tales" (which included "Bartleby the Scrivener"), and the novel "The Confidence Man," Melville stopped publishing fiction. He drifted into obscurity, writing poetry and working for the Customs House in New York City, until his death in 1891.
By Nicola Mansfield 23 Jan 2013
Reason for Reading: I've decided to try Melville House's Novella book club for 6 months and plan to read the two selections, the month following their arrival. Hence this is my second January read.
I was not actually looking forward to this. I once tried to read "Moby Dick" and failed miserably. I cannot recall if I've run across Melville in anthologies but if I have obviously it is not something that I've remembered. Melville's writing style is a touch difficult for me and I found this a bit difficult to get into with the first several pages long-winded. However, this changed quite rapidly and I became quite smitten with this story and must say it was not Bartleby I was most intrigued with but the narrator. Bartleby is a most curious fellow, one who starts work in his position as a copyist, but gentlemanly refuses to do any other work by politely saying "I prefer not to." to any such requests. Only speaking when spoken to, this solitary man seems to always be present at work and when not working diligently is seen standing staring into space or out the window at a view of a brick wall. His condition deteriorates until he eventually "prefers not to" work at all, leave the premises, or be let go from his position. He becomes a peculiar, perhaps mentally unbalanced, perhaps supernaturally guided (what does he live upon?) character.
However, I found my interest laying mostly with the character of the narrator, a lawyer, the Master in Chancery for the state of New York. At first impressed with his new employee's fast and diligent output of quality work, he starts to notice the man's peculiarities. When Bartleby virtually refuses to engage in any other work than copying the lawyer is flummoxed, leaving him be and making up reasons for the man's behaviour. This is in character with the lawyer though as he has done the same with his two other employees, one who is disagreeable in the mornings, the other in the afternoons. The lawyer has learned to work around this and sympathize with the men by inventing character flaws and health reasons for their behaviour. Bartleby, however, becomes unfathomable and yet the lawyer continues to show him kindness and think the best of him. Things become intense though once the lawyer finds Bartleby in dishabille in his chambers early one morning, doors locked from the inside and the lawyer finds that he is allowing himself to walk around the block several times upon Bartleby's orders. From this point on Bartelby becomes the one with the power and the lawyer eventually must leave his own chambers and move elsewhere to be rid of the man; this then starts a downward spiral of events for Bartleby which he can no longer control nor the lawyer's aid be accepted.
I found this story entirely intriguing and a curious look into the human condition. I honestly don't know what to make of it; what is the point or moral being made here. Even though I don't share this viewpoint, I do feel that many readers may find themselves siding with Bartelby and perhaps finding this a story of the downward drudgery of the clerical worker's monotonous plight. But I felt Bartelby went into this position with a chip on his shoulder and I see it more of a psychological tale of how the lawyer tries to help someone who obviously is in need of help both socially and mentally and yet there is only so much one can do to help another when they are unwilling to help themselves. Thought-provoking.
"I wanted them all, even those I'd already read." --Ron Rosenbaum, "The New York Observer" "Small wonders." --"Time Out London" """[F]irst-rate...astutely selected and attractively packaged...indisputably great works." --Adam Begley, "The New York Observer" "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." --"The New Yorker" "The Art of the Novella series is sort of an anti-Kindle. What these singular, distinctive titles celebrate is book-ness. They're slim enough to be portable but showy enough to be conspicuously consumed--tiny little objects that demand to be loved for the commodities they are." --KQED (NPR San Francisco) "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"