Great Story: "Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street" by Herman Melville

In this story, first published in 1853, Melville aptly describes an office as "a building entirely unhallowed by humanizing domestic associations." That "unhallowed" is a great word choice -- Melville knew office life as well as he knew life on ship.

Maybe it shouldn't even be possible for a writer to make someone like Bartleby function as a hero -- but a hero he is, even though the reader has the option of sympathizing more with Bartleby's bemused employer. This haunting, obscurely Calvinist story makes me wonder if to exercise free will is to become a spectre. Here's an Oronte Churn blog post about teaching the story to undergrads the day after 9/11.

J. Brisbin goes into some of the issues regarding Bartleby's behavior. Tom Conoboy has some thoughts on the story too.

Also in 1853: an envelope-folding machine was patented, and Harriet Tubman started the Underground Railroad.

2 thoughts on “Great Story: "Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall-street" by Herman Melville”

  1. A most excellent justification.

    Had Melville asked for my advice, I'd have suggested he cut everything from "There would seem little need for proceeding further in this history" onwards — that's one of those "giveaway" lines right there…

    The part about the Dead Letter Office feels superfluous to me… as if Kafka had tacked on a paragraph at the end of "A Hunger Artist" saying the guy used to have a job tasting sauerkraut to see whether it had gone bad yet…

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